Sobering Reflections on the Hawaiian Missile Scare

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Several former members of our church now live in Hawaii. What follows are their reflections from the recent false alert concerning an incoming ballistic missile.

At 08:07AM a text alert flashed on Dee’s phone— that read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The two weeks leading up to that moment had been a whirlwind for her. A grueling work schedule coupled by unending church activities left Dee with little margin for much of anything, especially time with God. But when the alert broke through, time stood still.

We now know the alert was a mistake and it will certainly be laughed off in the days ahead. But when the screens of Hawaiian residents lit up that morning, it was no laughing matter. It was widely known from previous reports that if a warning was issued, there would be only 12-14 minutes until impact. Thousands of people thought they were doing to die.

Her mind raced wondering, “Is this really how it’s going to end for me?” She pulled a U-turn on the freeway and called her husband, Antonio, and calmly explained they were under attack. She was in survival mode and told him to shut all windows, blinds, curtains, and start filling the bathtub and sinks with water. She’d be home as quickly as she could.

Antonio hurriedly complied and then dropped to his knees in prayer. He recalls, “I had a sense of Gods sovereignty and peace that God knew our needs before we did. Somehow I had a peaceful assurance that He would use this to bring much glory to Himself. In that moment, I fully believed His promise to make all things, even this, to work together for our good.”

A Moment of Regret

As Dee sped home, she too had peace, but it was mixed with vexation. She recounted the previous weeks of distance from God and how even that morning, she had rushed around for the baby shower, giving little time for God—and now she was going to meet Him!

What would she say?  She knew she was secure in His grace, but at the same time felt ashamed for allowing fleeting things to crowd out her time with Him. She prayerfully asked Him to forgive her shortsightedness.

The Waiting

As soon as Dee returned home, they cleared out an inner closet under the stairs, storing away food, water, and cloths to cover their faces or stuff in the crevice of the closet door to limit nuclear fallout.  They kept their phones plugged in until the last minute.

Grains of sand falling through the hourglass play tricks on you in those moments. On the one hand they seem to move ever slowly. Everything grinds along with intensity that can be felt in the air. Yet at the same time, the moments rush by in a blur. Terror like this is disorienting and reorienting all at the same time.

Antonio said, “Neither of us cried until it was over.” Thirty-eight minutes had passed until the warning was lifted. They held each other and wept. There would be no nuclear fallout this day, but there was an emotional and spiritual one.

Later, they reflected on the events, “We were ready to meet our Maker, or survive and tell others about Him.  This event has strengthened our faith and our enjoyment of each other.  We were quickly reminded how precious life is and how things can change so drastically in a moment.” 

Heavenly Sobriety

Not far away, another couple endured the same nightmare. Patty’s anxiety was stirring as she tried to figure out what to do. Her husband Pete assured her that their missile defense would take out the threat, and if not, there was no need to take cover, because it was most likely nuclear.

Patty tried to smile and said, “I hope you’re right, but if not, I will see you in Heaven.”

Saying those words out loud were sweetly sobering for her. The threat was daunting, but it was eclipsed by hope rooted in God’s certain promises. In a way similar to her fellow believers a few miles away, she had a “sweet inner calm as she thought of the true rest of heaven.”

Yet her peace quickly became mixed with grief as her mind raced to her beloved son who did not believe in Jesus. Her heart turned as she recalled his resistance to and dismissal of the God he was about to stand before.

“Would the Lord save him in the next 12 minutes?” she thought to her self. The thought of losing him for eternity saddened her and provoked fear. As the threat passed, she was not left unmoved. A fresh burden for urgent prayer and bold witnessing was birthed in her.

As she gathered the next day with the saints at Kailua Baptist, her pastor reminded the flock that they were all still alive by God’s grace. The moment they were resting in was nothing but divine mercy. He pointed them to a passage that Patty said, “will forever be the explanation of why I had no fear for own soul that day.”

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name.” Psalm 91:14

God holds His people fast as they cling to His Son Jesus through faith. He is our only refuge in the day of trouble.

I’ll leave you with two simple reminders.

  1. Sobriety about eternity is a friend of your soul.

A day is coming when Jesus will return. Some assume this is as much of a false alarm as the one Hawaii recently experienced. But those who love the Lord know it is not.

Would you consider replacing your evening television time with a reading of Revelation or Jesus’ words in Matthew 24-25? Read and plead with God to give you sobriety about eternity. This is not a drill.

 

  1. Sobriety about eternity is motivation for the souls of unbelievers.

The unbelieving world will soon face the judgment of an all-knowing God.[1] He has sent you to warn them.[2] His mercy toward you is intended to provoke you to tell of His grace to others.

There is no time to waste. Our moments are fleeting and their number is uncertain. Pray for God to open doors to speak of Jesus, and ask Him to give you courage to speak. Today could be the Day the Lord returns. This is not a drill.

 

 

 

[1] Matthew 12:36; Revelation 20:11-15

[2] Ezekiel 33:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

 

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When Spurgeon was Invited to Preach at Barnum & Bailey Circus

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On one occasion P.T. Barnum, head of the great Barnum & Bailey Circus, invited Charles Spurgeon to speak in the large tent at his traveling circus. Spurgeon’s preaching would often draw crowds exceeding 10,000 people and Barnum saw great opportunity to increase his show attendance if Spurgeon would join him.

Barnum’s pitch to Spurgeon was an attractive one. He offered to supply the musical talent, unless Spurgeon wished to provide his own. Any equipment, side show, or manpower would be at his disposal. And Spurgeon had freedom to speak as long or briefly as he desired.

The only catch was that the Barnum Circus Association would keep all profits from the gate tickets and in return compensate Spurgeon with a thousand dollar per sermon honorarium.

This was a generous offer in Spurgeon’s day and likely would have persuaded many preachers to chase the opportunity.

But not Spurgeon.

He saw through Barnum’s offer and sent him this reply…

Dear Mr. Barnum:

Thank you for your kind invitation to lecture in your circus tents in America. You will find my answer in Acts 13:10.

Very sincerely yours,

Charles H. Spurgeon

I am unsure if Mr. Barnum ever looked up Acts 13:10, but if he had, this is what he would have found: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Spurgeon would never compromise the purity of the Gospel for some coin. May we be ever careful to be of the same mind.

Source: The Gold Mine, Lee Roberson

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Days that Bring Weeping and Rejoicing (Guest Author)

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This post was written by my wife, Carrie Kell

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

Today is December 21st. Does that mean anything to you?

Is it the day you got engaged? Or when your mom discovered she had cancer? Is it the day you had the surgery that changed your life? Or the day your child was born? Is it the day you lost a child? Is it a day of sadness? A day of joy?

Is it just another day on the calendar?

Every day has some significance for someone in the world. It might not be you, but it might be the person you are talking to in the grocery line. Or the one you just beeped your horn at and gave a “what is wrong with you!?!” look. Perhaps it is the person you just judged because they did something that seemed hateful. Or maybe it is you.

This will be the first December that my sister in law’s mom will be in heaven rather than at home with her family. Her birthday would have been this month as well. It brings a dark cloud over the holidays for my sister in law, and my heart breaks for her.

One of my best friends is celebrating her anniversary with her wonderful husband. God has worked masterfully in their marriage over the past 15 years in ways that are deeply encouraging. God has given them strength and they have been faithful to their vows.

I spoke with another close family friend today. As we talked, she shared how difficult December is for her. It is the month her mom died and also her late father’s birthday. It is also the month her sister stopped speaking with her. I didn’t know any of this was going on for her, and as she shared, I felt my compassion for her grow.

While some weep, others rejoice. And some of us do both at the same time.

A few years ago a friend picked up her phone and called her mother to share that she was pregnant. As she and her mother were celebrating the good news, her mother clicked over to receive an incoming call saying my friend’s father had just had a heart attack.

Rejoicing and weeping at the same time.

December 21st is one of those days.

My best friend from high school’s mother celebrates her birthday on the 21st. God has given her another year of life, and today they rejoice in that gift.

Today was also my father’s birthday. It has been four years since dad died. December 21st brings with it a flood of memories. I think about his life. I reflect on his death. I remember, with fondness the dad I knew when I was younger, and with sadness, the dad he became as I grew older. It’s a weird, heavy day.

My point in all this is that days mark us. Some of those marks are sweet, others are very sour. You can’t forget the dates in your life that have significance. You have to face them head on, because they actually keep coming back every year (except that Leap year situation, but whatever). God uses them as constant reminders of Him working in our lives. Sometimes that work is painful, sometimes enjoyable, but always for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

As John Piper once said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” This true of us as individuals, but of all of us as people. Does it amaze you that God is always working so intricately in all of us—at the same time!?!

December 21 is always a little sad for me, sometimes more so than others, but there are many other dates on the calendar that are really sweet. I suppose this will continue the rest of the time God gives us on this earth. Next year I may have new dates that mean something.

What are your dates?

Today when you run into someone, just know this might be a really great day filled with sweet memories for them, or it might be a really hard day with sad memories. Ask God to help you be patient with people. Ask Him to help you see them the way He does. Ask God to help you show them love, as Jesus has shown love to you. Rejoice if they are rejoicing and weep if they are weeping.

In all of this, I am thankful for a Sovereign God who cares deeply about all of His people. He knows which dates mean something to each of us and He comforts us during the hard memories. He also knows which days bring us joy and stirs our hearts to praise Him for those.

Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

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Every Book of the Bible in One Word

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God reveals Himself through His Word. When He speaks, He teaches us what He is like, how He acts, and how He desires us to respond. As a whole, the Bible is about God the Father displaying His glory through His Son Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is one book made up of 66 letters.  Each book has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of His character or a way He is working to carry out His perfect plan. What follows is an attempt to capture these themes. These themes are certainly reductionistic and required me to make a few tough choices, but I hope you’ll be helped by considering them.

 

Bible: The God of Jesus

Old Testament: Anticipation

Gospels: Manifestation

Acts: Proclamation

Epistles: Explanation

Revelation: Consummation

 

The Law

Genesis: God of Promise

Exodus: God of Power

Leviticus: God of Purity

Numbers: God of Perseverance

Deuteronomy: God of Preparation

 

History

Joshua: God of the Land

Judges: God of the Rebels

Ruth: God of Redemption

1 Samuel: God of the Heart

2 Samuel: God of the Throne

1 & 2 Kings: God of Israel

1 & 2 Chronicles: God of Judah

Ezra: God of the Temple

Esther: God of the Gallows

Nehemiah: God of the Wall

 

Wisdom

Job: God of Pain

Psalms: God of Praise

Proverbs: God of Prudence

Ecclesiastes: God of Purpose

Song of Solomon: God of Passion

 

Major Prophets 

Isaiah: God of Glory

Jeremiah: God of Weeping

Lamentations: God of Faithfulness

Ezekiel: God of Visions

Daniel: God of History

 

Minor Prophets

Hosea: God of the Unfaithful

Joel: God of the Locusts

Amos: God of the Oppressed

Obadiah: God of the Mountain

Jonah: God of Compassion

Micah: God of Justice

Nahum: God of Wrath

Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty

Zephaniah: God of Judgment

Haggai: God of Renewal

Zechariah: God of Restoration

Malachi: God of Worship

 

History

Matthew: God of the Jews

Mark: God of the Romans

Luke: God of the Outcast

John: God of the World

Acts: God of Power

 

Pauline Epistles

Romans: God of Righteousness

1 Corinthians: God of Holiness

2 Corinthians: God of Comfort

Galatians: God of Justification

Ephesians: God of Unity

Philippians: God of Joy

Colossians: God of Preeminence

1 Thessalonians: God of Encouragement

2 Thessalonians: God of Admonishment

1 Timothy: God of Godliness

2 Timothy: God of Endurance

Titus: God of Works

Philemon: God of Reconciliation

 

General Epistles

Hebrews: God of Fulfillment

James: God of Trials

1 Peter: God of the Persecuted

2 Peter: God of Patience

1 John: God of Love

2 John: God of Truth

3 John: God of Discernment

Jude: God of Protection

 

Prophecy

Revelation: God of Eternity

 

I found the process of reflecting on God’s message in each book deeply edifying, and I would enjoy hearing any ways you can improve this list.

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8 Ways to Shape Your Family Spiritually

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“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7

 

A parent’s most basic task is to help their children learn how to live in God’s world. This isn’t a once in a while task, but an opportunity that is available nearly every moment.

One of our elders recently shared how he an his wife help their seven children develop spiritually. What follows are my reflections on the principles he shared with us.

 

  1. Family Devotions

Few habits are more important in a home than daily Bible reading. There is no magic formula to the reading, just open the Bible and read it together. Read through chapter by chapter and discuss what you learn about God, about people, and how you should respond. Then ask God to help you. How much you read is less important than the consistency of your reading. A family that feasts on daily manna together is a family that will grow in their love for the Giver of the manna.

  1. Individual Devotions

Children that can read should be encouraged to read the Bible. They should not be forced to do it, but they should be encouraged to do it. One of the most important parts of parenting is teaching your children to listen to the voice of their heavenly Father. Encourage your children to read, write down questions, and talk about what they are reading with you. And make sure you are in the Word as well. Seeing their parents make the Word a priority will only reinforce their need to do the same.

  1. Corporate Prayer

Pray together. When you are short on money, gather together and ask God to provide what you need. When you face bullies at school or problems at work, gather together and pray. When God provides for your family, gather together and celebrate. When there are sorrows or suffering or sickness, gather together and cry out to God. Fill the atmosphere of you home with prayer. There’s not one thing we face in which God is not needed, so gather together often to pray.

  1. Individual Prayer

Encourage your child to pray. At first, they will not know how, but neither did the disciples. Show them how Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Show them how the psalmists prayed. Praying as a family is important, but teaching them to pray as an individual is also important. Show them that the Father in heaven hears when they come to Him in secret (Matthew 6:6). I do not think you ought command them to pray, but I cannot think of a better constant encouragement.

  1. Talking About What God Thinks About Everything

We live in God’s world. He made everything in it. That means that every blade of grass, every sip of water, every note of music, and every movie made by an image bearer points to Him. Learn to help your children see with enlightened eyes. This is one of my favorite parts of parenting. We try to not allow an experience we have together go unexamined. What would God think about the movie we just watched? What message is in the song we just listened to? Why did God create an underwater world so few ever see? Why would God give us pets that die? Why does God make us sleep so much of our lives? Questions about God’s creation and our experiences in it are an inexhaustible mine of mind-shaping opportunity. Help your family to examine all things through the lens of God’s Word.

  1. Talking about our sin and the sins of others

Everyone in your house is a sinner—and everyone knows it. Teach your children what to do about it. They ought see their father and mother humbly confessing sins to each other, and to them. Few family trips are more important than the ones to the throne of grace. Has someone used harsh words? Has someone lied? Confess it to God together. Ask one another for forgiveness. Parents need to wisely consider what to confess to their children, but it should happen. A family that learns to confess sins together will know the power of the Gospel in a way that is unattainable any other way.

  1. Consistent Church Life

The life of the family should be oriented around the life of God’s people. Few things teach a child apathy toward God like skipping church for sports or unnecessary weekend getaways. A child should see, from their earliest age that gathering with other Christians to sing, pray, and hear God’s Word is the greatest of privileges one can have. Certainly there are other things families can and ought do together, but faithful service of God’s mission as part of a healthy local church is one of the most essential.

  1. Individual Time with Each Child

Each child is unique. This means each child requires unique care and attention. In families with numerous children, individual time with each child is important. Some will need stern direction where others will require gentler shepherding. Some will respond well to structure while others may be stifled by it. Each child will have unique questions and abiding sin struggles. God the Father relates to each of His children uniquely, we must do the same for our children.

There is no perfect strategy to produce perfect children. But these are a few principles that if followed in faith, can be used by God to help create a spiritual-mindedness in our children that we hope will bear fruit for His glory.

 

 

These eight principles came from a talk one of our elders, Mercury Payton recently shared with our church. 

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Highway of the Heart – A Christian’s Hope of Heaven

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Ps. 84:5 “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion!”

A Christian is a traveler whose heart is set on heaven. The psalmist portrays what abides within him—a highway leading to the land of Zion. Though the grass appears green in the valley of Sodom, they have the eye of Abraham who would not venture there because he knew its danger. Rather, they see God’s dwelling place as lovely.

The songs of their soul are of a place far away from this world. A curious joy calls them onward though all around them drains downward. The highway does at times wind through the valleys of tears, yet they do not fear the threatening cloud. For God breaks the cloud to rain down mercy upon their brow. Therefore their heart prays knowing He hears them. Their trust is in the One whose eye is ever upon them.

Honor in this life is received with thankfulness, but it is not their love. To them, the greater honor is to serve in the King’s castle. Even the lowest of task in His service is sweet, for they are near to their Beloved. God is both their warming sun and their protecting shield. Like Israel of old He goes before and behind them. This is their joy.

Their hearts are weaned against discontent. They know their Guide is good and does good. They have desires in this life, but they know He will only give them what is good. If their journey to Zion would be slowed by any perceived blessing, He will not give it. He wisely knows what will aid our way to His heavenly courts.

O weary traveler, do not allow your heart its desired detours. Sin’s empty rest will only slow your step. Set your face toward Zion, let nothing slow your pace. We are almost home.

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How Christians Can Pray for Muslims During Ramadan

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Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Friday, May 26, 2017, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Sunday, June 25th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

If you’d like ideas for daily prayer during Ramadan, you may want to consider this resource.

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Reflections on the 2017 Just Gospel Conference

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Over the past few days 10 members from our church attended the Just Gospel conference in Atlanta hosted by The Front Porch.

The three-day conference was a compilation of two biblical expositions, several monologues, and 17 panel discussions. The focus of these discussions was on the way biblical justice in the local church intersects issues of race, secular movements, abortion, education, orphans, widows, young men, murder in Chicago, hip-hop, women’s issues, incarceration, and sex trafficking.

Our church has been discussing issues of race, grace, and reconciliation for a number of years, so I was looking forward to attending and processing these important issues together.

Here are a few of my thoughts that have been shaped by the help of others who attended.

  1. Social meetings are better than social media.

Discussions about important issues are always better face-to-face. Social media often cultivates an atmosphere where being heard devours the desire to hear from others. At this conference, people came to be fed, led, and given room to process. In an age where many find safety behind a screen, this conference confirmed afresh how essential it is to move conversations about race and justice from blogs and Tweets to dinner tables and live dialogues.

The conference atmosphere was warm and the format of discussions modeled for the listeners how to dialogue about difficult issues. Our group met for meals several times to talk about what we heard and how it affected us personally and our church corporately. The give and take modeled at the conference helped us lovingly learn from one another.

 

  1. Diverse friendships aid our ability to see injustices we would normally overlook.

Most of my life has been lived in contexts where people look like me, think like I naturally think, and experience life as I do. As a middle-class white man I have never worried where I would sleep, never sold my body for a meal, never been fearful of a police officer, or feared for my life in my neighborhood.

God has graciously brought people into my life that have welcomed me into their weeping and their rejoicing. The topics of the conference were educational, challenging, and at times confusing. But having friends to help me process has been invaluable. One reason is that as I have grown in my love for them I have seen realities I would have otherwise overlooked. Tripp Lee rightly said, “We can’t bear each others burdens if we don’t know what each other’s burdens are.”

What this conference did is further help me understand that many people don’t have the option to not think about issues of injustice. I think about issues of justice most normally if they show up at my doorstep. Many don’t have that privilege. They live in areas where injustice is less like a package dropped on their doorstep and more like a shadow; a constant companion in life.

Privilege is mishandled if it used to perpetuate indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of my neighbor. Everyone in our group was able to point to things they learned about history that gave a fuller picture of how injustice is perpetuated today. The continual realization of this is not a comfortable reality, but is a necessary one if I am to be a Christian who will labor for justice, even or especially if the injustice is not directly aimed at me.

In the end, my black friends and I likely won’t agree on everything and will never experience things exactly the same way. But loving friendships are marked by patient, empathetic, offense-overlooking love. Christian love endures because it is empowered by the Spirit of Christ. He makes us one, and gives us the power to walk as one, until that day when we will struggle no more.

 

  1. White conferences must begin to diversify their speakers. 

This statement is not about affirmative action or being politically correct. This is a conviction that has crystalized for me over the past few days. I was introduced to numerous African American brothers at this conference who are exceptionally gifted in handling the word. This wasn’t a surprise, but sadly not a privilege I have had often enough. Victor Sholar’s message on the Good Samaritan out of Luke 10:25-37 was one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard in a long time.

When I initially looked at the lineup of contributors for the Just Gospel conference, I was put off because only 2 of the 37 contributors were white. But then I began to wonder how my brothers and sisters of color feel when they attend evangelical conferences where there is very often an all-white or all white + a token minority in the line up.

I come from a tradition where most of my influencers are middle to upper class white men. These men are faithful and love God, but their experiences affect the way they interpret and apply the Scriptures. As Dr. Jarvis Williams explained, we gain different insights from people who are “looking up” at commands about justice than we will from people who are “looking down” on them. The insights and applications brothers were drawing from the Bible were fresh for me and challenged me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be challenged.

The voices of marginalized brothers and sisters are often unheard by people like me. I suspect this may be why I have rarely, if ever, heard a sermon on practical justice that was not a cry for religious freedom or condemning abortion. Both of those injustices matter, but they are not the only justice issues. The body of Christ is made up of people from various ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Diverse perspectives bring Gospel implications to light that would otherwise be overlooked. Diverse voices in my life help me be more faithful to God. I want and need that, and especially hope that my brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention will make strides to grow in this in the days ahead.

 

  1. We must have a patient urgency.

People are complex. Issues of justice are complex. Applications of the Gospel in diverse churches are complex. This complexity requires patience with one another as we navigate how we can grow together in Christian unity.

At the same time, there is great urgency. The church does not have the option to walk by on the other side of the road while our fellow man lies bloodied in the road of injustice. The plight of minorities, babies in the womb, orphans, widows, sex slaves, abused women, and refugees must matter to us.

Figuring out how to navigate these two realities is very difficult. Anyone who gives effort to engaging grows weary at some point. I saw this weariness and heard people testify of it. I have felt it often as I try to figure out how I’m not “getting it,” or why others don’t see my perspective. These conversations are hard, but they must happen.

Leonce Crump summed the struggle up well by urging us to have “present urgency with an eternal perspective.” Patience and urgency are not enemies. Christians know this because James 5:9 exhorts us, “be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We must keep these truths before us as we labor for justice.

 

  1. Self-justification short-circuits conviction. 

 Conversations about the intersection of race, grace, and justice are both edifying and offensive. They are edifying because my heart is stretched to see implications of the Gospel that are unnatural to me. God uses them to show fresh ways I need His help. Through them I have developed deeper relationships with diverse friends.

At the same time they are offensive. Sometimes I am offended because I am wrongly accused, but more often, I am offended because I don’t like being exposed. There are racially-charged sins that abide in me. My heart is home to perspectives that are ignorant at best and murderously sinful at worst. I don’t want to be racist or even tempted to have prejudiced assumptions about people.

When an accusation comes against me, I want to justify myself. I make excuses. I shift blame. I do what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. But this is not the right response of a Christian. Rather than justify ourselves, we must rest in the justification given through faith in Christ. Tony Carter’s closing comments reminded us that we are all sinners, justified alone by faith in Christ which frees us to see one another as equals—equally justified, and equally sinful—and begin the difficult work of meeting one another where we are.

This frees us to allow God’s Word and the insights of others to do work in us. Not every accusation that comes against us will be grounded in truth, but some of them will. Are you open to correction? Do you receive the challenges of others? This conference and the conversations I had because of it brought these questions home afresh for me.

 

  1. The Scriptures must remain central.

One of the best parts of the conference was pastor Bobby Scott who always had his Bible open and reading verses to give guidance to the conversation. I believe more than ever that the best way forward is on our knees with humble hearts before open Bibles.

Allowing the Scriptures to guide our conversations guards God’s glory. As Dr. Kevin Smith said, “We want people to understand we are springing forth from the Scripture.” This gives help to God’s people and hope to the world, a world lacking the power of the Spirit of God to address the challenges we face.

One theme that came up on the first day was the need to render aid to the afflicted in the context of Christ’s call to discipleship. Liberation without Gospel transformation is just another form of worldly incarceration. The Bible tells us that all people’s greatest need is to become and grow as followers of Jesus. The Gospel reconciles us with God and with those made in His image. If you are able to listen to the conversation between Thabiti Anyabwile and Roland Warren about abortion, you will hear an excellent example of this.

The wisdom of the world will call us to compromise convictions about God’s designs in sexuality, roles of men and women, the mission of the church, and racism. Many have wandered from the faith in the name of compassion. But many others have wandered from the faith in the name of safety. Jesus calls us to follow Him on the way that is hard, on a road that is narrow. There are temptations to stray on every side. As we journey together we must walk closely with Jesus, according to His Word, because He knows the way.

 

As with any conference or sensitive discussion I’ve been a part of, I had several concerns, critiques, and areas of needed clarification. These centered around a desire for more clarity on complementarianism, added pastoral wisdom about ways to engage in arenas of difficult ministry, and a desire for even clearer Biblical instruction about issues of justice. I am processing these privately with some of the brothers involved, but I do not want them to overshadow the encouragements and challenges our group received from our time at the conference.

I am thankful to see God moving in our day, and I am hopeful that discussions like this can be used by God to bring unity and maturity to Jesus’ church as we move forward together.

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It’s a Wonderful Time to Be A Christian

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This article was originally published at DesiringGod.

America is facing turbulent times. Political unrest is unceasing. The racial divide is deepening. Fear and frustration swirl frantically.

This leads to only one logical conclusion: It’s a wonderful time to be a Christian.

Christians are uniquely equipped to thrive in tumultuous times, not because we are great, but because our God is. As we consider the darkness of our days, I’d like to share five reasons I think it is a wonderful time to be a Christian in America.

 

  1. People are intrigued by real Christians.

Whether it be through media stories, political reports, or comedy sets, “evangelical Christians” are characterized as whiny, entitled children. We are perceived as bigoted hate-mongers looking down on others while blinded to our own shortcomings. We are seen as outdated, overrated, and irrelevant.

Yet, when someone meets an actual Christian these days, they often are intrigued.

Our convictions are peculiar, but the gentleness and respect with which we hold them is refreshing (1 Peter 3:15). We don’t demonize those we disagree with, but treat them with charity, as we want them to treat us (Matthew 7:12). We engage with humility because we know that we too are imperfect and need God to change us as well.

“The peace Jesus provides is strong enough to hold back the gates of hell, and weather the storm we face today.”

Our community is also peculiar. When they observe the church, they find a people who are not naturally united. We come from different cultures, vote for different candidates, march for different causes, and often have little in common — except Jesus. When people spend time with us, they perceive a love marked by patience, charity, and heavenly-mindedness.

Now, not everyone will like real Christians when they meet them. But God’s word promises that he will use our love to change people’s opinion of us and (more importantly) of our God:

Keep your conduct among [non-believers], so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)

If Christians will engage their neighbors with courageous, humble, honest, servant-hearted love, people will be pleasantly surprised.

 

  1. Christians have the answer for racial reconciliation.

The rock of racial unrest has been rolled over in our country. Out from the darkness have crawled sorrowful reminders that our progress is incomplete. The anger and apathy that swirls around our brokenness tempts many to despair.

Yet Christians know Jesus provides a better way. On the one hand, we cannot simply say Jesus is enough and expect peace. The issues are far too complex and wounds too deep for a superficial balm. The hard work of praying, fasting, listening, learning, confessing, repenting, forgiving, and changing is required.

White brothers and sisters ought to show love by learning about the deep roots of social, institutional, and communal injustices that affect many today. Read the Scriptures alongside historical books that recount the black experience in America. Talk about what you are reading with African-American friends and include other minority friends in the discussion. Don’t be defensive or quick to make excuses. Listen. Learn. Repent of sin that is exposed. Empathy is developed when education occurs in the context of relationships.

Black brothers and sisters, I encourage you toward a resilient faith. Many of your forefathers endured oppression, were denied membership in white churches, and grew despite a lack of access to theological education. We need to see that resilience now. Systems of injustice will not be corrected overnight, which means that testing will continue. But as tests come, please ensure that your hearts are being purified and not petrified. White Christians are not your enemy. Jesus says they are family. The Lord calls us to “hope” all things, including the best in fellow believers, even when we hurt, confuse, or disappoint each other.

On the other hand, we must say Jesus is enough, for he himself is our peace.

[Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:14)

We have already been reconciled in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16–20). While laboring to apply this reconciliation takes hard work, we must remember that he has made us one — even if we don’t feel like it (Ephesians 4:1–3). The peace Jesus provides is strong enough to hold back the gates of hell and weather the storm we face today.

The world does not have an answer like Jesus. They have no power and no lasting solutions. But we have an opportunity to show them the unity that Jesus prayed for and purchased with his blood (John 17:20–21).

At the cross alone, fear mongering, finger pointing, and apathetic indifference are put to death, and real reconciliation comes to life.

 

  1. God has brought unreached peoples to us.

For centuries, the American church has been praying, raising money, and sending workers to take the good news of Jesus to people who have not heard. This work is important and must continue, but we can’t overlook what God is doing in our own backyard.

God has brought unreached peoples to us.

“What would happen if Christians opened their homes and their lives to the strangers who live next to them?”

Though policies surrounding immigration are debated, the reality of immigration is not. Tens of millions of legal and illegal immigrants have settled in the United States. Many have fled war-torn countries and are seeking a fresh start. Many are seeking hope which cannot be found in Allah or any other supposed god.

Regardless of your political views, if you are a Christian, your theological convictions should spur you to action. What would happen if Christians opened their homes and their lives to the strangers who live next to them? Showing Christlike hospitality to Muslim neighbors is essential for them to understand the true message of Christianity.

I do not say this lightly — we are positioned to fulfill the Great Commission.

Dispersed peoples and advances in technology have opened unparalleled opportunities to advance the gospel. While we are able, we must steward this opportunity and make disciples among the nations, and by his grace, many are in our backyard.

 

  1. Persecution is purifying us.

Jesus promised that following him would be costly. He warned, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Ostracism and affliction have marked the church since its beginnings. Yet, the United States has been largely spared this common experience of believers.

Many minority groups have tragically endured oppression, but as a whole, the church in America has known freedom to worship Jesus. In fact, public worship has not only been allowable, but advantageous. Churchgoing opened doors for business, made one appear trustworthy, and was required for social acceptability.

But the tide is changing. And as it does, Christians are experiencing increasing pressure from the world to conform or be conformed. This pressure will expose some so-called “Christians” as imposters, but for true believers, it will produce maturity.

Pressure from the world pushes Christians deeper into Christ. As this happens, we will be pruned and purified. We are forced to search his word to explain our convictions (1 Peter 3:15). The importance of prayer becomes undeniable. Political power is exposed as a mirage. Sin’s offerings are less desirable. Our affections are reoriented toward heaven.

In his mercy, God uses persecution to purify our profession of faith to the point that we can honestly say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Persecution should never be sought, but when it comes, we can trust that God will use it for our good.

 

  1. We are closer to seeing Jesus than ever before.

The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)

Every generation since Christ’s ascension has clung to this promise. As time has passed, it has only become truer. Whether Christ will return in our day is yet to be seen, but the horizon is brightening as the day is darkening. The believer sees this hope with unveiled eyes and senses the sweetness of approaching glory.

Until now, many of us have gone days or weeks without even giving thought to the Lord’s return. Our love for the world has drowned out the need to hope in the world to come.

“Whether Christ will return in our day is yet to be seen, but the horizon is brightening as the day is darkening.”

Yet, in God’s kindness, today is a new day. As we grow in our love for Christ, our hearts will be oriented toward heaven. We will find the chatter of the world emptier and the promises of heaven fuller.

The Lord’s return cannot leave us unaffected. Let it move you to prayer for perseverance (Mark 14:38). May it press you to risk all to reach the unreached (Matthew 24:14). Ready yourself for your heavenly bridegroom, and let his coming keep you sober, knowing it could interrupt your next breath (Luke 12:40).

It is a wonderful time to be a Christian. God is working among all nations, including ours. Let us not despair or be deceived, but lift our eyes in hope to him who is coming soon.

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Photobombing Jesus – Confessions of a Glory Thief

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pho·to·bomb (verb) To spoil a photograph by appearing in the camera’s field of view as the picture is taken. Oxford English Dictionary

I met Jesus in a dramatic way, which made for what some called an “amazing testimony.” I was once on a hell bound path paved with drugs, parties, gambling, and girls, but Jesus turned my heart to run after Him. Because of this, I was quickly ushered onto the stage of local churches and campus ministries to tell what God had done for me.

After preaching a few dozen times (Lord, remember not the sermons of my youth!), I became convinced that I needed to learn more about the Bible. God led me to Denton, Texas to take part in a discipleship program led by a pastor named Tommy Nelson.

As part of the program, we were charged to find an area of service in the church. I assumed that since I’d done ministry with college students, I could jump into College Life and help lead the way. It was a thriving ministry that attracted some 600 students to its weekly meeting. I was certain this was the place God brought me to be a blessing.

Instead, it was the place God intended to begin breaking me.

The Stage

John Bryson was the leader of the college ministry during those years. By my estimation, he was a gifted man who knew how much the ministry could use someone like me. By his estimation, I was an eager, prideful young man who needed to learn some humility.

As we neared the first gathering of the year, he pulled me aside to let me know he had an important opportunity for me. I assumed he wanted me to share my testimony or maybe even preach, so I showed up ready to go.

But instead of leading me on stage, he led me backstage. He pointed to a white tethered chord and told me I had the important job of serving the people on stage that evening by opening and closing the curtain for them.

With each tug of the rope, my frustration increased. My hands burned and my heart criticized the people on stage. I assured myself that if I was out there, God would have used me in a more powerful way.

I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, but near the end of the evening, everything seemed to slow down and I had a distinct impression from the Lord that went something like this,

“If you can’t be just as joyful back here serving Me where no one can see you, as you would be out there where everyone can see you— then your heart is seeking your glory and not mine. And I will not share My glory with another .”

The Photobomb

In that moment, the Lord convicted me that I came to serve with mixed motives.

I hoped for lost people to be converted, but I wanted to be the evangelist God used to save them.

I desired Christians to be encouraged, but I wanted to be the one through whom He gave the edification.

I wanted people to think God was awesome, but I hoped they would think I was awesome, too.

This is where it gets tricky. The desire for God to be glorified through me is the height of my created purpose— “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

But there is a fine line between wanting God to use you for His glory and you wanting everyone to know God is using you for His glory. That fine line is the line between pure worship and photobombing idolatry.

Most of us don’t consciously desire to steal glory from God. Because we love Him, we want Him to be magnified. But if we are honest, we hope that when people see Jesus as amazing, they see us as amazing.

I need to be crystal clear at this point…

It is not wrong to desire to be a part of what God is doing—you were created for this purpose.

“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

It is not wrong for you to want people to see God being glorified in your life—you are commanded to do this.
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:8

It is not wrong to serve with the hope that people will be convicted of their sin and trust in Christ—you have been called to this.

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:12

In fact, I would say it is sinful if you do not desire these things. Rather, what I am saying is that we must give careful attention to our heart to make sure we are not sinfully seeking to steal glory from Jesus.

Confessions of a Glory Thief

What follows are six glory-stealing confessions along with accompanying Gospel corrections. I encourage you to prayerfully process these with the help of a few honest, godly friends.

1. I want Jesus to be glorified, but I want glory too.
I have left wonderful Sunday services discouraged. Not because my caffeine crashed or my adrenaline tapped out. But because I wanted someone to say to me, “pastor, that was the most amazing sermon I’ve ever heard.”

I can desire Jesus to be exalted, while lusting for affirmation from others. Wanting affirmation is different than wanting to be useful. Useful servants are satisfied when no one applauds them as long as everyone is applauding Jesus.

But a servant who seeks affirmation steals something that doesn’t belong to them. As a friend once said, “a pastor who preaches to gain glory for himself is flirting with Christ’s bride whom He died to have for His own.”

When do you feel the need for affirmation? How do you respond to it? When you see yourself responding with self-pity, confess it to God and read Matthew 6:1-21. Plead with your Heavenly Father to satisfy you with His care and affirmation of you in Christ.

2. Because I want affirmation, I hide my sins.
Shame is powerful. It assures us that we cannot be honest about our true condition. So it tempts us to pretend.

When we hide sin, we show that we treasure people opinions more than we treasure pleasing Christ. This twisted trap is inescapable apart from the power of God. This is why God tells us that true strength comes from boasting in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

We do this is by confessing our sins to God and trusted Christians.

There is something powerful that happens when you look in the eyes of another person and confess how you’ve sinned against God and people made in His image. Humility birthed in those moments is unique and life giving. The idol of affirmation is choked out and God is seen as glorious in spite of you, not because of you. We do not need to pretend to be anything other than blood-bought debtors to mercy.

Do you confess your sins to others? Who knows everything about you? I mean everything.

3. I become bitter when God uses others instead of me.
During my first year in seminary, I learned about senior preaching week. The “best” preachers from the graduating class were given the honor of preaching in chapel. I so badly wanted to be among that group that I prayed and fasted for it. But during my final year, I was not selected to preach.

As I sat and listened to those brothers preach faithfully, I found myself grumbling that God had not used me in the way he was using them—and I knew it was wrong.

Do you find yourself frustrated or discouraged when you are “overlooked” by God? Those are good times to reevaluate the reasons you follow Jesus. Do you remember what Jesus said when Peter questioned how He planned to use the apostle John? He said to Peter, “what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22).

An envious heart produces a critical eye toward others. This kind of competition has no place in God’s Kingdom. We have all been called to make much of Jesus, not ourselves. When you find yourself comparing yourself to others, read the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) and ask God to grow gratefulness for how He is using you.

4. I become more concerned about my public performance than my private devotion.

We don’t pray more than we do because other things feel more pressing. Opportunities for public ministry rival devotion to the God who entrusted us with the opportunities. Glory thieves feel hurried out of the prayer closet. This isn’t because there isn’t much to pray about, but because we value being before men more than being with God.

I am not implying that public ministry isn’t worshipful. Some of the moments I sense God’s presence most acutely is during preaching or evangelizing. Yet, I can be tempted to neglect disciplines of prayer and fasting and undistracted bible reading because other things press on me.

One of the greatest aids for a recovering glory thief is to prioritize prayer and Bible reading. By pursing these disciplines in faith, love for God grows in your heart in such a way that it will eclipse your desire for people to think about anything other than Him.

5. I fear moral failure, mostly because it would defame Jesus, but also because it would defame me.

When a Christian falls publicly, it distorts people’s view of God (Proverbs 25:26; Romans 2:24). Anyone who cares about Jesus is grieved by this prospect. But glory thieves are doubly grieved because something else is at stake.

Caring what people think about us is not inherently wrong. But when we care too much about what people think of us, the fear of man snowballs with concealed sin in such a way that a fall becomes inevitable.

If you have fallen in sin, step into the light. Allow God to decide how He will use the story of your sin and His redemption. You will be tempted to be the commentator of your own life and control what will happen to you. Remain honest and trust Him with the consequences.

When you think about resisting sin in ministry, is it because you want to preserve the Name of Jesus or your own name? Only one of those pursuits will produce a heart that is honoring to God.

6. My desire to be something rivals my desire for Jesus to be everything.

When I stood backstage years ago, I felt the competing desires in my heart. I wanted to be the one people looked to and said, “that guy knows God and can help me know God.” What made that dangerous was that I was not content for Jesus alone to be remembered. I would have said I was, but my heart testified otherwise.

This is why I have grown to love John the Baptist. JTB did everything he could to not photobomb Jesus. Crowds were flocking to him, but he had one mission in mind—make Jesus known. He said to his followers, “I am not the Christ…He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28–30).

John pointed people away from himself. He was content being behind the stage doing whatever was necessary for Jesus to be seen more clearly. This is the kind of heart that pleases God.

Can you be content with Jesus being glorified in your life, even if it means no one will ever know your name? Are you happy to be known in heaven, but not here? Are you happy to be among the “others” in Hebrews 11 and not among the “heroes” of the faith?

Jesus came to save glory thieves from themselves. He did this by giving up His own glory and then dying on the cross for all the times we stole God’s glory. Today He is raised and seated above every other Name so that we can look to Him for help, and help others to do the same.

All Glory to God.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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