I Don’t See You As A Black Friend

Share

I Don’t See You As A Black Friend

Garrett Bio

I grew up in the hills of West Virginia and had no African Americans in my graduating class. I attended a university with a fairly diverse campus, but most of my interactions with people who weren’t white came on the basketball court.

My experience in church was much of the same. After I became a Christian, I moved to Texas and was part of a solid, but mostly white congregation. I later became the pastor of a church plant in a small oil town named Graham, TX. In the seven years I pastored there, we had one black member, a brother named Bobby who’s “amens” and “tell’em preacher” encouragements still ring in my soul.

Though I had a few black acquaintances, most of my friends looked like me, thought like me, felt like me, and experienced life in the same way I did. But all that changed in 2011 when I moved to Washington, DC to do an internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Our intern class consisted of 6 men, one of whom was black.

 

The Conversation that Changed Everything

- Trip Lee

Trip Lee was a quiet guy with a baby face. When I met him, I thought he couldn’t be more than 13 years old, but as our friendship developed, I grew to respect Trip for his devotion to Jesus and desire to be a humble servant of Christ’s church. We had regular discussions about theology, church, culture, and then one day—we talked about race.

As the discussion went deeper, Trip mentioned something about him being a black man. I leaned in and with all sincerity said to him, “Trip, when I see you, I don’t see you as black. I see you as my brother in Christ. I see you as a friend, but I don’t see you as a black friend.”

My intention was to communicate respect and to ensure him that I was “color-blind” because that was the height of love—right?

Wrong.

Trip looked at me and gently said, “Listen man, we are brothers in Christ, and that means something. But if you and I are going to be able to be real friends that go deep, you need to know that I am a man—but I am a black man.”

After a moment of silent staring, I pushed back and said that I didn’t understand. I explained that I never thought of myself as a white man and I wouldn’t want him to think of me as his “white friend.”

Trip said to me, “I hear you, but you’ve got to know that being a black man affects everything I do. Every time I walk into a store, every time a policeman looks at me, every time I step into our very-white church. I feel it. I breathe it. I live it. I am a black man, that is who God made me.”

He went on to explain that being a black man meant that, in many ways, he experienced life differently than I do. His pains and joys and fears were similar to mine, but also very different. He has fears for his children that are different than the fears I have for my children. He has hurdles in relationships that I don’t have to jump. He has to trust God in ways that are both similar and different than me. And those differences matter.

 

A Journey of Love

That conversation with Trip proved to be pivotal for me. It opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone sees and experiences life in the same way I do. This shouldn’t have been such a revelation to me, but it was.

- Shai Linne

I later became the lead pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA. Our church is mostly white, but is slowly increasing in diversity. Shai Linne, our assistant pastor, is an African American brother who has graciously allowed me to ask him questions and wrestle openly with things I find confusing about race and ethnicity.

After George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, Shai and I had several conversations about why the news was so upsetting to many of my black friends, including him. We eventually had a public discussion with about twenty other people where I (the ignorant white friend) got to ask Shai questions about how he saw and experienced the tragic event—not just as a Christian man, but also as a Christian black man.

During our dialogue, Shai humbly shared about a time when he was walking down the street and was stopped by police. He was questioned, cuffed, and put into the back of a police cruiser because he “fit the description of someone they were looking for.” He described to us the pit that formed in his stomach when a car with a white woman pulled up next to him to identify if he was the person they were looking for. He said, “my life flashed before my eyes. In that moment I knew that if she said, ‘that’s him’ that my life was over. I was going to jail. My whole life hung on what that woman said.”

I will never forget his tears as he told his story. I never knew that about him. But it made me love him and hate our fallen world and desire for Jesus to come back in a way I hadn’t felt before.

Nor will I ever forget the interaction Shai had with his young son after the news broke that the police who killed Eric Garner would not be facing any charges. While watching the news, his son asked, “daddy, what are they talking about?” Shai said to him “black lives matter.” And then with innocent eyes he looked at his father and asked “why are they talking about that?”

Now, as a father, I’ve had to answer tough questions from my children before. But that kind of heart wrenching questioning has never happened in my house. Shai and my other black friends have to explain things to their children that I don’t have explain to my children.

Yes, we have the same kinds of concerns about the persecution our children will face if they follow Christ (2 Timothy 3:12), but most of my black friends and their children have had and still do have, a path that with more obstacles than the one I and my family walk on.

The Lord has given me relationships with friends from different ethnicities and cultures to open my eyes, not just to what it means to be black or Asian or Hispanic, but to what it means to love people who are different than I am. Moreover, these relationships have even impacted the way I read and apply the Scriptures.

 

Seeing More Clearly

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.” Psalm 119:18

I’d like to highlight three passages from God’s Word that have taken on a whole new meaning for me because of the diverse friendships God has brought into my life.

#1 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” Romans 12:15

If my black brothers and sisters weep and lose sleep over something, God-glorifying love calls me to care about it. I may not understand why they are weeping, but if they hurt, God calls me to sympathize with them and to seek to understand. There is no room in the heart of a Christian for apathy or indifference toward other believers (1 Peter 4:8).

Not all my black friends have been affected in the same way by the Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions. But many of them have—and that must mean something if I am a Christian. Why? Because we are “members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25) and “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Jesus says that I am to “do to others what [I] would have them do to [me]” (Matthew 7:12) and I am certain that when my day of weeping comes, I will want others to weep with me.

#2 – “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

We live in a fallen world that is filled with suffering. In many ways, all people’s suffering is similar, but there are also unique burdens each of us bear. Many of my African American friends have unique burdens to bear. And though understanding why they are burdened by certain events may not come natural to me, loving them (fulfilling the law of Christ) requires that I ask them to help me understand how I can bear their burden with them.

Sometimes this burden-bearing comes in the form of a prayer or a phone call. Often times it comes just through listening and striving to learn more about your brother’s suffering. One of our white church members recently asked if he could have dinner with a few African American couples to talk about the issues of racial tension in our country that have been exposed through the events in Ferguson. They graciously agreed and one of the brothers said to him, “I really appreciate you asking to talk with me about this, because from my experience, it is very rare that someone would reach out to talk about these issues.”

Burden bearing begins by taking a step of love toward another and saying, “do you need help carrying that? I’m not sure I can help, but if I can, I’m here, and I’d like to try.”

#3  “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy…their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…” Galatians 2:11–14

In days past I would have wholeheartedly dismissed the notion that “race issues” were Gospel issues. But the Apostle Paul clearly states here that because Peter and Barnabas (Jews) segregated themselves from the Gentile believers, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.” It was anti-Gospel to step away from brothers and sisters who weren’t like them in order to keep traditions that Jesus died to set them free from.

One of the goals of Jesus’ saving work on the cross is to “break down the wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile and to create in Himself a new humanity where hostility is put to death and we are united in peace (Ephesians 2:14-16). The church is to be a “city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:16) in which the glory of God is seen through the love and unity His people have for one another (John 13:34-35, 17:20-21).

If there is any place that love and unity seems tenuous, it is along racial lines. Marin Luther King famously said, “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” While we can praise God that there has been tremendous progress in race relations in the church since Dr. King’s day, we must all admit there is a long way to go.

And what is the way there? It is the way of Christ. God calls all His people to be “of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 2:2, 4:2). That doesn’t mean we will always agree on how we see an issue, but it does mean that we are to follow the example of Christ and humbly “count others more significant than ourselves” (Philippians 4:3).

It is through loving those who are “other” to us that we most walk in step with the truth of the Gospel. It does us good to consider the fact that we are more “other” to Jesus than any of us are to each other. Jesus is God, and it doesn’t get any more “other” than that. Yet, what did Jesus do? He was moved by compassion and love for sinners to come and serve and die and rise for us (Philippians 2:1-11). Jesus teaches us what it means to love.

Shai recently preached about loving those who are “other” in this sermon from Philippians 3:17-4:3.

 

A Few Final Lessons About Love 

While there is much that could be said, I want to conclude with three reminders about what Gospel love requires from us.

#1  Love requires relationship

If we are going to learn to understand people who are different than us, we must pursue relationships with people who are different than us. This isn’t limited to black and white relationships of course, but it is certainly true for them. If love is going to flourish in the church, we must be willing to risk stepping out of our comfort zones and into the lives of other people.

I can hear what black men and women think on blogs and interviews, but love must go beyond this. As Shai said in the sermon I referenced above, “the more time and conversations you have with someone, the more sympathy is developed. It’s not going to happen through Facebook. It’s not going to happen on Twitter. It’s not going to happen on a blog post. It won’t be through watching news on cable, but its gonna be over the dinner table.”

How are you stretching yourself to develop authentic relationships with people who are different than you?

#2  Love listens.

Love requires that I listen. I have learned that it is best for me to ask more questions and make fewer assumptions. This allows my brother the opportunity to speak for himself. And where better should we have the freedom to have these kinds of conversations than with our church family?

White police officers should be able to sit down with black members and talk about their mutual fears. They should also be able to encourage each other with how the Gospel gives them mutual hope. God is glorified in this, and the world is amazed.

#3  Love risks.

If you walk down the path of love, you will be hurt and you will hurt others. As John Piper recently said, “there is no love in this world without tears.” If you take the risk of walking with people, you will encounter relational briars of racism and apathy and skepticism and bitterness and cynicism. These will hurt you, and your own briars will hurt others.

And this is why I am more convinced than ever that diversity in relationships is one of the best catalysts to our spiritual growth. When we are stretched to love and forgive and rejoice and weep in ways that are not natural to us, we are forced to lean upon Jesus in freshly desperate ways. And when we are all equally desperate before Jesus, we have great hope that He will move to unite us in ways that will call the world to ponder the power of our Lord.

 

There has been progress in our country and in our church. We have great reason to hope that God will grant even more progress. But this progress will not come from being colorblind. Progress will come when we see each other as we are, and prayerfully draw together for the honor and glory of God.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

 

Share

How Our Family Gives Gifts at Christmas

Share

 

Christmas Gifts

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” – Isaiah 9:6

During the month of December our family gives special attention to God’s gift of His Son Jesus. We try to spend time each evening doing an advent calendar with the kids and some sort of family devotional together before bed. This year we are enjoying The Expected One by Scott James which recounts 25 of God’s promises to send a Savior to rescue His people.

Some years we are more consistent than others, but we certainly reflect more on Christ’s incarnation during the Christmas season.

Gift Giving

Our month long reflection on the incarnation of Jesus concludes on Christmas day when we share gifts with each other. We’ve talked with friends about how we approach gift giving and they have encouraged us to share it with others. So, here’s a little window into how we think about sharing gifts with each other and with those the Lord has placed in our everyday life.

My wife and I are always nuancing this, especially as our children (6, 4, 3, 1) continue to grow up. This is not a perfect system, but it’s food for thought.

Gifts for the Kiddos

In our family we don’t do Santa Clause, so our kids know all their gifts on Christmas morning are from us. That being said, we don’t teach our kids that “Satan Claus” has come to steal the real meaning of Christmas. Instead, we try to approach it thoughtfully while respecting that other families choose to do Santa.

This article and this article basically summarize our approach to Santa.

When it comes to giving gifts to our children, each of them get three gifts from us: one thing they want, one thing they need, and one thing to help them grow spiritually.

For the gift they want, we allow them to share with us something they think would be fun to have. It can be a game, a toy, or basically whatever. We explain to them that there is a budget and that they aren’t going to get a pony or a 4-Wheeler or something like that, but we want them to help us pick something out that would be fun for them to play with. We think it’s good to have a little fun in life and this gift communicates that.

For the gift they need, we get them something that helps them in everyday life. This can be a new pair of shoes, a new bed spread, or some some other practical gift. With this gift we try to communicate that giving something that helps them in every day life is always a good idea. We want them to learn that it’s better to be intentional with our gifts and give something that can be used rather than wasting money on junk that they’ll stuff in a closet and forget about.

For the gift that helps them grow spiritually, we get them something that points them to Christ and His Gospel. There are many wonderful age-appropriate resources out there. A few excellent ones for younger kids include The Jesus Story Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones), The Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm), The Gospel Story Bible Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments (Marty Machowski), The Dangerous Journey (Pilgrim’s Progress kid’s remix – Oliver Hunkin) and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers books (Joey Allen).

Some friends have also recommended Sandra McCraken’s album Rain for Roots, You Can Change the World (Operation World for little ones which goes well with spin the globe and pray time), and for you iPad users Tim Keller’s New City Catechism is getting good reviews.

I’m sure there are tons of good essentials I’m missing, but this is a good start.

We also allow the siblings to collectively give small gifts to each other. This encourages the children to work together to bless each other. This is a new thing for us, so we’ll see how it goes.

Gifts for My Wife and Me

My wife and I also exchange gifts, and we also follow the pattern of something we want, something we need and something to help us grow spiritually. We enjoy spoiling each other a little, and my wife is very thoughtful, but we do strive to keep within our budget. When we shop for each other, we include the kids so the gifts to each other end up being from the whole family. This helps keep things more simple and can be fun, or a complete disaster. Either way, its memorable.

Some of our favorites from the “help to grow spiritually” category include the ESV Study Bible, A Steadfast Heart (Elise Fitzpatrick), Moments with the Savior (Ken Gire), The Cross of Christ (Stott) and Soul Winner (Spurgeon).

Sharing With and Serving Others

For our neighbors and people we know, our family likes to make cookies or some kind of gift and give them a family picture. (Note: getting a family picture where all of us are smiling and not crying is a mild miracle. To Jesus be all glory for His mighty works).

Many of these people don’t know the Lord, so we may, depending on where we are in our relationship with them, consider giving a copy of What is the Gospel (Greg Gilbert), More than a Carpenter (Josh McDowell), The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus (John Cross), The Reason for God (Tim Keller), The Prodigal God (Tim Keller) or The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel) along with a little note explaining what Christmas means to us.

These aren’t the only good books out there and which book we might give simply depends on where our friends are in their thinking about God. We have been developing good relationships with our neighbors, so pray for open doors for the Gospel.

Our family also seeks out ways to serve people who are in need of help, gifts or encouragement. Examples of things we’ve considered including sending gifts to a Compassion child, visiting nursing homes to sing Christmas carols, serving in a soup kitchen, and giving gifts to people in need that our church community has befriended.

Of all the ways we can improve as a family, it is probably in looking outward more, though I have been encouraged by the way our family strives to make this a regular part of our lives throughout the year.

A Final Word About Other Family Members 

One of the exciting opportunities for Jesus to show up at Christmas is when it comes to dealing with in laws, immediate family members, and distant family members. When it comes to gift giving, we tell people we love them, but that they shouldn’t expect gifts from us, and we aren’t expecting any from them.

This kind of conversation could be like waling through a mine field for some, but it usually goes better if you have the conversation in September rather than December (sorry for the late notice).

The only exception to this is that our family will always get our parents / step parents each a collective gift, and if we are spending Christmas with other members of the family, we may do something very small like a book or ornament.

 

This is our family’s ever-evolving way of approaching Christmas. We don’t do it perfectly, but this is how we try to think about gift giving during the Christmas season.

Whatever your family decides to do, we pray it will turn your hearts and those who don’t know Christ toward Him who came to take away sin. May He come again soon!

Share

Love Awaits – We Wait for Jesus, Jesus Waits for Us

Share

Bride pathway (pretty)

I often have the honor of performing wedding ceremonies. These celebrations are sweet to me for many reasons, but in particular, because I get to witness couples enjoy the fulfillment of love’s anticipation. They have planned for, prayed about, and waited for this day.

A few minutes before the ceremony beings, I pull the groom aside and share an important reminder with him. I look him in the eyes and say, “what’s about to happen is one of God’s great gifts to you. Your bride is about to walk down that isle. She’s coming for you. Fix your eyes on her and drink deeply of this moment. She is God’s answer to your prayers. Enjoy this moment.”

After we take our places, we wait for the bride to make her entrance. As the congregation stands and the doors open, I look at the bride—but then I always take a peek at the groom.

In those moments there is a child-like joy that radiates from his (sometimes sobbing) face. Love has awaited this moment. She is radiant, coming to him. He is readied, receiving her. This scene is a picture of love anticipated and love realized.

What happens in those moments is also a small foreshadowing of what will one day happen when the church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2, 22:9-11), and Jesus, the bridegroom (Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:25), are united together at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9).

We Wait for Jesus

In Hebrews 9:27-28 we read of the church’s anticipation, “as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”

Christians are a people of eager expectation. We serve and love those around us, but we do it with an eye turned toward heaven—waiting, longing, hoping that today might be the day our beloved Lord comes to complete our salvation (Luke 12:35-43; Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 1:5).

We believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of that, we have forsaken our idols to follow the true God and now “wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). We are those who no longer love the fleeting pleasures of sin, but rather are “those who love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8; cf. Philippians 3:20). We “live…godly lives…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13; cf. 2 Peter 3:11-14). 

In the New Testament’s 260 chapters, Christ’s return is spoken of over 300 times. The hope of His return ought color our every thought. Our hearts ache and when we hear Jesus say “surely I am coming soon” we say “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

But we are not the only ones who are awaiting our beloved. Jesus is waiting as well.

Jesus Waits for Us

Just a few verses after considering our waiting for Jesus, Hebrews 10:12-13 tells us “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet.”

What is Jesus doing right now? He’s interceding on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:25; 1 John 2:1), He’s preparing a place for us to dwell with Him forever (John 14:1-3), and He is awaiting the command of the Father to come and get His bride (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

On that day, Jesus will leave His throne in heaven and return to earth. He will afflict those who have oppressed His bride (Psalm 103:6; 146:5-9). He will strike down those who have persecuted His beloved (Psalm 31:14-19; Matthew 5:11-12). He will put those who have set themselves against His rule underneath His feet (Revelation 19:11-16).

And then, we will be with Him forevermore.

He will take us to be with Him and we will be “called sought out” and “My delight is in her” (Isaiah 62:1-12). He will “rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41).

And what will we do?

Isaiah 25:9 tells us that “It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

Oh what a day that will be—when the Father will send the Son to usher His Spirit-indwelt bride to experience the bliss of eternal Trinitarian love. We will thank Him forever (Psalm 52:9) and rejoice forever about His steadfast love toward us (Isaiah 65:17-18).

While We Are Waiting

A bride and groom spend much time, money, and energy preparing for the day when they will become husband and wife. In the same way, we should be preparing for the day when our Lord will come for us.

1 John 2:28-3:3 says “little children, abide in him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at his coming…Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”

When our hope is set upon the return of our Savior, it has a purifying affect on our hearts.

Sin seems ludicrous when Jesus is seen as lovely.

Persecution seems endurable when Jesus is seen as valuable.

Loving this world seems foolish when Jesus is seen as fulfilling.

As the early 1900’s songwriter said,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

Let us be a people who long to see Jesus above everything else. And let us draw strength and encouragement from knowing that He longs to be with us as well.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

Let your soul be encouraged by this version of Come, Lord Jesus, Come by Shai Linne featuring Joint Heirs.

Share

Jesus is the Mighty Magnet

Share

This is the October 4th entry from Charles Spurgeon’s daily devotional Faith’s Checkbook. 

A wonderful encouragement to proclaim Christ with hope and expectancy.

The Mighty Magnet 

“And I, if l be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me”   (John 12:32).

Come, ye workers, be encouraged. You fear that you cannot draw a congregation. Try the preaching of a crucified, risen, and ascended Savior; for this is the greatest “draw” that was ever yet manifested among men. What drew you to Christ but Christ? What draws you to Him now but His own blessed self? If you have been drawn to religion by anything else, you will soon be drawn away from it; but Jesus has held you and will hold you even to the end. Why, then, doubt His power to draw others? Go with the name of Jesus to those who have hitherto been stubborn and see if it does not draw them. No sort of man is beyond this drawing power. Old and young, rich and poor, ignorant and leaned, depraved or amiable–all men shall feel the attractive force. Jesus is the one magnet. Let us not think of any other. Music will not draw to Jesus, neither will eloquence, logic, ceremonial, or noise. Jesus Himself must draw men to Himself; and Jesus is quite equal to the work in every case. Be not tempted by the quackeries of the day; but as workers for the LORD work in His own way, and draw with the LORD’s own cords. Draw to Christ, and draw by Christ, for then Christ will draw by you.

Share

Unashamed of My Abortion – Hope for Leyla Josephine

Share

LEYLA-JOSEPHINE

 

“I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed. I’m so sick of keeping these words contained. I am not ashamed.” – Leyla Josephine

Leyla publicly shared her story about abortion, so I thought I would publicly share my thoughts with her. I hope these words are received with the grace they are intended to convey. If you have not seen her video, you can view it here, but be warned there are a few expletives in her presentation.

 

Leyla-

I recently watched your “I Think She Was a She” poem and think you are a gifted spoken word artist. I have several friends who do spoken word poetry and I’d encourage you to check out this poem by Blair Linne whom I trust you’ll agree is gifted as well.

Having these kinds of discussions publicly is a challenge. They are much better done over coffee with people you know and trust, but since you have chosen all to hear you, I assume it is acceptable to reply in this way. I’ve laid out a few questions for you to ponder and my wife and I are happy to discuss them with you if you would be willing.

Why did you share your story?

You say “this is my story and it won’t be written in pencil and erased with guilt. It will be written in pen and spoken with courage.”

We all have a story to tell and I think you are a skillful storyteller. You have a unique ability to use words that draw listeners into your pain, your confidence, and your ideas.

Have you considered why you want to tell your story? I’m not talking about your desire to encourage women to feel unashamed for decisions they make. I’m referring to reason behind that reason.
In your poem, you mention life being “His-story.” I’m not sure if you are making a reference to God or to man-centered history, but I would suggest that God is the reason you want to tell your story. In the Bible, we see that God is the great Storyteller and our lives are all part of that story.

God tell us that we are each made in His image. This truth is reflected in your passion to communicate your story to others. The Bible also says that all of our stories are filled with pain and suffering because of our turning away from God. That’s why life is so difficult and despairing at times.

The story of the Bible also calls us to look up from our suffering and see that God came into the world to liberate us through His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the great rescuer of rebels like us. He died on a cross and rose from the dead and will soon return to receive those who love Him.

Lelya, have you ever considered that God’s story is what gives your story, and my story, meaning? You said that if your daughter were here “she would have wondered about all the things that came before.” What a wonderful thing to ponder!

If you have never read the story of Jesus, I would encourage you to. In it you will find answers to that question and many more. I suspect you might be amazed at God’s story of love in the Bible.

What does it mean to be a woman?

I am not a woman, but I am married to a woman and have two young daughters. As a pastor, I also help give guidance to many women who desire to know who God made them to be. Because of this, I was perplexed by what you said about being a woman.

You said “This is my body. I don’t care about your ignorant views. When I become a mother, it will be when I choose.” Is being a woman really about having a right to choose what you want to do with your body?

Leyla, I do think you have rights over your body. You should be able to say “no” when you don’t want someone to touch your body or “yes” when you want them to. But this isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. My sons have the right to tell someone “no” and “yes” just as much as my daughters do.

But the question that I have been wrestling with from your video is, do you really want to communicate to the world that being a woman means you have the freedom to use your body to do whatever you want, including taking the life of your daughter?

Leyla, this is the heart of your message. You say “I am woman now. I will not be tamed.” Do you really think that the supreme expression of being a woman is the freedom to use your body to stop the development of your daughter’s body?

Doesn’t being a woman of “courage” mean that you will accept responsibility of your actions for the good of others? Shouldn’t liberated women own their right and responsibility to use their bodies to love, protect, and care for others?

I certainly hope you don’t think that being a woman means that you are free to do anything you want, including sacrificing your child on the alter of your convenience. Saying to your daughter that I’m sorry I had to end your life, but you “came at the wrong time” does not sound like liberation toward love. Please don’t buy the lie that being a woman is about freedom to kill others. That isn’t what it means to be a woman, or a man.

Why not mutter murder on you?

“Don’t you mutter murder on me,” you requested.

Why would you not call what you did murder?

You said, “I had to carve down that little cherry tree that had rooted itself in my blood and blossomed in my brain. A responsibility I didn’t have the energy or age to maintain. The branches casting shadows over the rest of the garden.”

Is not a tree that has been planted and is blossoming alive?

What happens when you chop down that tree?

She had roots in your womb. She was blossoming. She was looking for you to maintain her. You said, “she could have been born.”

Please hear your own words.

Did you not stop a life from continuing?

What do you call that if you do not call it murder?

I do not ask you all these questions to paint you into a corner, but to urge you to step into the light and see what you have done. When someone stops another’s life, it is murder.

I do not share these weighty words with you as some self-righteous bystander screaming from the sidelines. I share them with you as a fellow human who also misused my right to choose. I too took the life of my own child. If you care to hear about my story, you can read more about it here.

Do you know the story of hope for people like you and me?

Leyla, I do not write these words to heap condemnation on you. Rather, I write them to point you to the story of hope about Jesus.

You said “I would have supported her right to choose. To choose a life for herself, a path for herself. I would have died for that right, just like she died for mine. I’m sorry but you came at the wrong time.”

The good news found in the Bible is that Jesus gave up His rights as God’s Son to come and lovingly surrender His rights to life so that we might have the “right to become children of God” when we believe in Him (John 1:12). The Bible says He came at “just the right time” to take our judgment on the cross and rise from the dead to now extend forgiveness and healing for all who will come to Him (Romans 5:6).

Jesus’ story is the story that gives your story and my story and every other person’s story hope. Leyla, God will forgive you for what you have done if you will draw near to Jesus in faith (Romans 10:9-13; 1 John 1:8-9). He will give you a new heart that loves Him and loves others.

So pray to God. Tell Him what you’ve done. Tell him you hardened your heart against your daughter. Tell Him you chopped her down. Tell Him you have called others to not feel guilt in doing the same kind of thing. Please, cry out and tell Him.

God will hear you if you truly seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). This good news will give you something that you can truly be unashamed of because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

 

Leyla, my hope for you is the same hope that I have for myself—that you will become unashamed of God who desires to give you new life. If you do turn from your sin and walk in that new life, you will begin a new chapter in your story. He will transform your story from being one that unashamedly takes life to one who unashamedly receives life and forgiveness from Him.

Please consider these words. My wife and I are happy to speak with you off line if you are willing.

Share

Can I Ever Wear My Adrian Peterson Jersey Again?

Share

Adrian Peterson

I’ve been a longtime NFL fan.

More specifically, I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan.

My earliest childhood memories include watching games with my parents and hearing grandpa grumble about how much he hated the Dallas Cowboys.

Before the 2014 season began, I printed out a sheet with all the NFL team helmets for my 4 year old son. We talked about each team and whom he wanted to root for and whom he was never allowed to root for (Bears, Packers, and Jets).

A couple days later, we had a Fantasy Football draft at my house. In Kell family style, my two sons and I got decked out in our Vikings jerseys. Football has provided some solid fun in our family.

But things haven’t been quite as fun the past few weeks.

This isn’t because my Vikings are striving for mediocrity once again, but rather it’s because of the stench that surrounds all things NFL. The league has been oozing headlines about domestic violence scandals, concussion cover-ups, and most recently child abuse charges against my favorite player, Adrian Peterson.

My aunt, who is a Patriots fan, wrote me this week and said “what is happening to our beloved game?…I was going to email you before [the Pats and Vikings] game last week but AP took all the fun out of that.”

To add to the nauseating situation, we’ve seen the NFL execs’ lust for money broadcast in high definition. The waffling of the Panthers, Ravens, and Vikings organizations in the handling of their respective scandals has been directly tied to public outcries that threatened to cost them money, lots of money.

All of this has left a bad taste in my mouth toward the NFL and toward some of the players, including Adrian Peterson. Right now his jersey is hanging in my closet, and I’m not sure what to do with it.

To be clear, I never wore my AP jersey because I thought he was the model of morality. I wore his jersey because he’s an electrifying player who helped my team win. Granted, he also seemed to be an upstanding young man, and even professes to be a Christian. I respected his posture off the field, and that made it easier to wear his jersey.

But with everything that has come out about the apparent child abuse, I have been debating whether or not I’ll ever wear it again.

Though this wardrobe decision is pretty low on my priority list, the way I think about the NFL and its players is more important. I’ll keep it brief, but I’d like to share two lessons I’ve taken away from my consideration of all this NFL nastiness.

1. I need to take the log out of my own eye.

Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

In those piercing words Jesus warned against pointing out other people’s sins while not first addressing the sins in your own heart. This is where I have found some much needed correction.

Before I point the finger at what I perceive to be money-hungry executives and the Ray Rice and Adrian Petersons of the world, I need to first look at the nastiness in my own heart.

Can you guess what the first thing was that I thought about when the Peterson news broke a few days ago? I thought about how it affected my hopeless Vikings and how it would impact my fantasy football team.

I reduced Peterson to a commodity and the abuse of his child to an obstacle to my sports enjoyment.

How sick is that?

What about the trauma that Adrian’s child has been through? What about his other children? What about the mothers of his children? What about Adrian’s soul before God?

Left to myself, I’m just as greedy and self-interested as the people I was criticizing.

Does that mean I can’t critically think and speak about their wrongs? Of course not. Jesus didn’t tell us not to judge others, He told us not to be hypocrites when we judge others (Matthew 7:1-5). What it does mean is that I must prioritize the examination of my own heart. I must come face to face with the fact that I’m not all that different from the people I was criticizing.

My selfish, consumeristic mindset defaults to using people rather than loving them. My self-righteousness strives to find a reason to condemn people rather than care about their ultimate good. My pride looks at the sin of others and tempts to be less convicted about my own sin. (Adrian abuses his child?  I guess my raised voice or harsh words to my child aren’t so bad after all).

How dangerous is that?

Child abuse and domestic abuse are heinous evils and need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But as I wrestle with all that is happening in our world, I must not avoid examining the evil that remains in my own heart. If I neglect this work, I fear how far I could wander into the darkness of my own sin.

2. Human heroes will always fail me.

Thankfully, I’m not enslaved to sports anymore. My afternoons aren’t ruined when my team loses and my heroes are no longer men in tights running through a field carrying a piece of dead pig. Maybe I’ve just grown calloused because of all the sports heartbreak over the years, but I’m hopeful that it is the Lord changing my affections toward eternal things (Colossians 3:1-3).

Through all of this, I’ve come to realize that while we can admire people for the way they play sports, we should never make them our heroes. Why? Because ultimately, they will fail us.

Sure, not everyone will act in the grievous way Adrian Peterson is accused of acting. But the fact is that all people, even the best of people will fail us.

Does this mean there aren’t any great men and women of character for us to learn from? Of course not. Does this mean we can’t be inspired by phenomenal athletes? Of course not. Does this mean we can’t wear the jerseys of our favorite players? Of course not.

What it does mean is that we must never forget that Jesus is the only One who will never put us to shame when we associate with Him (Psalm 25:3, Romans 10:11). In fact, He is the One who graciously covers the shameful sins of all those who draw close to Him in faith.

Christ is the never-failing One who promises grace and forgiveness to any who believe in Him. This promises is extended to child abusers, greedy executives, and hypocritical self-righteous preachers like me.

That is the beauty of the Gospel. Jesus is the hero who rescues us from the depths of our sin and now promises to never leave those who come to Him (John 6:37). No other person can ever promise that.

Trip Lee’s song about Jesus being the ultimate Hero captures this well, check it out here.

So will I ever wear my Adrian Peterson jersey again? I’m not sure yet.

If I do, it won’t be because I condone his behavior. It would be because of the way he responds to this incident and because I respect him as a player.

If I don’t, it won’t be because I think I’m a better person that he is. It would be because I wouldn’t want to send a confusing message to those who might see me wearing it.

But in the end, what matters isn’t if he or anyone else ever wears a #28 jersey again. What matters is if God will bring healing to his children, reconciliation in his family, and transformation to his life. We should pray and ask God to do that.

I could only hope you would do the same for me if I were the one wearing his jersey.

 

 

 

Share

Encourage One Another – Giving Grace With Your Words

Share

ITALY - Tuscany - Mediterranean - Tyrrenian sea - Argentario Sailing Week

“Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13

Yesterday I received a kind note of encouragement from a friend. It was only about three sentences in length but the Lord used it to stir some much-needed strength in my soul.

Receiving the note led me to open up my Bible and dig around to see what the Lord says to us about encouragement. As I read passage after passage, I was struck by how vital this expression of love is for God’s people. In one sense, encouragement is like oxygen in the life of a church. It keeps hearts beating, minds clear, and hands inspired to serve.

Because encouragement is so important to the church, God doesn’t merely recommend it, but He explicitly commands it (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11; Hebrews 3:13).

Why We Need Encouragement

God commanded that His people encourage each other because He knew we would need it. Jesus warned that “in the world you will have tribulation…” which He followed with much needed encouragement, “but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair. Sin steals joy, our bodies break down, our plans falter, our dreams die, our resolves weaken, our perspective dims. We are promised suffering (1 Peter 4:12), persecution (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12), and trials of all sorts (James 1:2-3).

When encouragement is absent from the life of a church people will feel unloved, unimportant, useless, and forgotten. God knows His people are in need of grace-filled reminders, which is why He calls us to encourage each other every day until His Son returns (Hebrews 3:13).

What Is Encouragement?

Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s haircut or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. That kind of encouragement is important, but the encouragement the Scriptures refer to is explicitly Christian encouragement.

Encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will lift someone’s heart toward the Lord (Colossians 4:8). It points out evidences of grace in another’s life to help them see that God is using them. It points us to God’s promises that assure us that all we face is under His control.

The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together (Acts 13:15, 16:40, 18:27, 20:1-2, 27:36). They shared Scripture-saturated words with each other to spur one another on in faith (Acts 14:22), hope (Romans 15:4), unity (Romans 15:5; Colossians 2:2), joy (Acts 15:31), strength (Acts 15:32), fruitfulness (Hebrews 10:24-25), faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 2:12), perseverance (Hebrews 10:25), and the certainty of Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Encouragement was and is an essential way of extending grace to each other.

How Do I Grow in Being an Encouragement to Others?

There isn’t only one “right way” to encourage each other, but here are a few ideas to help you get started.

  1. Pray for God to make you an encourager. Ask Him to give you a heart that loves others and creativity to know how to show it. Ask Him to help you die to self-centeredness and grow in a desire to build others up. Because God delights in helping His people obey His commands, we can trust that His Spirit will teach us how to bless others for His glory and their spiritual good.
  2. Study Barnabas and ask God to make you like him. Barnabas was nicknamed the “son of encouragement” by the early church (Acts 4:36, cf. Acts ch. 4-15). He was the kind of guy you wanted to have around as you were serving the Lord. He wasn’t just a spiritual cheerleader, but he was a man of great conviction who wanted to see the church flourish and did all he could to make it happen. Ask God to give you and your church a heart like Barnabas.
  3. Make encouragement a daily discipline. For some of us encouragement comes naturally, for others, not so much. I have a reminder in my calendar each day to send someone an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call. I need this reminder to pause, pray, and then intentionally try to spur someone on in Christ.
  4. Pray for God to show you who to encourage. Ask God to bring someone to mind that you should reach out to. One way to do this is by praying through your church’s membership directory. Check out this article to learn more about that.
  5. Use Scripture if you’re able. Nothing encourages us like promises from God’s Word. Make a list of Scriptures that God has used to bless you personally or an excerpt form something your read in your daily devotional. Mine the Psalms, Romans 8, and the Gospels. Find and share riches of God’s grace with others.
  6. Be specific in what you say. The note I received from my friend included two very specific ways he had seen evidences of grace in my life. When I read them, I was humbled and reminded of the fact that God does actually work in and though me. I needed that.
  7. Regularly encourage your pastor. If your pastor says something that God uses, tell him about it. Don’t expect him to write you back, but just send a few lines in a card or an email. Nothing encourages a pastor like hearing specific ways God used a sermon or counseling session to work in your life.
  8. Pray that God would create a culture of encouragement in your church. Ask God to make your church a community that loves each other in specific, tangible ways like encouragement. Ask God to use you to help fan that flame. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t return your encouragement (Matthew 6:3-4; Ephesians 6:3-8) or if you don’t see fruit from it (Galatians 6:9-10). Creating a church culture that glorifies God takes a long time, lots of prayer, and abundant grace. I encourage you to keep at it.
  9. Be wise. If you want to encourage someone of the opposite sex, use discernment in how best to do it. If I’m going to encourage a single sister in the congregation, I will tell my wife and copy her on the email. If I were encouraging a married sister, I would again tell my wife and copy her and the husband of the person I’m encouraging. You can also use that as an opportunity to encourage both the husband and wife.
  10. Get started. Who can you encourage right now? Who has blessed you recently that you can thank? What verse can you share with them? How might God use it?

May the Lord do more than we can imagine through just a little encouragement (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

1 Thessalonians 4:18 “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

 

 

Share

A Sobering Reminder from the Ray Rice Situation

Share

Ray Rice and Wife

On Monday the NFL suspended running back Ray Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens released him from the team. This came after a video was released by TMZ showing a heart-breaking, stomach-turning domestic violence incident.

The curious thing is that this incident is not new news. Rice was initially suspended by the league for two games back on July 24. They knew at that time that Mr. Rice punched his then fiancee in the face and knocked her out.

Why the change of mind by the NFL and Ravens organization? Joshua DuBois said it better than I ever could:

Ray Rice Tweet 

What was in the dark was brought into the light.

Because the world saw what Mr. Rice did, there was an outcry for justice. In a pretty ironic turn of events, TMZ alerted the consciences of the world that justice needed to be shown.

There is something about seeing the video of the assault that stirs anger in us. I won’t comment on whether the NFL or the Ravens had seen the video before everyone else did. But I will say that once it was released, people were calling for this wrong to be addressed severely.

There are important lessons to be learned here about the horrors of domestic violence, and for those I’d like to point you to these excellent articles.

But there is another, even more weighty lesson we need to take to heart in all this.

Hear these words of Jesus:

Luke 12:2 “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”

Jesus says a Day is coming where there will be no more secrets. No more things hidden. All things done in the dark will be made known in the light.

There are countless deeds of injustice done each day throughout the world, and for the vast majority there are no TMZ videos to alert us that justice needs to be done. But the fact is that God’s Word promises a Day is coming when the all-knowing God of heaven will bring into the light all that is now done in the dark.

This should bring us comfort, because justice is coming.

This should also bring us discomfort, because justice is coming.

The TMZ video release is actually a great act of mercy from God. How? Because it serves as a reminder to Mr. Rice and to all of us that there is a day coming when all that is done in the dark will be brought into the light.

The Bible is very clear that history is moving to a moment that will result in us standing before the holy God of heaven. What will happen there? Here is what the Bible says…

Romans 2:16 the day is coming “when…God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 5:10 “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Revelation 20:11 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

I’m not sure what it will look like, but one day the “video tape” of our lives will be played. Every word we said, every thought we had, every thing we thought we got away with—all of it will be exposed before a holy God and we will give an account.

What should this move us to do? It should lead us to step into the light today and seek mercy from God.

This is where good news comes to us from the Lord,

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7

The reason God can extend mercy is because His Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth and died on the cross for sinners. There He received the punishment for every one of our deeds done in the darkness. Three days later He rose from the dead and now promises that if anyone will confess their sin (1 John 1:8-9) and turn to Him in faith-filled repentance (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) they will be saved from the judgment that awaits that day.

The day of exposing our sin is coming soon. Let us not think we can hide. Turn to Jesus and receive forgiveness.

Share

Can I Pray for God to Judge ISIS Terrorists? Imprecatory Prayers and the Christian

Share

Imprecatory Storm 2

 

“Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let Your burning anger overtake them…add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from You. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” Psalm 69:24

“Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me…they…attack me…let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few…may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg…let there be none to extend kindness to him…let curses come upon him!” Psalm 109:1-17

 

Passages like these have long been difficult for me. The first time I read one as a new believer I had to check the cover of my book to make sure I was still reading the Bible. Those prayers seemed so unlike the prayers Jesus taught us to pray.

I was comforted when I learned that Charles Spurgeon voiced similar discomfort in his commentary on Psalm 109 “Truly this is one of the hard places of Scripture, a passage which the soul trembles to read; yet as it is a Psalm unto God, and given by inspiration, it is not ours to sit in judgment upon it, but to bow our ear to what God the Lord would speak to us therein.”

Though these passages usually difficult for me to grapple with, they have seemed more reasonable as I have come face to face with the pure evil of the ISIS militants who are ravaging Christians and non-Christians in and around Iraq.

Yesterday I read the account (graphic) of the lone survivor from a June ISIS attack. I wept at the heartless horrors he recounted. These supposed ambassadors of god behead journalists on camera to taunt their families and gain political leverage. They kidnap young girls to rape, torture, and impregnate them for the glory of a false god. They tear young boys from the arms of their parents to brainwash them and force them to join their ranks as merciless killers. These terrorists are wicked and have no intentions of stopping their bloodthirsty conquest until they have conquered the world.

As I hear of this unfathomable violence, I am deeply grieved and moved to prayer.

 

We Must Pray

We must pray for those who are suffering—both Christian and non-Christian. Consider how to here.

We must also pray for God to intervene. “Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end…” (Psalm 7:9).

Few would argue against asking God to stop these violent people. But can we go further in our prayers?

Can we pray the prayer of Asaph in Psalm 74:10–11 “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile Your name forever? Why do You hold back Your hand, Your right hand? Take it from the fold of Your garment and destroy them!”

Make them stop scoffing? Yes!

Why don’t You do something? Yes.

Pull out Your fist and drive it into their nose? Yes?

Destroy them….?

How far can New Testament Christians go in their prayers against the wicked men who ravage God’s people and their neighbors?

 

Prayers for Punishment

The “Imprecatory Psalms,” as they are called, are prayers in which imprecations (curses) are called down upon uniquely evil men. The most prominent imprecatory psalms are Psalm 35, 58, 59, 69, 109, but the language of calling for punishment on evil people is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament psalms and prophets (cf. Jeremiah 18:19-23).

Though Old Testament theology of the afterlife is a bit murkier than what we find in the New Testament, we must know that this kind of prayer is not just a prayer for God’s enemies to be stopped. This is a prayer for God to kill them. This is very serious because the Bible is clear that if someone dies as God’s unrepentant enemy, they will forever be under the wrath of God in hell (John 3:36; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Revelation 14:11).

Can Christians pray for this? Can Christians pray imprecatory prayers against evil people in the same way David and Asaph prayed?

Some answer this question with a “no” by saying that these prayers were only permitted in the Old Testament and in their unique historical contexts. We certainly acknowledge that it is dangerous to jump from King David’s divinely inspired prayers to our personal application. We must look to Christ as the fulfillment of these psalms and then seek to apply them. This does not however mean that there is no application.

One relevant passage is Luke 9:51-56 where we find James and John coming from a city that rejected the Gospel and they asked Jesus “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus “turned and rebuked them.” His rebuke certainly wasn’t because He was opposed to bringing judgment on unrepentant sinners (Luke 19:27), but likely because their first impulse was punishment rather than patient hope for repentance.

But I don’t think that means calls for punishment are always unacceptable.

In the New Testament, we see the imprecatory psalms quoted by Jesus (Psalm 69:9 in John 2:17 and Psalm 35:19 / 69:4 in John 15:25), Luke (Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 in Acts 1:20) and Paul (Psalm 69 in Romans 11:9-10, 15:3). Jesus also makes provision in “The Lord’s Prayer” for us to ask God for His kingdom to come, which includes destroying the godless kingdoms of this world (Matthew 6:10).

And most clearly, we see Christian martyrs pleading for justice to fall on those who took their lives in Revelation 6:9-11 “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

How amazing is it that slain saints in heaven are not praying for God to give mercy to their killers, but they are calling for justice? This kind of prayer reminds us that God can be trusted to bring justice on the wicked. This is a good thing, and He will be just as glorified in bringing justice against sinners as He will be in extending mercy to them (Romans 9:13-23). Does this mean we should be excited to pray for wrath to fall on terrorists? No, I don’t think so.

 

Prayers for Mercy

Jesus taught us many revolutionary truths, one of them being that we are to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who cruse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). He also commanded us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and then modeled it when He prayed “Father, forgive them” while hanging on the cross (Luke 23:34).

This call for followers of Jesus to ask God to give mercy to their enemies is echoed in Romans 12:14 where Paul says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” This of course doesn’t mean Christians don’t care about evil, but rather we choose to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; cf. 2 Timothy 4:14).

Does this mean Christians should only pray prayers of mercy and never prayers for judgment? No, I don’t think so.

 

How Prayers for Punishment and Mercy Meet

How should we pray about extraordinarily violent and wicked people like ISIS terrorists? Should we pray for mercy or for punishment?

1.  Pray first and enduringly for mercy.

Jesus meant what He said when He told us to pray for our enemies. We are to perseveringly ask the Lord to shower mercy on these people. David, who wrote many of the imprecatory prayers, showed mercy to his enemies (Psalm 35:12-14). And Jesus who fulfilled the imprecatory prayers certainly did.

In fact, through His death on the cross, Jesus received the imprecations (curses) that His enemies deserved. As Galatians 3:13 reminds us “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” What a glorious thought! Jesus took on Himself the curse of God’s wrath that sinners deserved so that those who would repent and believe in Him might receive mercy rather than punishment.

This means that as Christians, we must first and foremost pray for violent, evil, brutal barbarians to be awakened from their sin and made alive in Christ. We must plead for savages to know salvation.

Is that difficult for you to ask of the Lord? It is for me. But we must seek grace here. We must plead for God to guard us from falling into the same sin that led Jonah to flee from God when he was asked to proclaim the Gospel to a people just as wicked as modern day ISIS terrorists. Jonah Himself said “O Lord…that is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2).

Let us not despise seeing sinners receive mercy, no matter what they have done. We would do well to remember here that the Apostle Paul was once a terrorist on his way to kill Christians when Jesus intervened and extended him mercy. May He do that to for members of ISIS. May He transform not just one heart, but bring them all to repentance! He is able to do that, just ask ancient Nineveh (Jonah 3).

2.  Be slow to pray prayers for punishment.

While we pray for mercy to come to sinners, we also pray for justice to come. The prayer for punishment should likely be one that is rarely used, and when it is used, used with great caution.

Some of us will be tempted to rush into this prayer without first pleading for mercy for our enemies. I trust Jesus would rebuke us as He did James and John (Luke 9:55). One way to humble our heart is to ask God to help us understand the depths of grace we have received from Christ.

We must remember that we who are in Christ were once blind in our sin. We must remember that the only reason we aren’t ISIS terrorists is because of the mercy of God (cf. Genesis 20:6). Reflect upon God’s mercy to you before you pray for His punishment to fall on others.

Though we should be slow to pray for God to destroy His enemies, there are extreme cases that may call for it. In a brief video titled Should Christians Pray Imprecatory Prayers John Piper said “I think I can imagine circumstances where…some contemporary form of the Gestapo is sweeping through your neighborhood. And is in the most brutal way wiping people out and killing people—I think “God stop them! Do whatever you have to do, stop them!…I want to say there may be a time when you are calling down God’s judgment on someone.”

I feel confident to say that unique events in history, like what we are seeing today in Iraq and Syria, can lead us to say “Lord, save them or stop them…but something has to happen. Convert them or kill them O God.”

I think this kind of prayer is a last resort. We are never to take vengeance into our own hands (Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:19), but plead for mercy (Matthew 5:44) and plead for justice (Revelation 6:9-11) knowing that if they will not repent, they will receive the justice of God’s wrath for eternity in hell. This kind of prayer flows not from a heart of hatred, but from one that knows no other possible way for these warriors to be stopped.

3.  Guard your heart when praying for punishment.

Praying prayers for punishment should never be motivated by vindictiveness. We do not pray as vengeful hatemongers. Rather, we pray as people who need God to move in mercy—or in justice.

If we do pray these prayers, I do not recommend naming names in prayers, though calling for groups, like ISIS to be removed from existence is, I think, acceptable.

To help guard our hearts from a dangerous posture of hate, we should allow our prayers to be guided by truths from God’s Word. Here are some examples:

  • Father, honor your Name that it may no longer be mocked by these evil men. Give them mercy or give them justice, but act for Your Name sake (Psalm 10:11, 74:10, 139:19-22; Micah 7:10).
  • Father, let the world see Your justice and do not allow evil to strut around any longer (Psalm 58:10-11).
  • Father, stop these wicked men that worship of You might be unhindered and uncorrupted (Psalm 69:9; John 2:13-17).
  • Father, convert or crush these men that You might be praised for the way You deliver Your people (Psalm 7:17, 35:18, 28).
  • Father, make Your people know that you are faithful to defend them so they will not lose heart (Psalm 69:6).
  • Father, defeat Your enemies so they may see that You alone are worthy of worship (Psalm 83:16–18).

 

Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, we must all remain vigilant in prayer. We must plead for God to intervene. As we do this, we do not pray hopelessly because we know that one day soon the Lord will return to rescue those who have hoped in Him (2 Timothy 4:8), raise those who have died in faith (1 Corinthians 15:51-55), and crush all those who have opposed Him (Revelation 19:11-21).

 

Come Lord Jesus, come.

 

Other resources for your study:

  • John Piper has an excellent message on Psalm 69. In the end, he counsels us not to pray imprecatory prayers, but has excellent Christ-centered application.
  • J. Carl Laney wrote a helpful scholarly article in Bibliotheca Sacra entitled “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms.”
  • Sam Storms gives straight-forward pastoral counsel about these psalms in his article “Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation.”
  • Bob Deffinbaugh’s exposition of Psalm 109 gives a thorough consideration of imprecatory psalms and is also worth a look. He concludes that we can pray these kinds of prayers.
Share

A Year After Dad’s Death – Peace in an Unanswered Prayer

Share
Here I am snuggled up with dad in his favorite red chair. I miss him much.

Me snuggled up with dad in his favorite red chair. I miss him much.

This post is written by a guest author, my wife, Carrie Kell

“Dad, hey it’s me. I called to see if you know what you were doing 33 years ago today?”

“No, I don’t think I do. “

“You were looking at me for the first time.”

The silence was broken with a tearful voice, “You’d think I would remember that, huh? I guess it is August the 8th. Happy Birthday, Sis (he called me sis or sissy for as long as I can remember).

Dad actually never forgot my birthday. I wasn’t upset though, I knew he hadn’t been himself lately.

I had called him a few days earlier and he’d asked me (for the 3rd time) if I knew what “the baby growing in my belly was yet.” I reminded him it was a boy, and he was just as shocked and excited as he was the other two times I told him. I knew something wasn’t right.

What I didn’t know, however, is that the last time I would ever speak to my dad (perhaps for eternity) was on my 33rd birthday. I am forever thankful that I called and reminded him what day it was. His response was so sweet. He was emotional. I often wonder if he knew he was close to the end.

The Day

We were in Speculator, New York where Garrett was speaking at a family camp. We were there to relax and be reunited with some dear friends from Texas. I would need those friends that week more than I realized. The Lord’s timing always amazes me and encourages my faith.

Two days after we arrived, on August 10th, 2013 my sweet husband came to me in the dining area where I had just shared laughs with my friends. He led me by the hand into the hallway and said those words I’ll never forget, “Carrie, your dad died.”

My eyes widened in disbelief, but deep down I’d known something wasn’t right with him lately. But still, my dad? Mike Church? It just seemed so surreal.

You always know that your parents will die one day, but you can’t really grasp what that means before it happens. In fact, you can’t really grasp what it means after it happens. Losing those you love is very strange.

Mike and Me

My dad wasn’t like the dads my friends had growing up. Nor did he even come close to the kind of dad my children will have. But he was what God gave to me—and for that I am truly thankful.

In the early days of my life I remember curling up with him and falling asleep in his oversized red recliner he loved so much. He coached my sports teams, took us on vacations, and made sure to get us gifts we wanted at Christmas time. He tried to be a good dad, but he could only do that in his own strength for so long.

I was 11 when he left me, my mother, and my brother. He became a man of self-love and basically did as he pleased for the rest of his life. This kind of life with Mike Church wasn’t easy. There were years that he didn’t try to have a relationship with me, nor did he seem to care when I tried to have one with him. We were not his priority anymore. He was his own priority.

He thought this would make him happy. So he ran after it with all his heart, which is so sad, because it ended up being the very thing that made him so miserable and lonely. And it was my father’s misery that God used to soften my heart toward him.

The Changing of the Heart

When I was a freshman in college, the Lord convicted me about the way I felt toward my dad. Now you might think that I was angry at dad for what he had done to our family, but I wasn’t angry—I was apathetic. I seriously didn’t care. He had left us and I had no need to care about him.

The change began one evening after a conversation with a new friend. He wasn’t a Christian and was struggling to find happiness in his life. He’d been through hard things and was at a breaking point.

After my conversation with him, I went back to my dorm room with a heaviness like I had never experienced before. I began praying for him and pleading with God to save him. During that prayer I began to wonder how I could care so much about this person’s salvation, but not for my own father’s?

In many ways my new friend was much like my dad (he even shared his birthday). His self-centeredness didn’t make him easy to be friends with, but as he shared about his desire to find happiness, it softened me towards him. The Lord used that night to melt my heart and teach me not only what it meant to be broken over my friend’s salvation, but to begin to love my dad. Where my heart had once been so indifferent towards him, the Lord gave me a deep love for him. There is no explanation for this love except the grace of God.

A Father to the Fatherless

One of the first things God impressed on my heart was that if I was going to love my father, I was going to have to forgive all his sins against me. I had grown cold to the sting of those sins, but I knew they were there. In His mercy, God reminded me of how much He had forgiven me in Christ.

It was through this that God gave me grace to extend forgiveness to my father for all he had done to me. Jesus loved His enemies, and He called me to do the same (Luke 6:27-33). What I have found is that loving those who are difficult to love is only possible because the Lord does it for you as He works through you. My faith increased so much in those years, because I was certain the deep love I began to develop for my dad wasn’t my own love, it was the love Christ gave me.

The Lord also taught me that to love my father, my expectations would have to change. When I began to love him as a lost person and not a dad, it gave me freedom. I no longer expected Mike to be a real dad to me. He wouldn’t ever be that, unless God changed his heart. But this didn’t mean I would be without a father to care for me.

In Psalm 86:5 God promises that He would be a “Father to the fatherless.” Though my earthly father had abandoned me so many years ago, I have a heavenly Father who will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). God had promised to supply every need of mine according to the riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19), and making me His daughter is the greatest of those riches.

The good news of the Gospel isn’t only that Jesus forgives my sin through faith in Him (which is amazing), but that He gave me grace to love my dad and gave me assurance that God would forever be my Father.

The Prayer Unanswered

Though God changed my heart toward dad in college, my prayers for his salvation had begun long before that. I knew he was a lost man and desperately needed Christ, just like I did. I wanted him to have freedom from the life he lived and the pain and loneliness I could see so clearly. I also became convinced that I was his daughter for this very purpose (Acts 17:24-30).

Because the Lord had so changed my heart toward my dad, I really believed that eventually he would see his need for a Savior. I believed he would look back over his life, see where he had failed, and find hope and forgiveness in the only place he could—Jesus!

I prayed for this almost daily. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I was certain it would. I struggled to trust the Lord in other areas, but I was sure that the Lord would hear the cry of my heart and let me see my dad come to know Him!

Because of this hope, I shared the gospel with my Father often. A month before he died, I sat in his house in tears as I shared the importance of loving God, knowing Christ, and knowing his need for Christ’s forgiveness. He wasn’t convinced. It broke my heart, but not my faith.

That proved to be the last face-to-face conversation I had with my dad. We only spoke on the phone a handful of times after that day, including the day I reminded him of my birthday.

When dad died I was certainly sad, but even more so, I was confused. Why did I not see God save my dad? Why did God change my heart toward my dad if it weren’t for the purpose of seeing him believe? What did this mean about God’s character if twenty years of prayers for my dad’s soul weren’t answered?

Peace in the Unanswered Prayer

Though I have many unanswered questions, the Lord has given me peace. Though my prayers were not answered in the way I had envisioned, my heavenly Father loves me more than I can imagine and I know that all He does is done in faithfulness (Psalm 33:4).

1. I have no regrets.

By the end, dad knew I loved him, and I knew he loved me as much as he was able. Dad also knew the Gospel. I don’t always do this well with others, but the Lord gave many opportunities for me to share the love of Jesus with him and I truly believe there was nothing left I could have said.

Sure, our conversations weren’t always easy and I often walked away discouraged, but by God’s grace I have no regrets today because I shared the Gospel with him. This has served as a great encouragement for me that I will never regret sharing the Gospel with someone—especially once they are gone.

2. I have hope in God’s mercy.

Because I had shared the Gospel, I can rest in the fact that dad knew where to go for mercy if he wanted it. I don’t know what the last few days of dad’s life were like. I wasn’t there when he died. But I do know that as long as someone has breath, they can cry out to God who delights in saving those who seek Him, even if it is with their final breath (Luke 23:42-43).

This peace did not come quickly for me. There were many days and nights of praying and questioning since his death, but God’s mercy gives me hope, no matter what happens.

3. I have trust in God’s greatness.

Though I don’t know that I will see my dad again, I know that I can trust in the great love and wisdom of my heavenly Father. Once I am in His presence in heaven, I know I will lack nothing. In this I rest and in this I hope. Until that day, I will take my anxious heart to His Word and find comfort in truths like this,

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalm 131

Losing my dad has been a sorrowful journey and one that will change my life forever. But my sorrow has been put to rest because the Lord has quieted my soul. He will hold me fast. He will hold me fast.

Share