Category Archives: Social Issues

When Grace and Evil Collide – A Reflection on Charleston

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015 we witnessed something remarkable.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church welcomed a young white man to sit in their pews and pray with them.

Dylann Roof certainly wasn’t the first white person to visit this historically black church, but their well-documented history reminds us why an unwelcoming spirit might have been a reasonable response when he walked through their doors.

Every Reason Not To Love

Emanuel was born out of a group of freed slaves who began worshipping together in 1791 while many of their wives and children remained the “property” of free white owners.

One hundred and forty members from this church were arrested and whipped by white authorities in 1818.

After a planned revolt by some of the slaves in 1822, white people publicly hanged 37 black slaves, including Emanuel’s founder.

The congregation’s building, which was erected with their own hands, was burned by an angry white mob in that same year.

White people had outlawed its services and the church was forced to worship in secret beginning in 1834.

In 1868, one of their former pastors, Benjamin Randolph, was shot in broad daylight by three white men.

Their church is in a state that flies a Confederate flag and has roads named after white generals who fought to keep them from freely driving to church on those roads.

Over the years they worshipped in a city where whites told them to use “colored” toilets and eat at other tables because “your kind isn’t welcomed here.”

Those memories could have clouded the air when Dylann Roof walked through their storied doors.

But instead of cold shoulders, he was offered a warm seat on a pew to pray.

History would have screamed not to let him in that night. Don’t let him close. He doesn’t deserve your love. He’s only going to hurt you.

Evil In The Face Of Grace

During the hour they sat with their would be killer, the church members shared songs and prayers and words of welcome.

But then evil showed its fangs.

Murderous, racist, grace-hating evil made fresh blood flow from old wounds.

Grace had smiled and evil struck it down.

When their killer walked out their doors, Emanuel AME was left with nine new reasons to hate the people who have hurt them.

Nine more funerals.

Nine more empty seats at the dinner table.

Nine more names forever etched into this church’s grueling history.

Suzy Jackson.

Daniel Simmons.

Myra Thompson.

Cynthia Hurd.

De’Payne Doctor.

Sharonda Singleton.

Clementa Pinckney.

TyWanda Sanders.

Left behind are widows and orphans and weeping family members with new reasons to withhold grace.

But that is not what they have done.

Instead, they have once again extended grace in the face of evil.

Grace In The Face Of Evil

At Roof’s bond hearing family members showed Dylann the same grace he saw when he sat down to kill their loved ones.

From broken hearts they spoke words that have stunned many:

“I forgive you…you took something very precious away from me…I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you…you hurt me and you hurt a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you.” – the daughter of Ethel Lee Nance

“I forgive you and our family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity and repent. Confess. And give your life to the One who matters most, Christ, so he can change it…He can change it.” – Anthony Thompson

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate…everyone’s plea for your soul…is proof that they lived in love and that their legacy will live in love…and so hate will not win…” – Alana Simmons (granddaughter of Daniel Simmons)

Those were not empty words from thoughtless lips.

The hymns they sang outside the courtroom afterwards were not the delirious songs of reeling family members.

What we witnessed is grace. The supernatural grace that flows from a spring that abides in the heart of God’s people.

The slain members of Emanuel AME welcomed Dylann Roof into their midst because Christ had first invited them (1 John 4:19-20).

They pressed past the temptation to say “your kind isn’t welcome here” and offered him a seat because Jesus had first given them a seat at His table.

And now, their family members have done the same. They have offered forgiveness because Christ has forgiven them (Ephesians 4:32). 

Grace Wins

On Sunday, June 21, 2015 the wounded but resilient Emanuel AME church assembled once again. The pews were filled with members and visitors from every color. As they walked through those doors they carried the strange mix of being heavy yet hopeful; afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

The building that was filled with gun smoke on Wednesday was filled with joyful songs on Sunday.

The room that was stained with blood on Wednesday was saturated with praise on Sunday.

The place that was divided by hate on Wednesday was hand in hand in love on Sunday.

As they held each other up and sang hymns and proclaimed promises from God’s Word, the world witnessed the arresting reality that when evil and grace collide—grace wins. When hate strikes down love—it rises again. When Christians are separated from life through death—they are not separated from the love of God (Romans 8:28-39).

Why is this so? Because Emanuel’s strength finds its source in Jesus who was struck down by sinful hate, yet rose again to be the Savior and sustainer of God’s people (Psalm 54:4; Acts 2:22-24; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 3:18).

What the world witnessed on Sunday was the resilience of a church who has not, will not, cannot, be killed.

Do they weep? Yes. Do they grieve? Yes. Will they ever be the same? No. But have they given up? No.

Why?

Because Emanuel AME has a Savior who lives forever to give them grace in the face of evil (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:24-25). Jesus has promised He would do this, and Jesus always keeps His promises.

The scene from that Sunday took my mind to a scene in the book of Revelation where we see people from every tribe tongue and nation, standing together to praise the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 7:9–17 “…I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!…they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Among those in that future heavenly scene are the members of Emanuel who have been beaten and mocked and lynched and gunned down, including the nine who fell on Wednesday. It is this heavenly picture that has sustained so many of God’s people over the years, and it is what sustains them even now.

Until Grace is All We Know

One day, grace is all we will know. There will be no more racism or evil or hate or murder or division. All those things will be cast in to the lake of fire with Satan and those who followed him. But that day is not yet.

Between now and then, we live here, in a world stained with sin. We walk through doors with stained histories of both evil and grace. Living in this tension is not easy for any of us, nor is it equal for all of us. Many in this life, including our black brothers and sisters from Emanuel and other communities like it, have unique challenges to face as they journey toward that heavenly day.

As a white man, I have so many questions for the people in Charleston. I want to know how the grace of God has sustained them for so long and through so much? I want to hear how are they helping each other avoid despair and revenge? I want to hear how they have leaned upon Jesus and how they have seen Him sustain them.

But I know I cannot just make it about what “I want” to hear. So I hope I can learn whatever it is my black brothers and sisters would want to share. I can’t do that in South Carolina, but I can strive to do that at home.

For people like me, it is easy to see events on the news, and become a spectator who says, “that man’s racist hate is so evil” and “their response is so gracious.”

But we can’t do that. Change in our church or our country or our hearts won’t happen by distant observing.

My prayer and cautious encouragement is for us to be intentional to lovingly and humbly learn from those God has placed around us. We grow when we follow the example of Christ and enter into each other’s worlds. We need to listen to each other and learn from each other.

Not all people will experience life in the same way, but Gospel-inspired conversations are the pathway to true change. Be slow to make assumptions about how others experience life, and even slower to assume no racism abides in your heart. I am still learning how to do this, and you can read about my journey here.

We can learn much about this by following the example we’ve seen from Emanuel AMC. The more we do what happened on Sunday, the more we’ll grow and avoid things like what happened on Wednesday. I don’t say that to be overly simplistic, but I do believe that racism dies when people come together at the feet of Jesus who died to “break down the dividing wall of hostility” that separates us (Ephesians 2:14).

I pray that we will follow the Christ-like path of grace. It is the way forward, because when grace and evil collide—grace wins.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

Unashamed of My Abortion – Hope for Leyla Josephine

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.

What King Solomon Taught Me About Twitter

Twitter with a Crown

I’m guessing if Twitter was a thing in King Solomon’s day, he would have had a serious following with all his pithy proverbs. But this morning as I was reading the book of Ecclesiastes, I came across this word of caution that all Tweeters should keep close to heart:

“Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.” Ecclesiastes 10:20

Twitter is designed to proclaim what you’re thinking to the world, or at least anyone who wants to give you a listen. But Solomon says that a little bird taking what you think out for all to hear might not always be the best thing.

Politicians, athletes, executives, communications directors (ironic huh?) and even pastors have gotten in trouble for just letting their thoughts fly.

As a man who has deleted his own fare share of foolish tweets, I thought I’d pass along a few words of wisdom from the proverbs that I keep in mind before I invite the world hear what I’m thinking:

Proverbs 10:19 “Where there are many words transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”

Proverbs 12:16 “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.”

Proverbs 12:23 “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.”

Proverbs 17:27–28 “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”

Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”

Twitter can be a great tool to encourage, make people laugh, and share what’s happening in your life. It can also get you into a mess of trouble. So think before you tweet, or even better, pray and ask the Lord if what you are about to say is going to be helpful to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

 

Here are a few other Twitter related articles to check out:

Why and How I am Tweeting – John Piper

The Ten Commandments of Twitter – Kevin DeYoung

What Kind of Online Culture Are We Cultivating? – Dane Ortlund

To Retweet Or Not To Retweet: The Question Of Retweeting Compliments – Nathan Bingham

The Discipline of Secrecy and the Joy of Honoring Others – Justin Taylor

Should a Christian Use Social Networking Tools – Got Questions?

 

 

Picture courtesy of LEADiFY

My Abortion Story, An Open Letter to Emily Letts

EMILY-LETTS-ABORTION-570Dear Emily Letts,

We have never met, but my wife and I just watched your abortion story video.

You invited us, and the world, into your story, so I thought I would invite you into mine.

While we may not have a lot in common, I know we have at least a few things, and they have to do with abortion. When I was 19 I got a friend pregnant. I too “wasn’t ready for a baby.” I had hopes and dreams ahead of me, and having a child seemed like the end of all those dreams. So we aborted our child.

Now, I am a man, so in some very significant ways my abortion experience was different than yours. But in many other ways, it was the same. You see, when our procedure was over, I too felt relief. I felt free to begin life again and make smarter choices. I could get a fresh start, and in many ways I did.

But what haunted me in the months and years afterwards was a reality similar to what you expressed in your video, “I feel in awe that I can make a baby, that I can make a life.” That was what I couldn’t escape.

I had been part of creating a life.

And then I had been part of ending that life.

There was a heartbeat and I stopped it. There was life and I ended it. That reality was inescapable. I tried to ignore it, but there was nowhere to hide. My telltale heart beat louder and louder. I had loved my life so much that I had been willing to kill my own child to protect my happiness.

I never got to hear their laughter. Never got to lock eyes for the first time. Never saw their smile or cheered for their first steps or understood their first words. I never heard them read for the first time or endure their endless questions about why the world is the way it is. I missed all that, and so did they because I took my child’s life.

Emily, my child would be 17 today. We would be planning road trips to look at colleges. We would be looking forward to our last family vacation before they left home. I would be giving my final parental pep talk about working hard and looking for the right kind of spouse. But none of that is happening.

The fact is that I cannot undo what I’ve done in the past. None of us can. What’s done is done. The only hope we have is found in the sinless Son of God who came to rescue people who have lost their way.

He entered into our broken world and our broken lives to rescue us from our sins, including the sin of taking the life of the children He gave to us. That’s why He died on the cross of Calvary, to take the judgment sinners like us deserve.

Emily, someday the YouTube hits will stop. Your supporters will put away their pom-poms and your opponents will put away their pitchforks. And my prayer for you is that when you can’t escape the haunting reality of what you’ve done, you will turn to Jesus.

Emily, Jesus will heal your wounds if you cry out to Him (Matthew 11:28). There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess what you have done and turn to Him in faith, He will wash away all your guilt and all your shame (1 John 1:9).

The Lord gives these words to people like us, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

There is a place to go to be made new. I hope you will come and ask Jesus to turn your story into one where life is given. That’s what happened in my abortion story. Thanks for taking the time to listen.

Sincerely,

 

Garrett Kell

 

 

 

 

 

How Do Atheists Get To Heaven? A Response to Pope Francis

Pope FrancisHow do atheists get into heaven?

This isn’t the opening line of a bad joke, but rather it’s an eternally important question that we all need to ask.

Yesterday (September 11, 2013)  Pope Francis wrote an open letter to Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in which he said, “God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.”

In other words, you can be an atheist, but if you follow your conscience, you can expect God to extend mercy to you and you will be with Him for eternity in heaven.

While I respect Pope Francis’ attempts to further dialogue with people who are not traditionally open to religious conversations, I am deeply saddened by his distortion of truth. The Pope and the Bible do not agree on this all important matter.

Below are a few lessons from the Scriptures that clearly state how an atheist goes to heaven. If you are an atheist, I encourage you to read these verses and ask if God is really there, that He will show Himself to you and lead you into truth.

1. An atheist must recognize that their disbelief in God is foolish.

Psalm 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’…”

There is a God who gave all of us life. Every breath we take is a testimony to His mercy, even if we don’t recognize it. If you’re an atheist, please know that you have a Maker and He says it is foolish for you to ignore that He made you (Psalm 139:13-14) and that He lovingly sustains you (Matthew 5:45).

2. An atheist must recognize that God has graciously given much evidence of His existence in creation.

Romans 1:19-20 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

All of creation is a high-definition testimony of God’s existence and power and beauty. God says that there is no excuse not to believe in Him in light of all He has made. If you are an atheist, please pause and ponder where everything came from and if indeed it is possible that there is a God who did it all to point to Himself.

3. An atheist must recognize that if they try to obey their conscience they will only be condemned.

Romans 2:14-16 “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

This is certainly the passage Pope Francis had in mind when he gave hope for people who don’t believe in God. The problem is that even when our conscience becomes a law to ourselves, we break it all the time. Sure there will be instances where our consciences “excuse” us because we avoid things we know we shouldn’t do, but how many times does it “accuse” us!

The reality is that all of us have many strikes against our conscience and that only further shows that we aren’t in good standing with God. The God of heaven is holy and He will not allow evil to remain forever (Habakkuk 1:13). Our conscience doesn’t excuse us ultimately, rather it condemns us before God and shows us that we need Him to forgive us. If you are an atheist, I encourage you to consider the times you have done things you know to be wrong. What if there is a God who really cares about those things?

4. An atheist must realize that they are already condemned before God because they haven’t believed in Jesus.

John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

When we die we do not have to wonder what will happen. God tells us that if we turn from our sin and believe in Jesus, we will be forgiven and not be condemned before God for our rebellions. But if we do not believe in Jesus, we are already condemned because of the ways we have rejected His revelation to us in creation, in our conscience, and ultimately in His Son.

Revelation 21:8 “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

There is no hope for those who do not have faith in Christ. The only thing that awaits them is the eternal judgment of God. This not popular or palatable for many, but it should sober us and cause us to reflect on what the Bible says about eternity. If you are an atheist, please do not allow these warnings to fall on deaf ears. Ask God, if He is really there, to show you what is true.

5. An atheist must turn from their sin and trust in Jesus.

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

1 John 5:11-12 “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

How can an atheist get into heaven? Not by denying God or attempting to follow their conscience. Atheists get to heaven by ceasing from their atheism and surrendering to Christ.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ is the Savior whom God sent to awaken us from our atheism or sleepy self-righteousness or dead religion. He is God’s only provision for to make us right with Him. There is no other way to heaven other than believing in Jesus. If you are an atheist, please give consideration to whether or not Jesus is who the Bible claims that He was.

If you are a Christian–

Pray for your atheist friends to have soft hearts toward the Lord

Pray for divinely appointed opportunities to talk through the Scriptures with them.

Pray for Pope Francis to have humility before the Scriptures and “not be wise above what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).

It is only by grace that any of us are saved (Eph. 2:8-10), which should do nothing but produce humility toward God, compassion toward others, and patience with those who do not yet believe in God. It is not however loving or compassionate to tell people that they can go to heaven without believing in Jesus because that is a lie.

What Would Jesus Say to Miley Cyrus?

Miley Cyrus - editedIf you haven’t seen the video of Miley’s performance, I want to warn you that it is sexually suggestive and could be tempting to you. I’m not recommending that you watch it.

What might Jesus say to Miley Cyrus after Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards performance? While I’m not sure exactly what He’d say, there are several passages of from the Bible that give us a pretty good idea.

 

Jesus would tell Miley Cyrus that she is the kind of girl He came to spend time with.

There are a lot of religious types who won’t like to hear this, but it’s true. Jesus came to spend time with people just like Miley Cyrus. In the Gospel of Luke 5:30 the religious conservatives of Jesus’ day grumbled and said “why do you eat and drink with…sinners?” The answer? Because Jesus has compassion on sinners (Matthew 9:36), He loves sinners (Romans 5:8), and He came to call sinners to believe in Him (Luke 5:32).

So Jesus may well have gone to the VMA after party last night and sat with Miley and her crew (including the bears). That would not be unlike Jesus at all. In fact, that’s the very reason He left the holiness of heaven—to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom to people just like Miley Cyrus.

How do I know this is true? Not only because the Bible says so, but also because Jesus came to rescue me—and I’m no different than Miley Cyrus. For the first twenty-one years of my life I loved attention and rebellion and sexual promiscuity and the thrill of the moment. If we’re honest, none of us are that different than Miley Cyrus. We might not parade our sin in front of the world on MTV, but Jesus sees the depths of all of our hearts—and we’re deeply deceived if we think that commends us to God.

The good news however is that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus came for people like me and Miley—and you. I’m certain Jesus would tell Miley Cyrus that she is the kind of girl He came to spend time with.

 

Jesus would tell Miley Cyrus that her sin is deadly for herself and for others.

Jesus would tell Miley that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10). He would say that while the sexual thrills and the power of captivating millions of viewers seems to be fulfilling  her soul, she actually is being robbed of the true joy that only Christ can give.

Jesus would also remind Miley that in her interview with Barbara Walters in 2008 (go to 6:37) she was convinced that she’d never go as far into sin’s arms as she has. He’d say something like, “Miley, sin is deceiving you. It’s blinding you. It has told you it only wants a little, but it always wants a little more. Sin will never stop until it has consumed you.”

Jesus would also tell Miley that her sin isn’t just corrupting her own heart, but that she’s leading others to into temptation as well. He’d remind her that the eyes of millions of young girls look to her to learn what it means to be a woman. But rather than find an example that leads them to fear the Lord (Prov. 31:30), they find one more reason to give their hearts and bodies to fleeting lovers.

He’d remind her that through her lyrics and promiscuous ways she tempts men and women to lust after her. He might liken her to the temptress who leads people away from the Lord and into the “chambers of death” (Prov. 5:1-14; 7:1-27). Of course, Miley isn’t the only one leading people to sin, but she needs to remember “temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1).  Jesus would tell Miley Cyrus that her sin is deadly for herself and for others.

 

Jesus would tell Miley Cyrus to come to Him and He will give her rest.

Sin is fun. That’s why we don’t have to be commanded to do it. There’s joy in the drink. There’s comfort in the caress. There is fun in the one night fling. There are laughs with the high. There’s adrenaline with the affirmation. Sin gives us pleasure—but that pleasure is always short-lived and it always leaves us empty.

Jesus would tell Miley that sin will never satisfy her soul because she was made for so much more. As Augustine, who once found life in orgies and drink, said “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” There is nothing down the road Miley is on but pain and sorrow with some cheap thrills along the way.

Jesus would say to Miley, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30). He would tell her “There is rest from trying to keep everyone happy. There is peace for your haunting conscience. There is an answer for what you are seeking—and I am it.”

In the Gospel of John chapter 4 Jesus encountered a woman who was notorious for being wildly promiscuous. She had known many lovers, but they had all left her (or she had left them). When she spoke with Jesus, He told her that He could give her what she was looking for when He said, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus promised that woman who had never been satisfied in her life the answer for her soul’s craving—Himself. Jesus could heal her and take away all her guilt and all her shame and all her wounds. He could give her rest. But to have it, she had to leave her old ways behind.

Rather than let her stay in the darkness, He called her sin into the light and exposed her for who she really was. He said to her “you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:29). Because God is holy, He will not accept us in our sin. He desires to give us peace and rest, but there must be repentance. We cannot love both sin and the Savior.  Jesus called the woman to choose.

By the end of the story, it appears that she chose to follow Christ. Jesus had given her that spring of water and she ran back to the town where she was a known whore and cried out to everyone “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Jesus would tell Miley that He knows her sin and that it will not satisfy her—but He can.  Jesus would tell Miley Cyrus to turn from her sin, to come to Him, and He will give her rest.

Jesus would tell Miley Cyrus that she will be judged one day and that she needs to get ready today.

We will all stand before God one day and give an account for our lives. This should sober us and cause us to take serious consideration of what we will say on that day. In the song Miley performed at the VMAs, she says “only God can judge us.” In one sense she is right. God is the final and ultimate judge. Only He knows our hearts and only He knows all our ways.

We should find not comfort in that idea however if we are not following after Jesus. In John 3:36 we are told that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” To rest in the mantra that “only God can judge us” should not bring us peace if we have not turned from our sin and trusted in Jesus. Instead, we should tremble at the prospect of standing before our Maker on that day when all secrets will be seen.

The good news is that God is a God who loves to extend mercy. In Ezekiel 33:11 He says “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die…?” Jesus would tell Miley that she will be judged one day and that she needs to get ready today. The way to do that is to trust in the One who died for sinners like her, and like me, and like you and turn from our sins and follow Him.

Jesus would have much to say to Miley Cyrus, and it would sound a lot like what He has to say to the rest of us. Let’s not harden our hearts to His voice, but rather, let’s follow the One who came to save sinners like us. Pray that Miley would as well.

 

 

“Daddy, What’s Abortion?”

As a parent, we get all kinds of questions from our children. “Why” seems to be the most frequent question in our house. There’s also plenty about unicorns, the Philistines (my daughter is amazed by them right now?), and what’s so bad about having chocolate for breakfast.  But yesterday my daughter asked me one of the toughest questions to date.

“Daddy, what’s abortion?”

The news was on at our house and when she heard the unfamiliar word and her inquisitive 4 year old mind went to work. Now, I’m a believer in age-appropriate answers…but I felt my inadequacy on this one. I stood there as my daughter’s innocent eyes looked to me awaiting an answer to a seemingly normal question about a word she hadn’t noticed before.

It was one of those moments in time that I don’t think I’ll soon forget. There’s an innocence that a parent wants to preserve in their child, but when they ask questions, we need to try to answer. God gave us minds to think with and we want our children to learn to engage with the world in which they live. So I said to her, “it’s when someone makes a baby stop being in their mommy’s belly.” I thought that answer was a safe and adequate response to a topic I hoped we could press into at a later age. But it wasn’t.

“Where does the baby go?” she replied. “They go to heaven” I said. “Is the baby dead?” she asked. “Yes, honey, in an abortion the baby dies when the person takes it out of their mommy’s belly.”   A moment of silence followed as she took it all in. “Do they kill the baby?”

We’ve tried to be wise in shielding our daughter from the horrors of the world she lives in, but during the Newton tragedy, she asked many difficult questions as well and she learned a lot about death and murder and the fact that some people kill other people. Since that day, she has been tuned into the fact that people kill each other sometimes.

“Why would someone do that? “Why would someone kill their baby? ” she asked. “There are lots of reasons people do it sweetheart, everyone has different reasons, people just do.” Now, if you don’t know me, I need to tell you that when I was 21 a girlfriend and I chose to have an abortion. You can read about that here. So this post is written by an imperfect man who has done many things he regrets. But when she asked me this question, I couldn’t find a way to explain it.

“How does someone kill their baby?” she asked. I explained to her that normally, doctors helped mommies do this and that all doctors didn’t do this. At this point, I felt like we had gone far enough and I changed the subject.

As I’ve reflected on all of this, two things have weighed heavily on my heart.

The first is the sadness a parent feels as they watch their children begin to process what it means to live in a sinful, fallen world. It was heartbreaking to watch my daughter, who already loves the idea of marriage and having children, process the idea that someone would kill their child. I saw a bit of her child-like innocence die on that Monday morning. It was gut wrenching. I know these types of conversations will happen. She will have her heart broken. She will fail a test. She will get rejected from something. She’ll miss an easy lay-up. Those things will come. But yesterday’s question seemed to come too early and too sincerely. She drank it in and it stung her.

Today she and I have a daddy daughter date and I plan to follow up with her about our conversation. We’ll talk about 1 Peter 2:11 and what it means to live in a fallen world. I pray God will use the terror she feels about sin to open her heart to believe in Christ. May God give us wisdom to shepherd our children’s hearts through the sad realities of this fallen world.

The second thing I left the conversation with was a fresh burden to see abortion ended. I know that ending abortion raises other issues. I’m not saying those issues are light. Unplanned pregnancies can be a terrifying thing. But, please, something has to happen. We are killing babies. We are killing babies. We are killing babies. Every day, thousands of them. Something has to happen.

What is the answer? There is no easy answer. There are many things that have to be considered, but the bottom line is that we need God to intervene. We need Him to use His people to cry with those who find out they are pregnant when they didn’t intend to be. We need His church to rise up and walk along side mothers and be willing to adopt these children. We need God to move in the hearts of abortion doctors like a dear friend of mine who came to me one day after a sermon and confessed that he had been doing abortions for years and that he was repenting and asking Christ to forgive him. We need the Holy Spirit of God to show us how to be compassionate and bold at the same time. We need the Lord Jesus to change many hearts…including our own. Is this impossible? “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Let us pray and act in faith in a great God who can change any heart and any civilization.

My prayer is that my daughter will see a dramatic change in the posture of our country toward abortion. My prayer is that one day, if she has children of her own, that she will be able to talk with them about abortion as something that was ended during her generation and that my granddaughter will grow up in a day much different than the one we are in today. May God give us grace, we are in need.

The Mayans Mighta Missed It, But…

“Where is the promise of His coming?” 2 Peter 3:4

On a day when many will rightfully mock the failed forecasting of the Mayans, it would be wise for us to set aside a few minutes to read some promises that will most certainly come to pass.

May God use His Word to remind you of that wonderful and dreadful day that is set and will surely arrive sooner than when you began reading this post. Come soon Lord Jesus.

 

Daniel 12:2; Matthew 24-25; Mark 13:32; Luke 21:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; Hebrews 9:27; 1 Peter 4:7-8; 2 Peter 3:1-13; 1 John 2:28; Revelation 19:11-22:21

The Great Tragedy of the 2012 Election

The Great Tragedy of the 2012 Election

There was a great tragedy that occurred on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

The tragedy was not found in the celebrations of elected officials or the concessions of defeat. It was not colored red or blue, and it wasn’t wrapped up in useless campaign promises.

The tragedy of the 2012 election is that in this land of the free and home of the brave, many people were not allowed to vote. Their voices were silenced. Their votes were not cast. Their opinions not expressed. Why?

Because they were dead.

The great tragedy of the 2012 election is that roughly 33 million would-be voters were not with us, because they had been murdered. From 1973-1994 roughly 35 million babies were aborted. That’s roughly 35 million 18-39 year-olds who did not vote because they were dead.

That is an unspeakable tragedy.

They did not have the chance to explain to their children about what makes our nation so great. They did not have the chance to watch the results come in with their friends and family.

They did not have the chance to rest their heads on a pillow in the land of the free. That is a great tragedy.

But this story of tragedy is not over.

In 2016, roughly 5 million more voices will be unheard. Why? Because over 3,500 babies will be killed today. And each day leading up to Tuesday November 8th, 2016. In the 3 minutes it takes you to read this post, 7 babies will have been aborted in the United States of America. Their voices are silenced. Their freedom not experienced. Their opportunity to be brave not known. Their lives taken from them.

This is a tragedy that hits close to home for me. When I was 19 years old, I chose to end the life of my first child through an abortion. My friend and I were in a scary place, we didn’t plan to get married, and we had nowhere else to go. So we chose to end the life of our child.

That child would be 16 today. They’d be excited about driving a car and in just a couple years, they’d be excited about voting. But, they won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be sitting down with them and explaining how to think about policies and the candidates that represent them. I won’t be able to tell them about freedom and justice for all. I took that freedom away with my injustice.

I cannot undo what I’ve done in the past. None of us can. Only Jesus, who shed His blood for sinners like me can heal those wounds. Jesus gives us great hope in the midst of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies we face in this life.

If you have committed an abortion, I want you to know that there is a refuge in Jesus. He will heal your wounds. There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess your sins and turn to Him in faith, He will wash away all your guilt and all your shame. Come to Christ.

If you support abortion, I encourage you to spend time in prayer and ask God to show you if abortion is something that pleases Him or not. Ask a Christian to help you see what God’s Word says about this. I’m under no assumption that you don’t already have deeply rooted ideas, I did too. I encourage you to take the time to read what God says about life and who has the right to give and take it away. I encourage you to start with Psalm 139.

If you are a Christian, be patient with those who view things differently than you. But don’t just be patient, speak truth in love to those who are in need. Find ways to help those who are struggling through unplanned pregnancies. Investigate options for adoption and invest in the lives of those who are facing difficult choices.

I have on my wall a picture of a 3 year old boy in cowboy boots. He’s a 3 year old boy who nearly wasn’t with us today because of the difficult place his mother found herself in. She was not married and pregnant and scared. But my wife met with her and prayed with her and took her to a Christian doctor who showed her the baby in her womb through a sonogram. That young mother had the courage to keep her child.

That young boy’s smile reminds me that God can save children, one at a time. But God does this by using His people to come alongside those who are struggling and lovingly showing them the Christ who can walk them through any terrifying situation, even an unplanned pregnancy.

 

I believe that the only hope to turn the trend of this tragedy around is for people to turn their hearts toward the God who made them through the way paved by His Son Jesus. Jesus changes hearts, and changed hearts changes a nation. May God give grace to us as a country, and may God give us courage to stand up in the midst of this tragedy so that, if the Lord tarries, there will be many more people casting votes in 2030. Lord Jesus, we need your help.