KICK THE CAN

diy-can-for-kick-the-can-gameWhen I was a kid, summer afternoons and evenings were when our neighborhood came to life.  It was a day when the only time spent inside the house was to eat a meal.  There were no smart phones to waste time on, no video games (outside a pixelated Pac-Man or Frogger on the Atari 2600), and no Netflix.  From morning until dark there was always something to do:  ride bikes; play football or baseball in the field just down the street; for my Fort Worth friends, it may have been intense games of two-square; or, wait for it . . . a game of Kick the Can.  Best game ever.  We would play that, literally, for hours.

If you don’t know about the epic game of Kick the Can, you seriously were deprived as a kid.  But for those of you who have played it, I’m guessing there is a sense of nostalgia stirring at even the mention.

It’s a lot like hide and seek, but with a twist.  You have a person who is “It” (not the clown, by the way), who is supposed to guard the empty Folger’s coffee can.  (Just a side note if you decide to play: make sure that the coffee can is empty before you use it.  Not saying that I would know anything about that though). The person who is “it” would count to 50, and all who were playing (the more people, the better) would go and hide—behind trees, cars, bushes, the neighbor’s St. Bernard, wherever.  The point of the game was to try and kick the can before the person who was “it” could run back to the can and say, “1-2-3 I see (your name goes here).”  And if you were caught, you were captured until someone kicked the can to free you.  There were a couple of rules:  1) if you were “it,” you couldn’t be closer than 10’ to the can.  2) if you broke rule #1, we kicked you instead of the can.

I’m kidding.  But rule #1 was legit.

Over time, we had to modify the rules a bit because of . . . Alan.  Alan didn’t play fair.  He was notorious for staying too close to the can, which made it virtually impossible for us to run from our hiding place to kick the can.  So, I came up with some strategies that were specifically implemented whenever Alan was “it.”

• Strategy #1:  Get several people with you to hide in the same place, and then rush the can in a group.  Alan never had a chance.

• Strategy #2:  Have several people rush from different directions at the same time.  Alan cried one time because of this.  I feel bad about it now.

• Strategy #3:  Have the friend who came over to stay the night, and who Alan didn’t know, rush the can.  You can’t get a person out, if you can’t call their name.  Brilliant.

After using all my strategies, we had to modify the rules again.  But it was fun while it lasted.

To kick the can was a big deal, because there were always people who were captured and needed to be set free.  In order to be successful you had to have good timing.  You had to be fast, which always helped if you had new tennis shoes.  We all run faster with new tennis shoes.  You had to be strategic (see above).  And you had to take risks.  Rushing the can in order to free the captives was not for the faint of heart.

The reward for kicking the can?  There was a lot of celebration by those set free.

Looking back, though, Kick the Can reminds me of something bigger.  The truth is that all of humanity was once held captive because of sin. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He (Jesus) Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Hebrews 2:14-15.

All of us were once held captive, because of sin, by our enemy, the devil.  He guarded the “can” of sin and death.  There was no hope for release from our bondage.  But God being rich in mercy sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down His life by dying on the cross to set us free from sin and death.  Jesus has kicked the can of sin and death, by way of His crucifixion and resurrection, and has made a way for those bound by sin to be set free.  The prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would set captives free, and open the prison to those who were bound in sin.  The apostle Paul wrote, “He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”  Colossians 1:13

Some of you who are reading this are still captive because of your sin.  The great news, though, is that Jesus has made a way for you to be set free.  You can’t free yourself.  You need a Savior; One who has kicked the can of sin and death.  And the way that you find true life and freedom is by turning from sin and turning to Jesus.  I’d love to talk with you about that if you’d like to know more.

Here’s why this is so important:  this is not a game.  This is reality that is affecting your life now, and will for all eternity.

For those who have trusted Jesus as Savior, and are following Him faithfully, we are called to go to those who are held captive still.  We need to realize that there are those around us who need to hear the great news of Jesus, and how He has made a way for us to have life, be forgiven, and set free.   We need to have a sense of urgency in telling our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and others because life is like a vapor.  We need to be strategic.  And we need to take risks.  You might risk your reputation; you might risk a job promotion; you might risk being criticized or mocked.  Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are risking their very lives.  And some have lost them for the sake of this gospel hope.  This is a hostile culture when it comes to making much of Jesus and what He has done for us.  But the risk is far less than the reward.

The enemy is still trying to keep captive those who do not yet know Jesus.  I hope you’ll join me in taking risks to go and kick the can, but it’s not for the faint of heart.    

      

IN COLOR

black and white colorI’m not a big fan of country music, necessarily, but there was a time where I would have told you I couldn’t stand to listen to it at all.  My grandparents, one set in particular, loved country music.  Whenever I was at their house, or riding in their car, I can remember the radio being on KTCS, Ft. Smith, Arkansas’s, country music station.  And it made me nauseous.  Give me The Police, Journey, Chicago, The Eagles, or any music remotely close.  But please, for the love of all that’s music, no more Conway Twitty’s, “Tight Fittin’ Jeans.”  Give me, “Billie Jean.”

But I’ve softened to some country music, I guess.  I like songs that have a story; stories that take me somewhere.  Take for example, Jamey Johnson’s song, “In Color.”  Whenever I hear that song, I think about my grandfather who loved to tell stories (If you’re not familiar with that song, here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYGwxf1gCC4).  I remember sitting on his front porch, he and I whittling sticks with an Old Timer pocket knife he gave me.  He taught me why you spit on the whet stone before sharpening your knife.  He shared with me about life when he was a kid.  He told me some stories about being in the Pacific campaign in WWII.  He would take me on drives and show me fields he used to walk in; tell me the history of places in the town I was born and raised in.  He even drove me to the place where he proposed to my grandmother, and told me the story.  I wish I could have seen those things in color.    

Even as I write this I find myself missing my grandparents.  But I’m thankful for the memories, and the stories to this day that still make me smile when I think about them.  They have left an indelible mark on my life.      

When I read what John wrote in his first letter, it was as though he was inviting those to whom he was writing, and us, to pull up a chair and listen to the stories of his time with Jesus.  Stories that would lead somewhere, and ultimately to Someone who could change their lives now, and forever.  

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the word of life–the life was made manifest and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:1-4

I wish I could’ve heard and seen that in color.  To hear what John heard.  To see what John saw firsthand.  To touch Creator God, and embrace the Savior of the world.  

As followers of Christ, we have not been left without a story to tell.  For now, we walk by faith.  We see somewhat, but not fully.  The apostle Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  1 Corinthians 13:12 

We believe by faith the scriptures are true.  We believe the Spirit of God, who dwells in every believer, illuminates the truth of what Christ has said and done.  He transforms us so that we are able to bear witness to the truth of Christ.  We have heard Him because He speaks to us by His word and His Spirit.  We see Him because He Spirit works in and through us.  And we proclaim Him because He is worth telling others about. 

But there is coming a day when this faith we walk in as followers of Christ will become sight; when what seems to be monochrome becomes more brilliant than Ultra HD 4K. 

Until that day comes, we need to keep telling the stories, and look forward with expectant hope that we’ll see it in color.  

FULLY DEVOTED

Fully-DevotedI remember a time when I couldn’t wait to wake up and spend time with God in the morning.  The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school was a turning point in my relationship with God.  I had experienced the misery of fighting with and running from God much of my 9th grade year and it came to a climax in Glorieta, New Mexico.  Centerfuge camp was the last stand of my Armageddon campaign of self-rule against God.  The battle didn’t last long, and my surrender was unconditional.  God changed my life that night in Glorieta, and the days following were unlike any I had experienced before, spiritually.  I was at peace.  I was on fire.  I was fully devoted.  

But it didn’t take long before the devotion waned.  What started out as consistent reading of God’s word and spending time with God in prayer, became back-seat to other things.  My time with God was sporadic, and although not absent, it was not the priority of my life.    

It brings to mind what God told Jeremiah to tell the people of Jerusalem.  “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of His harvest.  All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”  (Jeremiah 2:2-3)

It’s as though God is saying, “I remember your devotion. You’re not devoted now, but I remember how you used to be devoted to Me before you allowed the cares of the world to overwhelm you and the idols of the world to become the pursuit of your life.  I remember how you used to love Me as a bride loves her husband; how you trusted Me in desert places where all you had was Me to lean into.   But that’s all changed now.  I’m wondering though, what did you need that I did not abundantly give you?  What of the priceless treasures found in Me, that were yours, was not enough that you felt you had to go and chase after worthless things?  What more did you think you would gain?  What pleasure did you believe you would find?  What caused you to forget all the way I led you in your dark moments, and loved you with an everlasting love?  What happened that you chose to forsake the Source of your joy and life, only to try and go it on your own; finding yourself empty, broken, and desperate?”

Maybe you’re there right now.  It could be that you are thinking, “I remember when I was devoted.  I remember when I was on fire for Christ, wanting nothing more than just to know Him and spend time with Him.  But now, in comparison to Christ, I am chasing after worthless things.  I’ve turned from the joy and life He gives, and I’m trying to go it on my own.”  But you don’t won’t to stay where you are.  So, what do you do?  

Return.  God told Israel, “Return, faithless Israel.”  In the same way, you need to return.  And here’s the promise of God for those who return to Him:  “I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful.”  (Jeremiah 3:12). That is so good!  God is merciful.  He is gracious.  He is loving.  He longs for you to return.  But returning doesn’t happen without confession and repentance.  Confessing that you have wandered and that your devotion has waned.  And repenting of sin, which is having a sincere broken heart over your sin, and in doing so turning back to Him.  

Although you may feel a thousand miles away from Him, it only takes on step of  turning back to lead you down the road of devotion.  After all, He is the Father who runs to embrace the prodigal who returns. 

At this time in my life, and only by God’s grace, I find myself devoted to Him and wanting to know Him even more.  I look forward to waking up just to spend time with Him; and not just in the morning, but experiencing His presence throughout the day.  Don’t get me wrong, the enemy fights with demonic zeal to lure my heart to chase after worthless things.  But devotion to Christ is worth fighting for, and deepening.  

So for those needing to return, turn around and take a step towards Christ.  He is gracious. He is merciful.  He is waiting.  And as you spend time with Him, trust Him, and follow after Him, you will find that your devotion will grow stronger.       

   

IDENTITY AND VALUE

identityThe prophet Jeremiah had a rough go of it.  As a matter of fact, he was known as the weeping prophet because Israel would not listen to all that God had told him to say.  He was broken over the sin of the people; over his own sin.  He was rejected; ignored; fought against.  Even in his own discouragement and questioning, though, Jeremiah continued to trust what God had spoken to him when God had called him. 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5

For Jeremiah, he was to be a mouthpiece for God to the people of Israel and Judah, calling them repentance for their sins in abandoning God and His ways.  It wasn’t an easy assignment, but Jeremiah was created for such a task and moment.  Maybe that’s why God said on the outset, to Jeremiah, that He had been formed, known, set apart, and appointed for this.  

When you are commissioned to do and say that which isn’t popular in culture, much like Jeremiah, it’s imperative that you know your true and identity and value, as well as  know without a doubt that God is with you, for you, and that He is watching over His word to perform it.  (Jeremiah 1:12)

“And I, behold (listen), I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land.  They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.”  Jeremiah 1:18-19

Jeremiah’s identity was found, not in what he did, but in being formed by God and known by God.  Regardless of how the people of Israel would respond to Jeremiah, he would be secure in knowing that he was God’s very own child, and that he was known intimately by Him.  

That should be reassuring for us especially since we have a tendency to find our identity and value in our vocation (what we do).  If Jeremiah had placed his identity in what he did as a prophet to an obstinate and cruel people, imagine how shattered his identity would have been.  He would have felt as though he utterly failed, and therefore a failure.  Don’t get me wrong, Jeremiah had his weak moments.  Yet, he was faithful to be obedient because his identity was in the God who formed him and knew him, not in what he did.  He may have been set aside and appointed as a prophet, but he was formed and known as a child of God.  

It’s no different for anyone who has come to know God through a relationship with Christ.  Our identity and value are found in Him, not in our own making or our vocation, or in how well we are liked or received by others.  Regardless how good you are at what you do, or what measure of success you seem to have, there will come a time when it either crashes, sputters, ends, or you just simply realize that it’s not enough to satisfy what you really desire most.  

Think about the life of Jesus.  Before He began his earthly ministry of calling disciples, teaching in villages, healing the sick, proclaiming the kingdom of God, and even suffering on a cross for the sins of the world, He was affirmed by His Father in heaven of His identity and value.  The gospel writer Matthew records it this way when God said of His Son, Jesus, “This is My beloved Son (identity), with whom I am well pleased (value).”  Matthew 3:17 

Henri Nouwen said, “Jesus came to announce to us (those who are in Christ) that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity- an illusion!  Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.” 

So where are you finding your identity and sense of value?  If it’s in the number of views or “likes” of your social media posts, you will daily be preaching a false gospel to yourself that you are defined by how others view you or approve of you.  If it’s in the worldly success of doing well in business, or increasing your financial status, or in the things you possess, you will soon see that your identity is built upon sand that always rests upon the shoreline of a tumultuous and raging ocean that is one tsunami wave away from shattering your perceived identity and worth.

Here’s the point:  God has called us to rest in the truth that our true identity, one that is secure and lasting, is found only in Christ.  And because we are in Christ, we are His and He is well pleased.  That’s who He says we are.    

 

SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE

socially unacceptableDisclaimer:  If you want to become better, like I do, you might want to read this.  If you do not want to be challenged and convicted, as I was when writing this, you might not want to read this.  (reader discretion is advised)

I’ve sensed for a while now that it’s time for me to rethink the role of social media in my life.  For some reason, though, I continue to justify why it’s important for me to stay “connected” to the world.  Think of all the great political views and personal commentaries I would miss, all of which are always rich with robust and helpful dialogue; or all the opportunities I have of sharing a post to really prove I love Jesus. What would I do with all the time I would save from not copying and pasting to my status all the warnings that I and others need to be aware of?  And how would I get my need for validation if I don’t check the number of blue thumbs or red hearts I get on my latest selfie or post?  (Yes, the sarcasm is thick.)

I get it though. There is something to be said about the good that social media platforms afford. Without a doubt, I love to see photos of my grandkids; I enjoy being edified by verses of Scripture and thoughtful insights from someone’s devotional.  I love to see and hear what God is doing in His church here at home and around the world.  I even love to see an hilarious video clip of kids being freaked out by the “magic sheet and disappearing trick” (just YouTube it).  So, there certainly are some redeeming qualities.

But truthfully, much of what seems to show up on my feed, and maybe yours as well, isn’t helpful or healthy.  After this past week I have been more disheartened and grieved over the divisive and harsh posts that social media, specifically Facebook, continues to perpetuate. Social media cannot do what being truly connected with other people can do, which is having face-to-face conversations where honest questions can be asked, listening is practiced, and understanding is gained.  Just a thought:  if you know someone who posts on your wall that has a differing view than you politically, religiously, or ideologically, and you feel the need to comment, rather than argue in a 2-hour thread call them up, go get a cup of coffee at Starbucks (or if you’re boycotting, try Chick-fil-A), and have a sit down conversation that seeks to gain understanding rather than win an argument.  That seems more helpful.  And it certainly seems to be more biblical . . . well, maybe not the Starbucks/Chick-fil-A coffee, but you get the point.

I recently read an article that was entitled, “If Jesus Were On Earth Today, Would He Use Social Media?” The conclusion that the writer came to was that He probably would, but not in the way that many do today.  I agree.  He would have leveraged social media as a tool and not a weapon; as a means for advancing the gospel and not arguing a point.  Don’t get me wrong, He would have engaged others with truth (and He did), yet it would be personal and full of grace.  By grace, just so some may not think I’m saying Jesus gives sin or a distorted worldview a pass, grace is just as much grace in unwavering correction as it is unmerited favor.

On the other hand, if the disciples would have had access to social media, I guarantee that Peter would have had a literal “come-to-Jesus-meeting” on a few occasions. I can see Peter’s posts or tweets right now:

“Mad sword skills.” #Malchus #NotToday #CanYouHearMeNow

or,

“Jesus just said He’d build His church on me.”  #Winning #ClassFavorite

or,

“When you have to feed over 5,000 people and Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays.”  #ComeOnMan #WeNeedAMiracle #JesusTakeTheMeal

Yeah, there would be a rebuke coming.

One more.

“Walking on water . . . not so much.”  #EpicFail #ThoseWavesThough #JesusIsMyLifeguard  (this one I think Jesus would’ve enjoyed.)

When you look at the Bible, Jesus understood the value of sitting down with those who weren’t like Him (Luke 15). He even had conversations with those who had vitriolic hate towards Him (Luke 15:25-32).  As Rosaria Butterfield has said, He didn’t sin with sinners, but He did sit with sinners. And I think we would be most like Jesus if we did the same.

With that being said, here are some questions I’m considering, and would encourage you to honestly and prayerfully consider as well.

FOUR QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA . . .

IS SOCIAL MEDIA FEEDING MY NEED TO BE NOTICED AND VALIDATED?

In the book The Simplest Way To Change The World, Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements write, “In The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani writes, ‘The appeal of social networking sites is the ability to simultaneously have hundreds of “friends” without actually risking the emotional investment of a real human relationship.’ The creation of ‘likes’ on avenues such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is one of the most brilliant marketing tools ever created, because we all want to be liked.  It’s mesmerizing to check our feed and see who liked our last post, and depressing when we discover that no one has.  In fact, some social scientists now describe our endless use of social media as ‘like addiction.’”

We all have a desire, and a need, to be noticed and validated.  That’s true for some more than others, but nonetheless it is a need deep within every human being.  And, truth be told, no human being can ever provide all that you want or need in this area. It is only in Jesus that we find our true identity; our sense of value and security in knowing that He notices us. And it’s not because it’s all about us, because it isn’t.  It’s all about Jesus, but He lavishes His love on us and reminds us of who we are in Him.

It reminds me of the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19.  As a social outcast and thief, the chances of Zacchaeus being noticed by Jesus (at least in the minds of the people who knew him), were below zero.  Yet as the Messiah passed through town, this short man who climbed a tree to see Jesus was acknowledged.  And not only was He acknowledged but He was, maybe for the first time, truly noticed.  Zacchaeus would go from seeing Jesus from a tree, to sitting down with the Christ at the table in his own house.  The point is, Jesus notices you even in your most broken moments in life and He not only wants to meet with you, He wants to have a relationship with you.

So, what if instead of spending so much time looking for what we can’t get on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or even Snapchat, we spent that time scrolling through the feed of God’s word?  I promise you that you’ll discover that all you need is found in all Jesus is.

AM I SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA?

Ok . . . #3.  Yeah, we’d like to not take time and honestly evaluate this, but we need to.  Business Insiderfound that people spend 20% of their time on the Internet viewing social media.  To put that in perspective, if you spend 8 hours of your day sleeping (which most people don’t, according to a recent Gallup poll), of the remaining 16 hours of the day, you will spend, on average, over 3 hours just on social media.  For some, 3 hours is an understatement.

In light of the research that validates what most of us know to really be true, here are some statements I often hear that make me say, “Really?”:

“I don’t have time to read the Bible.” (Oh look, another Facebook poll question to answer.)

“I’m too busy to reach out to my neighbors.”  (I wonder what [insert neighbor’s name here] is posting about?)

“I’m too busy to come to church on Sunday.”  (I’ll just watch it online.)

“I don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done.” (See “Business Insider” research)

I know, maybe a little too close to home, or maybe the heart.  I’m asking these same questions of myself as well.  What I’ve discovered, though, is that the margin we lack and long for in our lives is not because there isn’t enough time or space available, it’s that we can easily fail to choose wisely how to spend the time we’ve been graciously given wisely.  The apostle Paul encourages us well when he says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15

So, what if instead of spending so much time on social media and missing opportunities to develop deep relationships with people and enjoy that which really matters, we spent time growing in our relationship with Jesus; developed meaningful relationships with our neighbors and friends; connected with others in a faith community of believers for encouragement, exhortation, and enjoyment; and just took time to get outside and enjoy God’s creation?  I think we’d be healthier and happier because we were all created for that kind of rhythm of life.

WOULD JESUS BE PLEASED WITH WHAT I AM ABOUT TO POST?

Whatever you are typing in your status, about to tweet, would Jesus be pleased with it?  Would it reflect the character of Christ that, as followers of Jesus, we are to display to a watching world?  Are they words that edify and build up, or tear down?  Are they words that speak truth in love, but in a way that doesn’t require a face-to-face conversation in order to be helpful.  The right thing said at the wrong time and in the wrong way is never right.  That’s why the apostle Paul admonishes us when he writes, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:5-6

Talk about practical wisdom for a social media age.  When Paul uses the illustration of “salt” you have to understand that in those days it was used as a preservative, it was highly valuable, and added flavor to their favorite meal.  So with that in mind, is what I’m about to say life-preserving to those whom I am speaking?  Is what I’m saying sincerely adding value to the conversation?  And is what I’m about to post so flavorful that it would cause people to say, “I really would love to hear more from this person.”  Or, “I’d really like to sit down and have a conversation with this person.” There’s wisdom in that, as Paul says, especially towards those who are not true believers.  Imagine what might happen if instead of coming across as mean-spirited, argumentative, combative, and rude, we see every post, tweet, conversation as an opportunity to walk in wisdom, make the most of our time, and make much of Jesus so that others are left with the taste in their mouth of wanting to know more.  #Winning #TheGospelAtWork

God, forgive us for failing to do this well in the past.  Help us do better.

So, what if instead of posting what we really feel in moments of frustration, anger, hurt, disappointment, etc., we prayed before we posted?  I think we’d allow the Spirit to guard our hearts, our minds, and our words, and in doing so would help us walk in wisdom and add flavor instead of leaving a taste of bitterness.

IS THERE A BETTER PLATFORM FOR ME TO BE HEARD?

Yes, there is.  I hope that you’ve seen it throughout what I’ve written.  The best platform to hear and be heard is in relationships with others.  Looking at a screen can never take the place of looking into the face of another individual.  We’re wired for something better, something deeply relational.  When is the last time you sat down with someone who had a completely different view politically, and had a conversation involving talking and listening?  What about with someone of a different race and sought to gain understanding by listening? There are many more conversations that we could have as well that would be greatly helpful, and would open more opportunities to make much of Jesus and the hope of the gospel.  Personally I’m for creating opportunities for dialogue, rather than closing doors on what could be God-ordained conversations.  You may never come to a place of agreement with whomever you are conversing with, and that’s ok.  The goal isn’t agreement as much as it is understanding.  If I walk away from a conversation understanding someone better, it helps me love them better.  It helps me pray for them more specifically; and not so that they would come to see things my way, but that God do what He desires to do in them. It is God’s responsibility to change the hearts of people, not mine.  But He does call me to love my neighbor, even when that neighbor is considered by you an enemy.  Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .”  Matthew 5:43-44 

So, what if instead of using a social media platform to hear and be heard, you started creating opportunities for conversations to take place in a way that you gain understanding about a person rather than judge them from the soundbite of a post?  I think we would add value to meaningful conversations, and maybe, just maybe, point people to the solution rather than add to the noise.

STRUGGLING IN PRAYER . . .

warfare praying“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” Colossians 4:12

Epaphras is the kind of person you want as a friend. How would you feel if you knew there was someone who cared about you and loved you enough to go to battle for you, in prayer, that you might know the God who holds all things together and is sovereign over all? How would you feel if someone struggled on your behalf, in prayer, for you to be set free from your alcohol, drug, porn, gambling, or any other addiction? For your battle with depression, anger, self-esteem, loneliness, and unforgiveness? For your marriage to be healed? For your sadness to be turned to joy? For your child who is sick? For your son or daughter who is a wandering soul? For your salvation? For you to know the depth of the riches of Christ?

When I was a sophomore in high school (a very difficult time in my life), I remember my parents struggling on my behalf for me to meet godly friends who would influence my life in a way that pointed me to Jesus. I’m sure that my parents weren’t the only ones praying for me, but they struggled on my behalf in prayer. As a result, God did bring two friends into my life who God used to change my life. Their struggle was not in vain. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 4:16)

Struggling on behalf of others in prayer is one of the most Christ-like and loving acts in which you can engage. So here’s a couple of questions to think about: On whose behalf are you struggling in prayer? And, who have you asked to struggle on your behalf in prayer so that you might stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God?

The struggle needs to be real.

CULTURE IN CHAOS: LIVING IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD

post truth imageThis afternoon I came across this video on an NBC news site, and although not shocking it did greatly grieve my heart. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfzL8BrNSLQ) A similar story of Drag Queen Story Hour at a New York City is equally disturbing. (https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/drag-queen-story-hour-at-nyc-library) It is sad. It is foolish. And even though it seems utopic, it is destructive. I truly do feel sad for these children, and the parents of these kids. Sadly, we don’t need to wait to determine how this will turn out. Time will tell the same tale of those who have suppressed the truth because they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened: it will be chaotic, not utopic.

A person’s worth and identity is not determined by the acceptance of others. All who are seeking gender neutrality so as to find common ground, equality, and dignity are creating a false reality. Our bodies attest to this, which is why some are choosing not to reveal their biological gender to their children because to do so would be an admission of that which is absolutely true. To deny who we are by God’s sovereign design is to reject true dignity, worth, value and identity. Because we are a fallen humanity, marred by sin, there will never be a place where everyone is fully accepted, with no stereotypes or prejudices this side of heaven. That sounds so insensitive and fatalistic, but thus is the result of the curse of sin; which all the more makes the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ so incredibly life-giving and full of grace and hope.

In Romans 1:18, the apostle Paul mentions those who “suppress the truth.” A people who suppress the truth will become a people who are unbridled in their sin. By suppressing truth, Paul is referring to those who refuse to acknowledge God and His ways. When a person refuses to acknowledge God, it is to numb the conscience of their mind and ignore the longing of their soul so that they might live as if there is no God. To live as if there is no God, is to live with no sense of accountability to the truth of God. Regardless, a person’s choice to not believe in God or to not follow the ways of God does not negate the truth that God does exist and His ways are true. The truth does not hinge on our opinion.

But again, it is no surprise that truth has become relative. In 2016, Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year was “post-truth.” It is defined as this: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In other words, regardless of the facts, biological realities, common sense, or anything else that may be empirically evident, our culture would say truth is determined by how a person feels or what a person wants to believe. Incidentally, there are some who profess to be Christians who are walking lock-step with culture regarding this flawed definition of truth, as opposed to clinging to the timeless truth of Scripture as the reference point from which our worldview should be shaped.

So what is our response as followers of Jesus? How should the Church respond to a “post-truth” culture?

As the Church, our desire should be that we become a people who, transformed by the grace and hope of the gospel in Christ Jesus, love all people regardless of their choices. It does not mean we condone or celebrate their choices. As the apostle Paul would say, “May it never be!” Rosaria Butterfield said it well when she wrote in her book “The Gospel Comes with A House Key,” that as believers we are called to sit with sinners but not sin with sinners. What that means is that we are willing to step into uncomfortable situations and engage in meaningful conversations for the purpose of making much of Jesus and the hope that is found in Him. If we as the body of Christ, those who are true believers and not “cultural Christians,” do not press into what is taking place in our culture, we will be like those who pave roads over a treacherous cliff. Our burden for those who reject the truth of God should be as heavy as that described by Charles Spurgeon: “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

May we, as followers of Jesus, pray instead of criticize; speak words of truth in love and immersed in grace; be uncompromising, yet engaging. And may all we do point to Christ and the hope of His gospel. It is our only hope, and the only hope for this world.