My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians chapter 2, verse 20; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Just exactly who are you? What determines the essence of you? What is the bottom line? Fact Time: Everyone has a, call it, bottom-line identity. It is what you are known by to others. Are you identified by your roles? Dad? Mom? Lawyer? Plumber? Preacher? Son? Daughter? Sister? Brother? Accountant? OR is your bottom-line identity in what you do? Kind? Helpful? Patient? Caring? Friendly? Empathetic? Energetic? And when it comes to your spiritual life (and everyone has one of these), what is the singularity that marks your life?
Do you consider yourself a Christian? Maybe I should ask a tougher question: What makes you a Christian? Is it an identity based on things like confessing and repenting of your sins and saying the sinner’s prayer? Being baptized? That you are a member of a particular church? That you read your Bible and say your prayers? That you avoid certain vices? Or is it because you show love to others? That you volunteer at the local homeless shelter? That you support the local food bank? That you demand justice for animals? That you cry out for equality for all people? So tell me, which is it? What you say or what you do?
That it’s both? Being a Christian is more than a title or a label. It’s more than a statement about what you did. And it’s more than actions we think makes us a Christian! It begins with the recognition that it’s something we are totally powerless to become. It requires that admission that we ARE sinners. And more than admitting we ARE sinners, it’s being honest enough with self to say we are tired of being sinners! It demands a total surrender of heart, mind, and will to Jesus. Then, we trust that what Jesus did on the Cross was done purposefully by Him for us sinners. And that a whole new life is now in front of us!
And as difficult as they may seem for some, it’s only the beginning. Being a Christian isn’t a matter of personal holiness or social holiness. It’s both!!!! (Notice the extra exclamation marks!!!!) This is exactly what Paul was trying to tell the Galatian church. Following Jesus begins with faith. It continues with faith in actions. And to the Church in the United States, Jesus didn’t live, die, and rise up from the death to create a Christian nation. He did all this to call us to storm the strongholds of Satan and reclaim the territory he stole for the Kingdom of God. No, actions don’t save us. But our actions do determine if we are or are not saved.
1 This is the message that the prophet Habakkuk received in a vision. 2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.3 Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. 4 The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.
I have said at other times that no message or series has been more difficult for me than the one I am sharing. And this new series is proving itself to me, to be the most difficult one ever. I’m calling it Why, God? Notice the use of the comma. It would be much easier for me to talk about Why God?Why God speaks about our need for God. But that pesky comma, Why, God? speaks into the season we are in today.
We are living in a season like none other before. We have this Pandemic of Covid-19 and we are seeing a lot of racial unrest. I also see that the core of this season of racial unrest is a symptom of something else that has been going on for some time now— and that is Social And Political Unrest. The fabric that is meant to hold us together in a common society is being cut and ripped apart.
I am compelled to speak into this chaos. I would rather not and tackle an easier word. But I Firmly Believe This Mess We Are In Has A Message. Unfortunately, it may not be the message that people inside and outside of church want to hear.
We are going to begin this series with an honest discussion around the question that many are asking out loud, and many more that are wondering about inside their hearts and minds but are afraid to ask. Why, God? Why Are Things Like They Are Right Now? Why This Covid-19, This Racial, Social, And Political Unrest?
I believe this is a question that needs to be asked and explored. So be prepared for some hard or difficult things I will share with you. And at the risk of losing some of you—I will honestly say upfront that I may not have a neat answer to the question—I may not even have a good answer for the question.
And let me be upfront and honest with this disclaimer: I Am Not An Expert On The Ways That God Thinks. My answers may not be your answers as to the Why Question. Know that I am not expecting you to agree with anything I say. I won’t be disappointed with anyone who disagrees with me.
My personal goal, and the goal of this Series, is that you will not be afraid to ask God questions, and that you think through your own answers—without using the standard issue replies that are dressed in a Polly Anna or The Born Loser view of life. I am convinced that oversimplified answers to the Why Question are only adding to the frustrations and fears.
Posting things on Social Media with the line “Repost if you believe in Jesus” aren’t helping. Reality Check folks: Reposting And Quoting Scriptures Isn’t Going To Help! So What Will Help? I believe raw honesty helps more than posting and quoting Scriptures.
Look, it’s not that life Could Be difficult and hard. If you can handle the truth, then here it is—The Truth Is That Many Times Life IS Difficult And Hard. None of us are exempt from the troubles and pressures of life. And if anyone tells you that you can live a happy and pain-free life as a Christian—they are lying to you and they should be ashamed of themselves for deceiving you.
I have been a pastor for nearly 46 years, and in those 46 years I have read and studied the Bible extensively. In that same 46 years I have had a lot of personal experiences and I’ve been a part of other people’s experiences. I have seen joy—and I’ve seen the doubt and deep pain brought on by life as it really is—the fear and hurt that comes with those difficult experiences.
I am going to try, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be totally Honest with you. And sometimes coming face to face with Honesty is not very easy. And know ahead of time that my Honesty may not fit in with The Truth.
If anything, the writers of the Bible are Honest—more than Honest, they are Painfully Honest. There is page after page, story after story, which speaks Honestly—but not always be The Truth. Think about Job—not everything in there is The Truth—but everything there is Painful Honesty. In Ecclesiastes Solomon writes Honestly about His Feelings—though some of his conclusions about God are not true. But His Conclusions About The Pain And Difficulties Of Life—They Are Most DefinitelyTrue.
There’s the book of Lamentations—where Jeremiah blames God for everything that happened to Jerusalem. And there’s this passage we begin with from Habakkuk. Habakkuk, this prophet of God, Honestly believes that God isn’t listening and that He has forgotten all about him. And true to human nature, it’s easier to blame God than accept responsibilities for our choices.
That’s exactly what Adam did—he blamed God. And here’s the truth that many will disagree with me—God Didn’t Destroy Jerusalem. God didn’t point His finger at Babylon and manipulate them into doing what He wanted to be done. The blame for the destruction of Jerusalem lies squarely at the feet of those who rejected God by choosing another way. God didn’t have to punish them—they punished themselves by rejecting the ageless truth of God—and that rejection reaped them a whirlwind and a hurricane of consequences.
And all of this that’s going on all around us? I am about to say something that many may disagree with—and remember I warned you. I want you to think deeply. This is it: God Is Not Causing Any Of This To Happen. Covid-19 Is NOT God Punishing Our Nation And World.God Is Not Pointing His Finger To Manipulate People To Create This Hate And Chaos.
What I see happening here in the U.S. with the unrest, what I see happen in the U.S. and around the world with Covid-19 is The Consequences Of Generations Of People Abandoning God’s Principles For Another Way. We are reaping the same whirlwind and hurricane that Habakkuk and Jeremiah were seeing in their day.
One of the blogs I read is Walking With A Limp. Here’s what the writer, Joe Misek, had to say about his title: “The reason why I title my blog Walking With a Limp is because I believe our faith and our humanity is meant to be lived out not hiding our brokenness. In fact, the Bible even has an entire genre of literature dedicated to expressing pain, grief, anger, and brokenness: Lament.”
In a recent blog he wrote: “We don’t do Lament well in the modern American church. In fact, we often arrange our entire experience of corporate worship to be happy. Lament sounds dark and depressing; it is uncomfortable if you hear it and you are in a ‘happy place’ in your life. But the Lament is not in the entertainment business and doesn’t appeal to consumers. It is reality. It is healing.”
Joe is right—unlike Job, Solomon, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk we don’t handle Lamenting very well. We either hold all our pain, doubts and questions in—or we adopt a lifestyle of being happy all the time while masking what’s really going on inside us. Many often chastise others and themselves for even thinking about that question of Why, God?
I don’t really know all the whys about why we aren’t truthful with ourselves and with God in this time. Maybe it’s because we’ve had long years of comfort here in the United States. We have forgotten or never really learned how to Lament. It seems we would rather find someone or something To Blame than to become broken over our own lives and the world.
The Ability To Lament Comes Out Of 2 Things:
The Pain Of Realizing Something Isn’t Right. It’s being broken over what’s wrong to the point that makes us restless and deeply hurting. And here is another hard truth: We Don’t Like To Hurt—we avoid pain as if it were some sin. But it’s not. Many today are trying to make their hidden pain go away by not admitting something isn’t right and then justifying themselves. In the LBGTQ community, they blame their pain on those who will not agree with their justification. Racial Unrest is the result of blaming history for their pain and the reality that some still hold on to racist views. Political Unrest is the result of blaming those who don’t see things their way. And the Social Unrest is the result of blaming others rather than accepting responsibility for our own choices.
Then It Takes An Honest Vulnerability To Express That Pain Of Being Broken And Living In A Broken World. I’m talking about raw emotions—like the raw emotions we see in the lives of Job, Solomon, Jeremiah and Habakkuk. I’m not talking about finding out who or what is to blame. Blaming isn’t the same thing as Lamenting.
I’m not talking about moaning and groaning, whining and complaining—God knows we are good at that. Many have taken this to an art form or made it a science. Whining and complaining, moaning and groaning are cheap substitutes that help us avoid confronting the real issues—issues that are eroding our culture, our own hearts, and are hurting others. It takes little effort and even less thoughtful reflection to moan and groan or whine and complain. It just gushes out of us without any effort.
And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message: The Only Way To Find Our Way Forward And Navigate This Broken Culture Will Only Begin When We Recover The Ability To Lament.Lamenting requires a different focus for us.
This week I came to a most unusual, perhaps unorthodox view about Lamenting. Lamenting is another learned Spiritual Discipline. Spiritual Disciplines never happen automatically. They require both intentions and diligence. I can’t remember ever studying about Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline or reading a book that taught Lamenting as a Spiritual Discipline.
I’m not saying I haven’t—maybe I have and it these times that are bringing it up in my spirit and heart. Quoting Scriptures and motivational phrases will not change our culture. The Key is to become broken, and then Lamenting—about ourselves and our world. Do you need an example? Good, because there is the best example ever.
It’s Jesus! In Luke 19:41-44 we see: But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.
It was too late for Jerusalem, but it’s not too late for us and the world. And because WE can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, we need the Next Step.
In Our Hearts And Minds, Replace The Idea Of Blame With The Truth That We And Our World Are Broken And Hurting.
Are you really broken over our world? Or are you frustrated? Are you angry? And are you wanting to escape by desiring the return of Jesus more than the return of people back to Jesus?
For the next few weeks, I want us to look at how we can reclaim the Art And Discipline Of Lamenting. Admit it, nothing we are doing now is making a difference. Maybe, just maybe, a good old fashioned Lament will make a difference.
As of last night the CDC reports there are 122,653 of confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 reported to CDC or tested at CDC since January 21, 2020 in the United States. This number is up from Saturday evening’s number of 103,321. People in the U.S. are panic buying. It started with toilet paper and hand sanitizer and now it’s milk, bread, eggs and God knows what else. People are scooping up self-rising flour who have never made a biscuit in their life! And the jury has reached a verdict.
Most people in the United States are found GUILTY of Having No Common Sense And Are Acting Stupid! It took the jury only 3 seconds to reach this verdict. When you consider the evidence it is no surprise at all. Just look at the evidence:
You ask a student “You have 3 apples and give 1 apple to your friend, how many are left?” and rather than the student imagine 3 apples, take away 1 and count what’s left, which is 1 then 2, 2 apples left, they have replaced it with common core math. To find the answer you take the circumference of Saturn, divide that by the number of species of ducks, multiply that answer by the temperature on the surface of Mercury, then subtract the number of Wal-Marts in the world, divided by 7.68345690 and subtract the number of people who will buy eggs today and Voila! The answer is 2!
Participation Trophies! You have achieved greatness by simply being present. Forget effort. Forget skill and ability. Besides, it’s plain meanness to reward success!
Entitlement has become the norm. Who needs perseverance? What’s the value in trying and learning from failure? You exist therefore you deserve!
Administrators tell teachers, “You have to teach for the state tests. Forget knowledge and wisdom–it’s the scores on those tests that matter most. NOT the students needs, but OUR need to score high on those tests!”
Many school systems have taken out vocational/technical schools because it’s more important for the students to go to college in order for them to ask “Would you like a fried apple pie with this order?” The number of high school students who receive a college degree looks great on the paperwork!
Speaking of college, OY VEY! Professors have concluded that they are the experts in their fields and are the sole depository of knowledge, and expect their students to be their little minions who perpetuate their jabber and twaddle. (if you don’t know the meaning of twaddle, look it up!) Cemetery Professors, excuse me, that should have been Seminary Professors, are the absolute worst!
And parents? OY VEY!OY VEY!OY VEY! They want to be their child’s friend! Great gobbledygook! This is enough evidence by itself to arrive at that Guilty Verdict!
Morality, what is right and wrong, good and bad, is determined by the individual rather than proven standards, such as the Bible. They even encourage their children to find their own gender rather than accept what nature gave them.
Consequences? What’s that? People are protected from the consequences of their choices and actions. There is always someone else, something else to blame. Oygevalt!Bupkes! That’s mishegas! It’s bupkes! Go ahead and kvetsh if it makes you feel better!(I love Yiddish!)
And finally, it’s more important to be kind than truthful–especially when truth hurts. A president once challenged this nation to be a kinder and gentler nation. Well, people accepted the challenge, and look at the mess we’re in!
Look at this nation now. More and more people are thinking more and more about themselves while thinking less and less about others. I heard one story of a shopper who was buying up milk. The business only allowed 2 gallons to be purchased. So she bought 2 gallons; then went back in a went through the self checkout with 2 more gallons. This continued until she had her minivan full of milk. Another shopper was doing the same with toilet paper until an astute associate saw what she was doing and cut her off!
There was a time when you didn’t need a declaration from the government to stay at home if you were sick. It was called Common Sense and Decency! There was a time when people cared more about others than themselves. There was a time when valor and restraint were considered virtues. There was a time when hard work was noble and the dream people held dear. And there was a time when it was appropriate to call out, in a kind way, stupidity in others. Well. . . what can I say? Too many people are null and void when it comes to common sense–and are stupid, I say, absolutely stupid! They make the 3 Stooges look like clones of Albert Einstein.
The above quote of George Orwell is certainly apapoe in today culture. I’m not certain when he wrote this, but it is prophetic, nonetheless. Though he was a staunch democratic socialist, decades later his perspectives are ringing true. I remember reading 1984 back in high school. In 1973 I remember thinking, “This could never happen here in the U.S.” It didn’t in 1984, but if he had entitled that book 2020, I wouldn’t be so naive.
It’s happening now. Truth is being redefined by cultural experiences and the views of a few who become vocal. Case in point: Hallmark. Hallmark dropped ads on their channels because of same gender people were getting married and kissing. Now Hallmark Spineless Board of Directors have changed their minds due to the threats of 3.5% of the people. This statistic comes from The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
It is not just the sexual identity, or lack thereof, that is at the core of this sickly and unsound illness that is imbuing our current culture with it’s foul regurgitation that traces its roots to the Garden of Eden. Truth is no longer a measuring stick–but an ethos that is concerned with those concepts that make people feel comfortable, at ease and justified. It is a commodious truth that people have gone after. Maybe I should have said “commode”.
Society today certainly hates Truth tellers because “truth” no longer means TRUTH! Truth means feelings, unsubstantiated hypotheses, and whatever a small group feels is truth. Those who embrace time tested and proven TRUTH are hated and berated because they do not follow a commodious truth. A small percentage of the population wants to dictate to the rest of us how we should feel, what we should think, what we should say, how we should act, and most importantly–surrender Truth to them to define.
I am not a conspiracy wacko, though someone had to be on the grassy knoll, but friends and readers, 1984 is quickly coming upon us. . .UNLESS we choose to be undeterred with the real meaning of TRUTH and to speak it. . .speak it with love. . .speak it with resolve. . .speak it regardless if anyone agrees with it. . .and not compromise the TRUTH for a commodious lie.
“Whenever the inappropriate fear of people eclipses the appropriate fear of God, it’s a short step to image management and control tactics. When we fear people, we tend to develop appeasement strategies in order to manage any perceived volatility. The tendency is to manage appearances in order to keep the peace. The truth? It’s really just conflict avoidance in order to get around dealing with dysfunction.“
J. D. Walt
The above words were the opening lines of one of my daily morning readings. We hear a lot, I mean a lot, of people saying, “Can’t we just get along?” My answer is a resounding
Does this mean I’ve lost all hope for and in humanity?
It’s thin sometimes, but no, I haven’t lost hope for and in humanity. This being said. . . we can’t get along. Now hear me carefully: WE CAN’T GET ALONG. . .IN THIS CURRENT CLIMATE. . .UNTIL WE CHANGE OUR PERSPECTIVE! You might have thought I would say “attitude” rather than “perspective”. But that’s not how this works. . .that’s not how any of this works!
Perspective is what influences and creates attitude. And in the current climate, the perspective is “peace at all costs.” Some call it “political correctness”. . .so do I. Now, I’m not advocating attitudinal anarchy. . . but there comes a moment when we have to accept that this fallen human nature is incapable of getting along. I said “fallen” human nature.
Fellow Disciples Of Jesus, Followers Of The Way, we cannot get along with the world . . . nor with each other as long as “getting along with each other” involves keeping the peace through compromise. Again, I’m not promoting attitudinal anarchy–but truth is–there’s a lot of it out there, including in the church.
So, what’s the option? Is there an option? There is an option–but we have to accept that not everyone is going to agree with it. The option we can choose . . . MUST choose . . . is to be true to God by becoming like Jesus. Jesus is the perfect model of graciousness AND truthfulness. Jesus chose appropriate moments and words that intentionally dwindled the number of “followers”.
Why? Because Jesus would not offer nor accept a fake peace built on compromise. Jesus DOES offer peace and it happens as we live each moment of each day by God’s Truth. And we offer the world The TRUTH. Not with arrogance . . . there’s too much of that already . . . but with the perspective of Jesus . . . the perspective that formed his attitude in life. What is that perspective? So glad you asked. . .
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)
There comes a time, a moment in a culture, when the desire to get along must die in order for the attitude of Jesus to be clearly seen so that Truth becomes clear. And it will be clear if we speak with graciousness and truthfulness. Today is such a time. We can’t get along–but we can be kind, like Jesus . . . and be faithful to God.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
I’m referring to Juliet’s sadness of heart when she said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I know it’s a romantic tragedy play, but today I would engage those famous words in another context. I would write it this way: “What’s in a name of a church? Doesn’t it’s true nature always reveal itself?”
I have a habit of reading church signs–both the name and those cute little messages. One of my favorite “cutesy” is “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to see Him.” And names–it seems every community has a “Calvary”, “Bethlehem”, “Grace”, “Faith”, and “First”. I’ve also seen several “Corinth” named churches. Really? Do you know what was actually going on there? Why not just name it “Charles Manson”?
I’ve also seen “The Church of The Divine Metaphysical Reality” (what happens there???), and one of the more interesting ones, “First ******** (I’m leaving out the name of the Tribe to protect the innocent) Church, Number 2”. And I noticed one that read: “Little Hope Church”. Please, understand I’m not belittling or making fun of that church. The road is named “Little Hope Road”. Perhaps this explains the name of that church; I certainly hope so. But what kind of person would name a road “Little Hope”? The Body of Christ is a place for Mega Hope, not Little Hope. Perhaps I am the only one who notices this bit of incongruence. But it got me to thinking: What if those truth in advertising laws applied to church names? Here are a few I’ve come up with, along with their appropriate Mission Statement:
The Church Of We’re Better Than You
Where the Mission is to develop our sense of moral superiority
The Church Of The Sanctimonious
It’s all about the show and not about the action
The Church Of The Judges
Faithfully fulfilling our task of telling others where and why they are wrong, wrong, wrong!
The Church Of The Preacher
Providing The Best Preacher Out There For Your Entertainment
The Church Of The Comfortable
From seating to your conscience, our name says it all: Making you comfortable
The Church Of Wearing The Sunday Best
Because everyone knows you can’t worship God in jeans and flip-flops
The Church Of The Culture
Studying our culture with intensity so that we can better change the Bible to fit the Culture
The Guilt-Free Church
That’s right, if you think it’s right for you, then it’s right for you
The Church Of The Circle
Where a small and elite group runs everything so you don’t have to worry about anything
The Cookie Cutter Church
Working with all our energy to make you just like us
The Church Of The 50’s
Faithfully Doing What The Church Used To Do
The Church Of The Professionals
Providing staff to do the work so you don’t have to
The Church Of Apathy
Who cares about mission and mission statements
The Church Of YOU
That’s right, it’s all about you and never about others!
The Church Of God Wants You Wealthy!
Providing live feed from Joel Osteen every week
I could just go on and on. What about you? If you have a “Truth In Advertising” church name, feel free to share it in the comments section.