Responsibility, Decisions, Accountability, and Politics

I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, from economic to moral, from spiritual to physical. When I was a child, my parents tried to be selective in when and how they would “bail me out” of the consequences of my errors, all with the intent of guiding me to learn from my mistakes.

When I graduated high school, I was able to secure a band scholarship to the University of Central Arkansas, but I had to find funding for the rest of the expenses – from room and board, to books and additional fees. I was able to secure the old “PELL Grant” most years, but had to fill the gap with fairly sizable loans from a private fund for most semesters, and even a Federal Guaranteed Student Loan for a few semesters to make ends meet.

When I finally finished my extended undergraduate time and received my degree, I quickly learned that education loans, whether Government guaranteed, or privately-funded, remain one’s responsibility no matter your economic situation. They just don’t go away. It took several years on the relatively low income of a public school teacher to finally get those debts paid off. I often looked back at my fellow students who chose to work many long hours to pay for their education instead of taking out loans and thinking “that was what I should have done”. But at no point did I ask for or demand anyone else pay off my student loans for me. They were my responsibility.

Since then, I have been in several areas of work and ministry that have truly opened my eyes to how our national mentality has shifted from personal responsibility. Just listen for a minute to many candidates for the 2020 Presidential election who are promising to “wipe out” student debt. We hear cries of those being “crushed” under the weight of 6-figure debt for relief. But we hardly hear a peep about the fact that they all voluntarily entered in to said debt. We don’t see much published about the worthless diplomas being “earned” at such high cost.

But is this really so out-of-character for our culture?

Absolutely not! Every day, it seems we see yet another demand for something to be an entitled “right” – unlimited health care (at no cost to them), handouts, panhandling by people making more than the average employee – it really is startling if you take an honest look. I cannot find the article now, as it’s been several years ago, but a local media outlet did a bit of actual journalism and found a panhandler who admitted to taking in an average of $1,500 per week simply standing on a corner with a sign asking for money. Pretty lucrative when you consider there are no taxes being paid on that!

Have you ever taken someone grocery shopping who came looking for food help, only to get to the store and they don’t want any staples and components that would stretch the dollars available? Frozen meals, name-brand products, etc. And it all has to be “heat-and-eat”.

I must admit that I have become a bit jaded when it comes to people asking for help. If you come to me asking for $10 for gasoline – and you have a lit cigarette in your mouth and a pack of cigs in the car seat – I see gas money being smoked up. If you come asking for diapers or baby food because your kids are hungry – but I see beer cans and lottery tickets on your floorboard – it is you who deprived your child of those needs via your priorities.

A tough lesson in grace…

I say all of this precisely because I have allowed myself to grow jaded, pessimistic even, when it comes to those who come asking for help. How does one balance demonstrating grace while at the same time trying to not enable and encourage abuse and ongoing defective decision making and priorities? Grace.

This is why the church I pastor sponsors what we call a Micro Food Pantry we call “God’s Kitchen”. It is a box set up outside one of our doors that is “self-serve” with the mantra “take what you need, leave what you can”. No questions are asked. No criteria or paperwork necessary. If you take from it, that is between you and God.

At the same time, we really should look at the biblical example. We can rightly look at Jesus command to care for the widows, feed the hungry, give water to those who thirst, clothe the naked, etc., but we must balance that with the Old Testament warning about those who do not work (do not eat!), as well as the “filter” given in the New Testament regarding those like widows who have other means of support (like family). And from a moral persepectiv, if you have the means or are physically able and choose to take take handouts (or even demand them), you are taking resources from those who do not have the means or ability ot help themselves.

When we have means to discern real need – exercise it diligently. When we do not have such ability, then exercise grace. Be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. And remember – it is still about personal accountability. If they take from you but don’t really need it or are abusing it – that will ultimately be between them and the LORD, if you are simply being faithful.

Don’t expect or demand that the government/taxpayers bail you out of holes you dig for yourself. Step up, make sacrifices, and take ownership of your situation. Stop digging holes you can never fill in. Get the help you REALLY need (and it might very well begin not with economic help, but spiritual help!). Find someone to help hold you accountable.

And if you really need help – don’t be afraid to ask for it – but with the request, commit to making the changes necessary to fix the problem at hand by making the changes in priority, habits, patterns, and decision making necessary.

Immigrants, Immigration, and the Abuse of Scripture

Stop it… just stop!

What? Quit abusing Scripture to affirm your viewpoint and agenda – especially in the hot-button issue of immigration. I don’t care if your view point may very well be the “moral one” – if you are abusing Scripture to prove it – I can’t support you.

Here in the US, we have a problem – one that is growing in severity. A problem that has been rightly described as a crisis. One that side of the political isle claims is of recent manufacture (even thought their own party used the same terminology prior to our current President taking office). The problem is that of illegal immigration. You see – we hear often that America is a land of immigrants. There is some truth to that statement, and all but those who are Native Americans are at least descendants of immigrants, if not immigrants themselves. Indeed, in many ways, much of what has developed into this great “experiment” of a “melting pot” has been a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities coming together to build what was once called the ‘American Dream” – a former ideal that America was where one could come (through the proverbial front door), work hard, and become part of the culture.

But over the last several decades, an organized effort has been underway to literally stuff cities and towns with people who do not come in the “front door”, who choose to climb or cut fences, swim across waterways, risk their lives and the lives of children (in at least ⅓ of the cases, children not related to the adults they are apreheded with, many PURCHASED or abducted for the purpose– ie: human trafficking). A well-funded and organized campaign has been launched more recently by characters raging from George Soros, to state sponsors, and even a handful of US politicians – to train and equip migrants from Central America to cross the border illegally, and how to then play the system to delay deportation when caught (the word “asylum” is among the first words they teach them). These campaigns help fund busses and guides and provide aid along the way.

And as politicians from both political parties have talked big games regarding “fixing” the problem, neither seem all that willing to actually talk about it and to take real action. Those on the Left are primarily “Open borders”, no barriers, and give those who come here any way but the legal way a free pass to the front of the line, even before veterans and our own citizens who we are still falling short in helping with medical care, housing, and other needs. On the other side of the isle, we have politicians who want to build a wall along as much of the border as is possible, and to then re-build the immigration system to point all who want to come here through the front gate – like most past generations of immigrants from around the world were ushered through (think Ellis Island).

Sadly, these people – whether you see them as targets of social justice – people who should be able to come here to make a better life, or you see them in a far more nefarious light – have become political pawns. From the recruiting for the “caravans”, to the media-engineered “horror stories” of children dying in the wilderness or after being caught and detained. It is all being built up to divide, all while those who have the power to actually FIX the problem just sit back and use the issue as a weapon.

Real people, legally here or not, are suffering. Human beings – who every bit as much as I, are made in the Imago Dei – Image of God. And whether a person is here in direct violation of the law (which does make them a criminal – thus subject to criminal proceedings), or they are citizens, or they are legal immigrants – all people deserve to be treated like human beings.

That being said – there are many, especially professed Christians (or those who hate Christ, but try to use the Bible as a weapon against Christians) who are throwing Bible verses at this like a baseball bat. Sadly, they are abusing Scripture by doing so. The most common use is Leviticus 19:33-34

‘When a stranger resides with you in your land,you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.

There are many problem with applying this passage to the current immigration issue – in fact too numerous to post in a single blog post. But I will address the biggest ones:

  1. The context: This was a set of instructions given to the young NATION of Israel. This is not a blanket rule for the world.
  2. Definition: stranger -from the Hebrew word גֵּיר (gêyr) meaning most literally – “guest”. It is the same word used to describe the Hebrew people themselves when they were “sojourners” or strangers in a foreign land. This is a reference to their time in Egypt. Were they unwelcome immigrants? No – they were invited guests, by the hand of God’s Providence in placing Joseph in the highest position in the country (other than Pharoah). But in a practical application, the concept is – those who are visiting, those who are your guests (hosptiality was considered an understood trait), treat them with respect – treat them fairly, just as you would want to be treated – like your own. The point being – this passage was not about those who were not invited, those who were not welcomed guests. But there is one bit of phrase in verse 34 that DOES point to a Scriptural basis that DOES fit our situation today:

Love your neighbor…

Jesus said “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (Luke 10:27)

This goes back to what I wrote near the beginning of this – Immigrants, whether here legally or illegally, should be treated humanely. At the same time, they are violating the law, and they are not “welcomed visitors” as the term in Leviticus refers to. But prisoners also are to be treated as human beings. But breaking the law, is breaking the law. Endangerding children by dragging them across harsh wilderness and in horrible conditions is not good parenting. In fact, a case can be made that this is abuse, especially when 1/3 of the children being drug through these conditions are not even related to the adults bringing them.

So – where does this leave us, at least those of us who professed Christ? Can we find biblical prohibitions against national borders or the expectation that those entering a nation do it through the civil law of that nation? No. Is it immoral or even sinful for Christians to insist that our national borders be enforced and that said immigrants be expected to enter a nation legally, and to follow the laws of the land? No.

We as Christians should seek the welfare of those apprehended until the day they are deported. WE should seek “humane” treatment, especially of the children who had no voice or choice in being brought here. But even more human would be to insist that the borders be protected and that the entire immigration system be overhauled in such a way that it encourages immigration through the legal channels, and empowers those who come legally to find their place in the “American Dream” as productive members of the society.

But please – STOP abusing Scripture in an effort to shame Christians who just want things done legally and in a way that doesn’t further promote and reward lawbreaking.

Selective Outrage is ALWAYS Outrageous!

Have you ever stopped and noticed what really causes people to become outraged? I have posted previously on the subejct – particularly on things like #blacklivesmatter, where the message is ONLY certain colors of lives matter. But it would seem that the problem is only getting more dramatic.

Now – many of the issues that cause outrage are legitimately outrageous! When we see abject injustice – that should cause a response in us. When we see horrific acts of mankind – especially towards other human beings – we should be deeply distrubed. Indeed, there are many things that happen in this fallen world that should not just upset us, but stir us to action. This is absolutely biblical. It should spur us to help feed the hungry (Matthew 25:35-36) , to visit and look after the widow and the orphan (James 2:27), to comfort those grieving… to weep with those who weep…

The problem comes in when people’s outrage is aimed at some, often troubling issues, while playing off or even supporting other, far more evil and egregious actions. Let me give you a couple:

Obviously, in this case, “John” was outraged by something. To be truthful, the article he was responding to was a sad one. It was reported by local media that three kittens had been found dead in a small animal cage. It appears they had been neglected.

Yes, it bothers me when people treat animals badly. And to be totally honest, I have found that few people who treat animals badly, treat human being much better. Does this guarantee a “reserved seat” in Hell? I can’t find that in my Bible. Unfortunately, many of the same folks who will get completely upside down in their outrage over three kittens neglected to death, turn a blind eye (or worse) to the real-life horror storries going on all around us every day.

When a young man from Mexico in the US illegally, violently rapes a disabled, wheelchair-bound woman, is arrested, but because it is a sanctuary city, is released only to return and violently rape the SAME victim three days after the first rape, and in front of her 3 year old son? – that is grouns for outrage!

Why are we not, as a people, outraged that in Memphis, US Marshalls trying to serve a warrant on a VERY bad guy, saw him ram police vehicles, then jump out of the car he was trying to escape in – and draw weapons and try to shoot the officers? Why are we not outraged that an entire neighborhood began pouring into the streets as law enforement and paramedics were arriving, and started assaulting police officers? Are violent criminal’s lives more valuable that the officers sworn to protect you?

Or how about the outrage over a baker refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex “wedding”, yet the same people are unphased at pedophile “trans” queens stripping to near-nude and erotic dancing with 8-10 year olds who have been encouraged to dress in drag as well?

Or my own personal “favorite” – those who bemoan kitten deaths, or the mean hunters shooting deer… all while comlpetely and uabashedly supporting abortion from conception to post-birth. The utter absurdity of supporting the murder of human beings form the womb, while being utterly outraged (some to the point of near-militant behavior)

How about instead of walking around outraged at everything that even remotely disturbs you – how about we take a look at what causes God outrage – what draws the very wrath of God that will be revealed against what? all unrighteousness – all wickedness. Indeed, the wrath of God has already been demonstrated – most importantly when it was poured out on His only begotton Son, Jesus Christ – who endured the shame and agony to redeem a people from their sins, from their selective outrage.

And we who are redeemed by His blood, should be outraged, not by what hurts our feelings, but what offends God. It is when you are walking closely with God, immersing yourself in His Word, dwelling in His presence via the Bible and Prayer – that we find our own outrage towards trivial things to diminish – and we begin to see the world through HIS eyes. We begin to see the actual orphans and widows who need us. We see the physical needs around us that must be addressed. We desire to see truth over lies. And we are offended at genuine injustice. And because we are new creatures who, in our former selves despised true justice, loved sin, and were participants in the unrighteous deeds of the world, we now desire the things of God, the works of God – and the goodness of God.

Save the self-righteous “reserved place in Hell” for your time in the mirror, check your heart, and pursue righteousness, including the righteous indignation that comes from growing more Christlike every day.

My Message to Russell Moore and the ERLC

For those that don’t know, the ERLC is the social justice wing of the Southern Baptist Convention. Formed under the auspices of helping to promoted the gospel and its power to address social problems, it has become a mouthpiece not for the rank-and-file, Bible-believing Southern Baptist church member, but for the politically-motivated, doctrinally-liberal, Social Justice Warriors. So – I have simply pasted my recent message submitted to the ERLC via their web portal. For my Christian brothers and sisters of the SBC – please take a real look at what Dr. Moore and his ERLC organization is doing with your cooperative funds – including the endorsing of abortion-supporting politicians, as well as cooperating with unabashed racists. Pray for the Southern Baptist Convention.

I am absolutely flabbergasted that the ERLC and your leadership in Russel Moore continue to willingly partner with, associate with, and endorse such radical racists, who are rabidly AGAINST Racial Reconciliation – like Kyle Howard – who’s own tweets exude racist bile and calls for reparations based on race.

As a Christian – I believe what the apostle Paul wrote regarding ethnicities – and none of that mattering under Christ. I abhor racial politics. I escue racial division.

As a Baptist – I do acknowledge past sins that ran very deep, but I also see great strides in addressing said sins – I see a growing passion for actually following Christ’s command to love our neighbors (being an all-inclusive umbrella).

As a Pastor – I proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, which was meant for all people – with efficacy for all who would believe, regardless of race, creed, national origin. I proclaim the power of Christ and His gospel to radically change the most corrupt and sinful heart – to bring love where only hate once existed, and to restore believers not only to God, but to one-another.

Much of what I have seen out of the ERLC and your voluntary association with groups that proclaim quite the opposite view – actually FEEDING the racial divide, re-igniting fires of hate – and the direct (some would call reverse-racism) of your leadership and their ministry associates are the antithesis of the biblical picture of reconciliation.

The reason for all of this – the ERLC is simply another fork of the growing Social Justice Warrior anti-gospel. the ERLC and its leadership need to repent and turn to the gospel of Christ Jesus, not the man-centered social gospel, for it is only the True Gospel that will destroy the strongholds of racism and bring true repentance and restoration to broken mankind.

These are the posts that Kyle Howard loves (Kyle bills himself as a Racial Trauma Counselor – whatever that is), and has himself quite publicly claimed that white people cannot be victims of racism, nor are they capable of even empathizing with blacks. his primary “solution” being the paying of reparations. But one of Mr. Howard’s favorite people on Twitter – and to who he often agrees 100% with:



Howard not only completely agrees and follows such an racist individual, but he also makes every single situation into a race-based catastrophe –

For additional information on the ERLC and its radical agenda (that is anti-Bible, anti-gospel):

A Nation that Hates God

I have waited to pen this post for my emotions and news to settle down.  Yet despite a couple of days passing and even allowing myself to vent a bit on social media via various memes and shot statements, my emotions and my burden have not diminished.

You see, just this week, on the 48th Anniversary of the most divisive and evil decisions the US Supreme Court has ever issued – the Roe v Wade decision that with the stroke of judge’s gavels, opened the door the toe slaughter of over 60 million babies in this nation. Sixty million children never given the opportunity to experience life (for better or worse). It was that date in 1973 that the official seal of the United States was affixed by the justices of that dark court on the condemnation papers of this nation – officially rejecting God and any possible claim to “Christian Nation”.

On January 21, 2019, the New York State Legislature celebrated that evil day by passing a bill that had failed many times going all the way back to 2006.  Touted as the “New York Reproductive Health Act” (Senate Bill 2796, now Act 1748, having been signed proudly into law by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on January 22), this piece of far-reaching legislation not only removes all criminal penalties and even the definition of a crime from the death of infants from conception to natural childbirth, it seals the “right” to abort a baby for any reason a woman deems justifies her act in the State Constitution. Some argue that this law requires the pregnancy to be danger to the mother’s health to terminate in the last weeks of gestation – yet this caveat has been proven ineffective in many previous cases and state laws. pregnancy, by its nature, is a “risk to a mother’s health”. Childbirth itself still holds some risk to a mother’s health, and women really have died in childbirth. Therefore, the state of New York took a 48 year-old decision that already proclaimed a nation’s hate for God, and built a cathedral to the pagan god Moloch and is now laying shredded unborn babies on the high altar.

In the early days of Israel, the people were often led astray – pursuing the pagan gods of their neighbors. Among those pagan false gods was Moloch, a demonic religion that is believed to originated with the Phoenicians who lived in the area now known as Israel between 1550 BC and 300BC. Moloch was symbolized by a giant medal statue of a man with a bull’s head. Each statue had a hole in the abdomen and had outstretched arms that made a ramp into that hole.  The leaders of this religion would light a fire in the statue and babies were placed in the statue’s arms and pushed into the hole. The greatest sacrifice was believed to be that of the firstborn, and by offering that firstborn, the couple beloved Moloch would promise them financial prosperity.

moloch3.jpg

Sadly, the Israelites failed to root out this pagan religion when they were led back to the Promised Land and they quickly began incorporating Moloch into their own traditions. God specifically forbade such practice (Leviticus 18:21), but remnants continued even through King Solomon, who set up high places for Moloch and other pagan idols (1 Kings 11:1-8). In fact, Moloch worship wasn’t truly eradicated from the Israelite practices until they were carried away in the Babylonian captivity. You see – it took repeated and incredible judgement befalling Israel before they finally turned from this evil practice.

While you won’t generally hear purveyors and supporters of abortion refer to Moloch – you do hear the mantra “my body” – self worship – lifting themselves up as their own god. You will hear “its just a mass of cells” – completely ignoring scientific fact, biology, and genetics proving that even the freshly-conceived is a unique human being. They definitely ignore Scripture that plainly says that God knows us in our mother’s womb, that He Himself knits us together with His Divine hand (Psalm 139:13-14).

Indeed, if you want to discover why racism and hatred doesn’t seem to ever really die out? It is the root disregard for human life that has been systematically sustained via the practice of abortion. A practice that has so radically affected the Black community as to be on -par with the most egregious genocides in history.  When in New York State, a Black baby more likely to be aborted than born! Between 2012 and 2016 black mothers in New York City terminated 136,426 pregnancies and gave birth to 118,127 babies (Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2018). Staggering – yet exactly the kind of outcome Margaret Sanger was looking for when she founded Planned Parenthood. She was a proud purveyor of eugenics, and an avowed racist.

But we cannot stop at pointing fingers at New York for this recent abominable legislation, for abortion is still legal in all 50 states. Yes, some states have passed, or are trying to pass legislation to restrict the practice by age of the unborn, and some have gone so far as to try to ban them from the moment a heartbeat can be discerned (a threshold just as nebulous and stretchable as “health of the mother”). At the same time, another state (Vermont) is actively trying to pass a bill that is very similar to New York’s law, also making abortion legal from conception through natural childbirth. But lets be honest – one major factor in the abomination we are seeing unfold is that many churches have failed to proclaim the value of human life, or have selectively chosen which lives have value. How many so-called Christians have decried the inhumanity of deporting immigrant children brought into this nation illegally, have fought to pass laws regarding the protection of children from a variety of ills – yet refuse to call abortion what it is: murder? Abortion has gone from dark secret and shameful sin, to today’s “SHOUT YOUR ABORTION!” gleeful and open rebellion against God. And many Christian leaders have sat idle by, many of which only feigning grief over the issue. Further, entire denominations within the (overly-broad) umbrella of “Christianity” have chosen to throw their proverbial hat to support so-called “choice”, among them are the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (according to the Pew Research Center). Even the traditionally “staunchly Pro-Life” Catholic Church is seeing major rifts.

abortion-by-religion.jpg

And when you combine what can only be accurately labeled as the American Holocaust of Abortion with the other paths our nation has chosen to run in direct opposition to God’s revealed will and design (not the least of which is the LGBTQetc… capitulations), and American has truly given the worst of Old Testament Israel and its neighbors a real run for the title of most ungodly and begging for judgement. Indeed, while I pray God withholds judgment on this nation, I cannot help but identify with the psalmists who wrote imprecatory psalms, crying out for God to judge the wicked, to squash the unrighteous and oppressors, for His namesake. And the sad truth is – just as happened in the Old Testament judgements, it isn’t’ just those practicing the worst of the unrighteous behavior that suffered.  Famine, pestilence, sieges, and captivity affected all, even those who were passionately pursing God.  Men, women, and children all suffered when judgement came. 

How much longer might God stay His hand of judgment on this nation? And with abortion becoming the #1 cause of death worldwide in 2018, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see God’s wrath poured out in a global sense.

And to those who still insist on calling the United States of America a “Christian Nation” – Please spare me the rhetoric. No nation has the right to call itself “Christian” when it kills 60 million of the most innocent of all humanity.

So – what is a genuine believer to do?  Should we just chew our nails and cry ourselves to sleep?  Far from it.  God calls His people to be watchmen on the wall – to cry out when danger is approaching. We are called to reveal the evil, to shine the Light on darkness.  And yes, to even share the Hope of Christ Jesus, even to the woman has has exercise “choice”. For the Grace of God is sufficient to redeem all who would believe (John 3:16) giving eternal life to all who come to genuine faith, who repent and believe the good news – and who experience the heart transplant only God can perform. And indeed, while we should be yelling from the rooftops, and in the hallways of capital buildings for real justice – we must also genuinely humble ourselves on our knees, repenting of our own sins, and begging God to send a revival across our land, beginning with US – those who profess to be His.  Because we cannot forget  1 Peter 4:17

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

2018—>2019?

What’s in a date change?  Beyond some business and personal fiscal year change (particularly tax year) stuff – the change from one year to the next is little more than the turn of a page on a calendar (or the putting up of a new calendar).

Yet we have made the year change into something bigger – though maybe with the wrong motives!  The calendar change doesn’t by some miraculous action “close out” any pains or griefs you experienced the year before (in this case, 2018).  The page turn doesn’t suddenly set you up for some grand spiritual “breakthrough” as some are posting.  And the changed digit in the year designation does not somehow give special powers to some grand and optimistic “resolution” you might make to undertake any number of changes (weight loss/health improvement, financial renovations, relationship adjustments, etc.). But the flipping of a number does give us an opportunity to reflect on the past year – to give an honest evaluation to where we have been, where we went, and where we are today – all in preparation for setting our eyes every more on the goals, aims, and purpose GOD has set before us in the new year.

But let me begin with a caution – don’t set some unrealistic goals and resolutions that you won’t keep!  You are simply adding to the burden society and the world in general throws at you and you are setting yourself up to fail – and year-after-year, what have the countless “resolutions” done for you? For most people, these repeated failures have done little more than to add defeat and disappointment.

I would propose a different tact this year as you begin trying to look forward to this new year: Focus on the LORD.  In Mark 12:30, Jesus responded to a Scribe who was questioning Him on which was the greatest of commandments with “…AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”  The focus of God’s commands all go back to giving everything to the LORD – and trusting HIM with what comes.  It’s the spirit behind Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

One of the most difficult parts of life we face doesn’t’ come from the outside world, from those we work with, or those in positions of authority and leadership.  No – among the most difficult parts to deal with are those set up by our failure to heed these words!  We don’t place God at the very top and unquestioned position of priority in our lives.  Because of our low view of God, we don’t “trust in the LORD with all our hearts” – we trust in “ME” – until I fail… again.  Then we seek those in which to place blame, or even worse – we mess it up then blame God!  But what do we actually see here in this passage?  An incredible promise made when you quit relying on yourself and our own (in)ability to grasp the whole picture and to actually make good judgement in directing your path – and instead you acknowledge HIM in ALL your ways: acknowledge isn’t just naming or giving God credit, but literally means to KNOW Him – an intimate, close, life-changing, life-directing relationship with HIM where you are constantly seeking HIM and His will in everything you do.  Thus bringing a promise that if we will quit doing it “our way”, quit trying to be masters of our own fate – and simply seek HIM in all things, in all ways – He WILL “make your paths straight”.  What is a straight path here? It simply means that He will – just as we can see over-and-ver in the conquest of the Promised Land in the book of Joshua – when Joshua and the people committed everything to God’s will and plan – they experienced 100% victory.  When they deviated from God’s direction -they often stumbled and suffered greatly.  And in every single time – when they completely sought God’s will and followed it – God always delivered – and He still does today!  We just have to realize that HIs answers and direction may very well run contradictory to our own desires and opinions!

Life is a minefield – and God has not promised us a smooth, explosion-proof journey.  He has promised to direct our paths and to guide us IN that minefield.  But sometimes we are in a minefield to make a difference for others – especially those who have deviated from God’s path and stepped on those mines!  And lest we forget – helping people (truly loving our neighbors) can be a dirty and messy endeavor!  But if we are there WITH God – following God with everything in our being – trusting HIM and HIS way over our own – He will see us through, and ultimately – see us Home!

So – regardless of what your flesh and culture are telling you to focus on in 2019 – or the resolutions that you may be mulling around in your brain – how about being resolived first and foremost – in truly KNOWING the LORD as never before, fully trusting in HIS grace – and following HIM in all things as He directs your path!

The Problem…

As I sit on my scheduled “day off”, soaking in the after effects of our Palm Sunday services while also ruminating on all that I see in the news of the day, I can’t help but reflect on all the insane finger-pointing. The United States is a nation in decline.  Yes, our economic state is slightly improved, but that is rapidly being undone by uncontrolled Federal spending (thanks to a brand new Omnibus spending bill of over $1.3 Trillion that carries us through 6 months… seriously!) We see lots of senseless death, from school shootings, to a literal epidemic of young black males killing each other on the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago and other major cities.  We see a radical discrimination – where the media and rabid freedom-hating protestors get emotionally up-in-arms, organizing widely-expensive “March For Our Lives”, funded in large part by radically Leftist (and almost universally unregenerate-acting) celebrities, over a single school shooting where the victims were, interestingly enough – caucasian, while these same deep-pocket celebrities essentially ignore the hundreds already dead in inner-city, predominantly black communities.  It takes the “tears of white mothers” to stir up action?  And then the “action” is against inanimate objects and totally ignores the perpetrators, the government and law enforcement agencies that flat-out failed to take any action that would most certainly have prevented this most recent mass shooting altogether – all adding up to a failure to see our problems as symptoms of a greater illness – indeed a disease that is absolutely going to destroy this nation.  It isn’t guns.  It isn’t video games. The disease isn’t violent entertainment or misogynistic, hate-filled music, or a failure for people to be able to even acknowledge basic biology (gender). The problem is not a tool or the endless list of symptoms above – but a heart issue.

Scripture is clear – Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

We have a problem known as sin – and it is a disease that has infected mankind since almost the very beginning. In fact, Scripture clearly says that All have sinned… (Romans 3:23).  And the sin problem in our nation (and world) is not improving – and I would like to propose that a major part of the problem is “US” – the evangelical world.  Oh – we may say we love Jesus.  For that matter, we have libraries full of love songs to Jesus (that too often sound more like love songs between high school sweethearts than adoration of the Holy, Righteous, and glorious Sovereign Creator!)

We have a sin problem – and while the problem isn’t new, the “Church” (especially evangelical churches) have dropped the ball – whether it is simple laziness, complacency, or even proclaiming what the Apostle Paul called “false gospels” – we have actually contributed TO the sin problems in our nation.  Doubt this?  Take an honest look into your local church. Look around – what do you see?  Yes, you see a room full of sinners – we all fit that category.  BUT – do you see in those same people – growing, maturing, and sin-shunning (constant-repenting) believers who are walking by faith?  Chances are, in many “evangelical churches” (regardless of denomination), you will find quite the opposite.  You will find a percentage that fit the above, but you will find far more who are little more than church attenders who have two persons – a Sunday Morning face, and the other 6.5 days personality. Let me further explain.

Jesus gave His great command to His church to make disciples.  For many years, from the first church in Jerusalem, we see a model laid out before us – people lived out their faith in a way that strengthened said faith, that aided each other to grow together in their walk – to see lives genuinely transformed in such a way that they were a beacon of hope, even when under incredible persecution. We still see some startling examples today in nations that are far from Christ-friendly; where Christians indeed walk in faith and where they absolutely understand the need to make disciples.

Return for a moment to the USA – where many see a man-centered religion. What happened? Back in the late 1800’s, a wave swept across evangelical Christianity – some look back with fondness, while most Bible-believing Christians who look through a more Berean lens (discerning) see something far different.  Preachers like Charles Finney began preaching dramatic, emotionally-charged sermons pleading for listeners to come to Jesus. It was the advent of the “ask Jesus into your heart” movement – where “decisions” were made based on feelings and tears (often contrived) verses genuine conversion via the Holy Spirit’s conviction and regeneration. The movement became all about what is known as “synergistic salvation”: a gospel that lays as much or more of salvation’s work on the heart of men (remember the Jeremiah quote near the beginning of this entry?). A feelings-based, emotionally-driven profession of faith, followed rapidly by baptism and adding to a church roll. Great!  But where are the growing disciples who are then to be disciple-makers?  That just didn’t really happen.  Numbers-driven ministry  only continued to take over Gospel-driven ministry. In fact, it was this same existential, pragmatic religious movement that gave birth to what we now know as pentecostalism and other Charismatic faiths, and the erroneous belief that mankind, once genuinely saved, can somehow be plucked form Jesus’ own hand (John 10:28-30). As the dramatically evolving Christianity in America began to spread – Christianity became more and more man-centered and less God centered.  We saw church building expanding along with growing church staffs to manage these growing churches – and with it the ever-growing budgetary needs to sustain these growing organizations.

But it wasn’t just these growing local churches (and so-called “mega-churches”), but even smaller local churches also started to shift towards man-centered ministry and beliefs (even doctrines). With this came the various degrees of the “prosperity gospel” and now the Social Justice/Social Gospel that substitutes the doing for proclamation and motives.

Let me return in this rambling post back to core doctrines that have contributed to our national issues – We have two common models that have evolved since/from the Finney/revivalist era – those that have attempted to remain true to core doctrines and biblical teaching – but have slipped into a form of practical legalism: after a person says a prayer for Jesus to come into their heart (I have yet to find a biblical reference or example), and we get them quickly baptized – we then throw what amounts to a list of rules for Christian conduct at them – then hope it sticks. Keep the 10 Commandments – Don’t make or bow down to idols – yet we have no problem with filling our homes and lives with literal shrines to our favorite sports team, entertainment stars, or hobbies (Whoo Pig Sooie!), don’t kill (though we forget Jesus equated hate towards a neighbor to be like murder), honor your mother and father (while we sit idle by watching society tell kids to dishonor parents and always buck the system). We say to not steal (while many cheat on their taxes, have no problem with being accidentally under-charged for a purchase, or take advantage of someone’s lack of understanding to gain an extra dollar). We say “thou shalt not commit adultery”, while turning a blind eye to the rampant divorce and remarriage rate WITHIN churches.  We MIGHT say to not “covet” what others have – yet we church folks can run with the best of the “keeping up with the Joneses”. And the list goes on –

On the other branch, we see churches that make similar please to “love Jesus”, yet make no expectation at all of change.  Indeed, the functional message is – come as you are (great!), and when you go home – go home unchanged – except with a smile on your face! We see a catering to the tastes and preferences of specific “target groups” through affinity-based churches (churches that are centered and founded on interests or lifestyles – think biker churches, cowboy churches, outdoorsmen churches, etc.) We see the growth of entertainment/flash-based churches where style, excitement, and experience reigns supreme over the Word of God and the clear-preaching of it.

The Gospel, when it is proclaimed is a gospel that helps people understand the genuine nature of sin – the genuine cost of sin (both in this temporal world and more importantly – in eternity).  The Gospel isn’t just about God’s love that was demonstrated in Christ’s perfect sacrifice, but is also recognized as genuinely good news because we see also Gods’ wrath that is poured out on ALL unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). And when God (not man) applies the true, and full Gospel to the hearts of men – regenerating their heart of stone for His heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), we should anticipate – indeed fully expect change to come. A desire to please God, to know God, to serve God who paid such a high price for our forgiveness – the same God who, through Jesus Christ, who endured the wrath WE deserve.

And with that change of heart and progressive sanctification (the ongoing growing more like Jesus) we begin to better reject sin and more interestingly – we begin to be able to exercise Judgment/Discernment.  Yes – that ugly word that so many, even professed Christians, are so scared of. We mis the understanding of just what KIND Of judgement we are suppose to exercise.  Our judgment should be connected to and based on Scripture.  We should see God’s Word as inerrant (in its original manuscripts) and completely trustworthy from cover-to-cover and trust it to be the judge of all that we see and must make decisions about. See more about this HERE.

And as we bring this all forward and look to the downward spiral of our nation- where we point fingers at guns, politicians, organizations, etc – let us not forget that many who march against rights, who point blame, who even spew some pretty nasty words – are folks who sit in a char or pew on Sundays. Let us not forget that many who commit crimes and other acts of violence were “brought up in church” and were even considered by some to be “good people”.

Some shout: “THEY NEED JESUS” to which I give a hearty “AMEN!”. But they need Jesus then they need to see good, biblical, Godly examples – not a soup of rules and contradictions along with selective picking and choosing of what parts of the Bible are applicable and dependable.  They need Jesus – and discipleship.  They need churches to not just throw rules at them, but preach doctrines that are 100% Bible-based. They need genuinely born-again Christians to extend a hand to them to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ (that we can’t forget included whips and overturning tables as well as calling sin – sin, and calling wolves and snakes what they are). It means that, while we recognize that God is the “Great Physician”, He owes us nothing! While God can and will provide our needs, He is under no obligation to provide the lusts of our flesh! It means recognizing the absolute necessity to die to self every day (to prefer the will of God and the needs of others over ourselves).

This also means that we must come out of our little protected enclaves we call “churches” and open our hearts and lives up to “those people” – whether they look different than us, act differently than us (are we shocked when people who are unregenerate and without Jesus act like they are unregenerate and without Jesus?). It means we must be willing to call out those who profess to be born-again believers in Jesus who walk in unrepentant sin, reflecting the flesh of the world instead of the Light of Christ.

Lest we forget the message of this little Jewel from the Mark Trammel Quartet:

We cannot guilt and arm-twist people into saying a “sinners prayer” and expect real change. WE must recognize that salvation is not of man, of grand speech, or clever argument – it is 100% of the Lord – as a FREE GIFT, granted by faith, not of any merit of ability we have – (Ephesians 2:8-10). But again, this is just the beginning. While genuine salvation is sure – and we can confirm it by seeing the very change it brings both immediately and long-term, we are called to repentance for a purpose – to be the living, breathing Gospel to those around us as we ourselves journey to know Christ and to make Him known!

And the sooner we realize and trust that it is God who converts the sinner into a saint, the quicker we begin to get about doing what Jesus actually commanded US to do – MAKE DISCIPLES.  Not mindless religious zombies.  Not another generation of unrepentant and shallow “church members”, but to teach, equip, and walk along-side those who we know and seeing them through from lost, to saved, to growing and mature Disciples who then become disciple-makers themselves.  If we in the Evangelical world would take Christ’s command as given, turn lose of measures that revolve around numbers (seats filled in church services and offering totals), and get serious about helping people to grow to be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ – we will see first – a resurgence of the true Church of Jesus Christ – we will see churches that are spiritually healthy.  But as an extension, we will see communities changed for the good, the needs of those around us better met – and we will see the Kingdom of God as never before!

But as I preached yesterday (Palm Sunday) – it will cost us something – it will cost us our idols, our selfishness, our prejudices, and our comfort zones. But let us not forget – it cost Jesus everything!

It isn’t about being a “social justice warrior” as many en the evangelical world have become – for the works of our hands alone will make no real difference. It isn’t about a social “gospel” – for that makes no eternal difference at all (indeed – it makes do-gooders who can’t seem to do real good at all). Let us be Christ-followers – as individuals and as local churches.

If you currently are a part of a local church that not only proclaims the whole and true Gospel of Jesus Christ – a church that places a top priority on actual, one-on-one, Bible-based, Christ-glorifying disciple making – congratulations – you have found  a Jewel!  Treasure it and be an active part in it.

If, on the other hand, you find upon real, Berean-like examination according to Scripture that your “church” really isn’t much of a church at all – but a purveyor of man-centered doctrines and theologies – of flesh-pleasing programs, of man-glorifying religion – then I implore you – seek out a church that truly sees the Bible as the Word of God: every page of the 66 books of the inspired, divine revelation of our Lord – a church that takes seriously the command to make disciples – submit to sound Biblical teaching and to being discipled – with a goal of becoming a disciple-maker and using what God has given you in material and spiritual gifts to serve Him.

And to that – I humbly submit the church I pastor – not because I am the pastor, for anything good First Baptist Church may have or display is more in spite of my leadership than because of it! Yes, we have “issues”, as any and every institution made up of human beings will have.  But you will also find that we recognize our shortcomings and are constantly seeking ways to grow in Christ, to deal with the “demons”, and to be the salt and light.  We would love to have you visit, but even more – if you genuinely want to be what Christ has called people to be – join us in our journey! First Baptist Church.