Author Archives: deorl

About deorl

Pastor of Lifewell Church. lifewellchurch.com

Rule of Law

So, you don’t like the way things are going? You don’t like President Trump? You don’t like Confederate monuments? You don’t like illegal/undocumented immigrants? You want to smoke marijuana without being arrested? What to do? Impeach Trump? Get a mob and pull down a statue? Create “sanctuary cities” as safe zones? Pass a local or state ordinance that ignores federal law? There is a serious problem with all of these solutions. To one extent or another they abuse, ignore or circumvent the Rule of Law.

The President was duly elected. I didn’t vote for him. However, his opponents cannot just get rid of him. A member of congress recently posted that she wanted to see the president assasinated. She subsequently removed the post, but it betrays the lawlessness of some of our elected officials. Impeachment is a serious legal procedure against a sitting United States President, who must have clearly violated the law. Hatred, outrage or dislike for a President is not cause for impeachment.

You see, it actually doesn’t matter how full of rage you are about whatever it is you’re protesting. It is illegal to smash a window, loot a business, burn a car, or tear down a statue. It doesn’t matter how righteous you believe your cause to be. If you break the law, you should be punished accordingly. That the police stand by and watch riots like those in Charlottesville or Berkeley, that they do nothing when protestors stand in the middle of a busy highway, is sad commentary on a society that is ignoring the laws upon which t is founded. Our country, indeed Western Civilization, was founded on the Rule of Law.

Rule of Law was established in the Magna Carta in England in 1215. It is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States of America. Rule of Law, simply stated, is this: all citizens from the President, to the police, to the average person are responsible to obey the laws of the land. If you don’t like something, follow legitimate procedures for grievance, and make/change the law. Such a procedure begins by electing representatives who will be responsible and responsive to citizens.

Protest is a legitimate way to make a point, which may get the attention of elected representatives to remove, change or make a law. A protest, however, that turns into a riot is illegal. Individuals who assault other individuals or destroy property must be arrested, prosecuted and punished. It doesn’t matter which side they represent, how enraged or offended they feel, or what point they sought to make.

The problem is our nation is moving away from the principle of Rule of Law. In it’s place we value personal feelings and the opinion of our political or social groups. The law doesn’t care about your feelings. Justice is blind to your political party, your self-righteous indignation, or the popularity of your cause. If you don’t want to obey authority and break the law, you get arrested, prosecuted and punished. If you don’t like the law, you seek to change it peacefully.

Rule of Law is the basis for civilized society. The alternative is descent into chaos, mob rule, might makes right, and the consequences are already being seen.

Charlottesville

There are so many problems with the recent protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia that it is difficult to know what to address. I’ll begin by speaking to the supposed reason for the protest: removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. For the history-challenged, Lee was the military leader of the Confederate Army during the United States Civil War. Lee’s side was the South. They supported slavery. They lost the war. Robert E. Lee has been a hero among a significant number who identify themselves as southern and white. Two years after Lee’s death in 1870 Jbual A. Early, one of his ex-generals penned the following panegyric: “Our beloved Chief stands, like some lofty column which rears its head among the highest, in grandeur, simple, pure and sublime.” Frederick Douglas, perhaps the most prominent African-American who fought against the South, had a different perspective. “We can scarcely take up a newspaper . . . that is not filled with nauseating flatteries” of Lee, from which “it would seem . . . that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.”

Organizers of the protest gave as their reason, the Charlottesville city council’s decision to remove Robert E. Lee’s statue. The monument was erected in 1924, many years after the Civil War ended, and Lee’s Confederate States of America lost. Why is there a statue of this man? I’m certain that supporters will give impassioned rationale. it’s about Southern culture! It’s history! Lee was an honorable man! If you are the son or daughter of former slaves, you likely have a different perspective. Lee’s statue represents institutional racism in the South. It is offensive, not only to African-Americans, but to all people who reject slavery, racism and all vestiges of it.

Does removing the statue constitute an attempt at forgetting or revising history. Although there is plenty of historical revisionism going around in academia, I do not think we can jump to the same conclusion regarding removal of a statue that is offensive to some because of the way it honors a shameful cause. To bring this home, allow me to use an example from another war. Let us say that a German-American community erected a statue of Heinrich Himmler, the head of Hitler’s SS, also known as the Gestapo. A unit of the SS operated Germany’s concentration camps. Let us further say that a sizable Jewish community lived in the same vicinity as the statue. Himmler was a notorious anti-semite and a participant in the deaths of millions of Jews. Do you see how the statue would be offensive? Would removing a statue of Himmler be an attempt to erase history, or is it an effort to remove a monument to evil and shame?

You might assume that I support of the removal of Civil War monuments. You would be correct, so long as the monument being removed is of a person who fought to retain slavery. I understand (but do not agree with) the argument appealing to southern culture. Certainly symbols like Robert E. Lee and the Confederate flag are representative of southern culture to many. However, I do not understand why one would continue to value something that represents racial injustice and slavery to many millions. It is quite telling that white supremacists in the Charlottesville protest stood side by side holding both Confederate battle flags and banners with the Nazi swastika. If something in your culture represents evil, it is incumbent upon you to repudiate it. Be an agent of change. Demonstrate that you can uphold the positive values of southern culture and avoid all appearance of evil.

You might presume that I would support suppression of protests like the one in Charlottesville, but you would be wrong. I believe strongly in the 1st Amendment right to free speech.  Everyone has the right to speak out and assemble peaceably.  Charlottesville was obviously not a peaceful protest. Why not. Protesters fomented a violent reaction. They brandished clubs, guns and bladed weapons. They were angry, hostile and ready for a fight. Contrast the protest of white-supremacists at Charlottesville with the numerous marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Dr. Kings protests were honorable, peaceful and garnered respect from the nation, even though counter-protestors and police responded with violence.

There were the counter-protestors in Charlottesville too, and they were angry and confrontational. They are equally responsible for the violence, which has resulted in three dead and many more injured. This didn’t have to happen. Counter-protestors could have permitted white supremacists to have their day. They could have stood quietly with signs. They could have sung positive songs. The media also could have refused to give these people the coverage they coveted. Robert E. Lee’s statue will come down anyhow. The protest would have come to nothing. Now this group is emboldened. Additional protests and violence will likely follow. The perception perpetuated is that there is a large scale problem with racism in America. In my estimation the greater problem is that of extremist groups, which gain all of the media attention and are subsequently used by politicians to define and divide the rest of the country.

I sat with a small group of young teenagers last night and discussed racism. There were two boys, one of mixed African-American heritage and an Anglo, and there was a Hispanic girl. Earlier this summer they went to youth camp, together with an equally racially diverse group from our church. These young people treat each other as brothers and sister (yes, they argue too). They aren’t racist. In fact, it would seem they don’t see color or ethnicity as terribly important. I had to convince them of the relevance of our discussion. They attend three different schools. I asked each one if they saw racism at their school, and I heard nothing to indicate that this is a problem. Three teenagers aren’t a statistically significant sample of America’s population. However, this anecdote presents us with good news. There young people who are not racists and who have little or no experience with the issue. In fact, I’d be willing to bet there are far fewer problems than the current media spin would have us believe.

Our nation is very deeply divided, but I don’t believe this to be primarily along racial lines. The most significant segregation in the United States is idealogical: Leftist vs. Conservative, and alt. Right vs. Conservative. I believe the violence we saw at Charlottesville was fueled both by racism and idealogical opportunism. The neo-nazis, kkk, alt Right, white nationalists represent a fringe, which may well be growing.

In the wake of Charlottesville the Left immediately blamed Donald Trump for the protest. President Trump initially condemned “all sides” who support violence. The Left pounced. “There’s only one side here!” Actually, as I observed earlier, counter-protestors were equally involved in the violence. Additionally, recent protests by other organizations, representing other ethnic groups and causes have been violent. Nonetheless, President Trump amended his remark to make clear he included white supremacists.

I would call this idealogical opportunism. The Left is masterful at spin and controlling the narrative. At this moment Leftist pundits and politicians are hard at work associating Republicans and President Trump with white supremacists. Bernie Sanders was asked if Donald Trump is at fault. To which he responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I am not a Republican. However, I do not believe President Trump is responsible for white supremacists any more than I believed that President Obama was responsible for terrorist attacks.

What is the answer to all of this  idealogical, political, racial division? The Gospel. No, really. The good news of Jesus Christ is powerful, transformational truth. The Holy Spirit unifies all of those who believe and receive Christ. It is true that Christians are as divided as everyone else, but not all of those who name themselves “Christian” believe the Gospel and have received the Spirit of Jesus. Love is the product of a Gospel transformed heart. Love for God and love for all people, of all ethnicities, origins and orientations.

“For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), Galatians 3:27–28.

So, rather than rally or protest, I will proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, according to the Scriptures (including racism), was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, parenthesis added by me).

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1)

“To as many as received him he gave the right to be children of God, even those who called on his name” (John 1:12).

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Call on Jesus to forgive you and save you now! That is the good news I offer to everyone. In the end every tribe, nation and people will bow before Jesus. Choose to do so now and be saved from this corrupt generation! (Acts 2:40).

Elected

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Romans 8:28–30.
It is not that my choice is unnecessary, irrelevant or forced upon me by God’s elect grace, but that God’s choice is preeminent. If God did not offer grace, my effort to reach him would be insufficient. In fact, early on in Romans the Apostle Paul, made the case that we don’t seek God at all. No, God’s grace is prevenient. I am in bondage to sin, no matter how much I want to do right. Only through trusting God’s righteous act in sending Jesus as an offering for sin can I be free. God gives me the opportunity to believe, he offers assurance and hope. Faith or rejection (disbelief) of the Gospel are my options. After I believe I discover that God foreknew me, chose me in, and has predestined me to become like, Christ. From my perspective salvation is dependent my choice and my faith, but from God’s perspective the crux is his choice, his call, his election of me. Paul offers an imaginary reaction from a detractor: “Who resists His will?” His response is, “Who are you to talk back to God?” True. God is sovereign. However, the question hangs. Who resists God’s will? The answer is: God allows resistance to his will and shall be glorified in the end when the elect are saved and the rebellious destroyed.
Be assured, it is not God’s will that anyone go to hell. You choose heaven or hell by virtue of your faith in the Gospel.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Peter 3:9.

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 1 Timothy 2:3–4.

Hurt People

Hurt people, hurt people.

In the first phrase above, the word hurt is an adjective depicting the condition of certain people, the second phrase uses hurt as a verb to describe what those in this condition are prone to do. Is this invariably true? Do hurting people abuse and cause injury to others?  I would say, not always, but often enough to make the statement ring true. The image that comes to my mind is of a drowning man, who, in his clawing desperation may injure (or even drown) someone who is trying to save him. Should we just let the man drown? May it never be.

Does that mean we should steer clear of hurting people for fear that they may cause us pain or emotional damage? If I’m a self-centered person, I’ll probably respond with some form of self-protection. I’ll seek to keep people from hurting me further by isolating myself. I’ll nurse my wound and self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, overeating, porn, or any number of other “drugs of choice.” When I have to be with people, I’ll push the pain down try to show the world a happy face. If I feel threatened I may lash out with angry words or violent actions; in so doing, I prove the proverb true.

What to do?

“Cast your cares upon the Lord, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
“Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you. He will never let the righteous be shaken (Psalm 55:22).
Jesus was and is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… He carried our pains… by His wounds we are healed.” (From Isaiah 53:3-5.)
The hurt need to be healed, and Jesus can do just that. In fact, only the Lord can heal us on the deepest level. Will we trust him to do so?

When you’re hurting, pray; then pray some more. Tell the Lord exactly how you feel, and what you fear. Thank God for hearing you. Then, in faith thank him for healing you (even before you feel it). Trust the Lord. Receive his comfort. Then the Holy Spirit may use you to be a comfort to others experiencing the same pain.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4, CSB).

People who are healing can help people who are hurting.

Healing is a process, and you may be hurting still. If you’ve received comfort from God and begun to heal, you then you can share your comfort with another hurting person. Maybe they haven’t started the healing process, or they’re not as far along as you are. You could be the encouragement they need. An additional blessing is sensing the Holy Spirit working through you. Along with His presenence you will realize a sense of purpose and significance. You’ll overflow with gratitude toward God for healing you, and for using you to help another be healed.

Yes, hurt people, hurt people. However, God heals hurt people and enables them to help others. So, open your heart to God now. Cry out to him. Let the healing begin! Then, don’t insulate yourself emotionally, or isolate yourself socially. May the Holy Spirit encourage you now. Sometimes the hardest step is the first, but you have to take it or you’ll never be well. That is what God wants for all of us, to be well, whole, at peace. There is one word that encompasses all of that, and it is the Hebrew word Shalom. May you be filled with God’s Shalom now.

Are Christians Mean?

In reality people are people, some are mean, some are nice. Most of us have good days and bad days, and that affects how we treat others. However, people have higher expectations for Christians, as they should. To be a Christian means I follow Jesus, and that is what sets the expectation of others.

Was Jesus always nice? Not really. I know, I know, we all believe in “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but Jesus was pretty harsh sometimes. Most of us can call to mind the story of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple. That’s a good example of who and what made Jesus angry. Jesus had little tolerance for the self-righteous Pharisees of his day, and the Lord was often upset over the unbelief coming from people who would claim to belong to God.

Jesus was gentle, however, if you understand the term. It doesn’t simply mean “nice,” nor does it imply Jesus was soft concerning injustice and evil. It means he was genuinely understanding of those who were enslaved to sin, and was willing to love them and spend time to teach them the truth. The Pharisees just could not understand why Jesus “ate with tax-collectors and sinners.” Yet Jesus never advocated for excessive or fraudulent collection of taxes, nor did he participate  in or promote sinful lifestyles. Jesus taught those who would listen, and many believed in him and changed their minds and their lifestyles as a result.

Sometimes Jesus’ followers weren’t very nice. On one occasion two of his disciples, called the Brothers Thunder, (James and John were known by this name), wanted to bring fire down from heaven to consume their Lord’s opponents (cf. Luke 9:54). Jesus scolded them for this. “You don’t know what kind of spirit you are of.” When parents tried to bring their children to Jesus, so the Lord could bless the little ones, these same disciples tried to keep them away. Jesus said, “Don’t hinder them from coming to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

The Holy Spirit is gentle, and Christians who are full of the Spirit will be too. He is also called “the Spirit of Truth,” and he guides Christians into the truth  (John 16:13). As a result we will speak the truth in love when under the Holy Spirit’s influence (Ephesians 4:15). Not everyone responds favorably when they are told the truth, even when that is done in love. The perception by those who hear what they don’t believe or want to hear may be to accuse the messenger of being unkind.

Christians may be genuinely mean, though. In fact, some of the most difficult, self-righteous, unpleasant people with whom I’ve had to deal over the years were in church most every Sunday. This should not be true of those who claim the name of Jesus. The root problem behind this unkindness is self, or self-centeredness. I want things to go my way, and when they don’t I will mistreat you.

In Christ, though, I am a new creation with a new nature, which is focused on Christ, not self. It is not difficult to be unselfish when I simply turn my mind’s eye on Jesus, and allow him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”   The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:5–8.

I want to challenge my fellow Christians: Be kind! Pay attention to others. Smile at people. Love each other and treat everyone with respect, especially those with whom you disagree. Courtesy is a Christian virtue. Hold doors open for people. Give up your seat on public transportaion or at church, or scoot over so others can sit down easily. Give up the prime parking spot instead of cursing and fighting for it. Don’t cut people off  or flip people off because they aren’t driving the way you want. Refuse to gossip or speak unkindly about anyone. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And that includes social media! Pray for people you’re angry with, don’t post hateful things about them. Forgive those who’ve done you wrong; don’t hold grudges. Refuse the play the judge. Take the log out of your own eye before you go hunting for sawdust in someone else’s. Walk around in other people’s shoes for awhile before you snap to a judgment about who they are and why they’re doing what you don’t approve of.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 4:32–5:2.

One Last Ride

I met you when you were young,
my brother, my friend Jonathan.
You were full of fire, anger, strife, desire,
and a need for friendship.
What was I to you?
a mentor, a teacher, a pastor,
and when all else failed,
a friend.
I loved you, my brother,
like a father would a son.
I taught you that love is
as love does,
and love does what is best
for the one it loves.
I sought to do that
until the end.
I gave and gave and gave,
to you and the two who
also were to you like brothers.
I fed “my boys” and shed tears,
as I tried to guide you three,
to show you, teach you, tell you
the truth.
I drove you all around,
and you drove me to see
that grace is often taken for granted.
Too soon I lost you boys to the world,
as each one consumed the Lie
that life is about the here and now
and not the hereafter.
Now you know without doubt:
This life is temporary,
but the unseen, eternal.
Why would you keep calling me
and coming to church
if you didn’t believe what I preached?
Why would you finally pray a prayer
to receive the Lord
if you didn’t want to be in heaven with God?
Where was your heart when you died
that night, Jonathan?
I truly hope and believe
that you opened up to receive
Jesus’ sweet love and grace.
You knew, or feared, you’d die young,
and you made me promise to do your funeral
some day.
Why did that day come so soon?
You’ve left this world
to face the Judge of all people.
But the Judge is also your Defender
if you entrusted him with
your soul, your spirit, your life.
Sunday I drove your family and your ashes
to the cemetery.
One last ride.
We laid white carnations in around your remains,
before we buried the little casket.
When I returned to the church I saw
a single carnation remained on the table
where we honored you.
This morning I took one last flower to your grave.
Now I leave you to the grace of God.

I kept my promise, Lord.
Will you tell Jonathan what I’ve said and done?
I don’t know why he had to die,
Lord Jesus, but I
have done my best to honor You
and exalt your grace
by speaking the truth in love
to all who would hear it.
Lord Jesus, I trust your love,
and this Gospel of God’s grace.

Looking Back

Forty years ago this week the first Star Wars movie was released.
U2 is doing a 30 year anniversary tour of the band’s Joshua Tree album. They were at ATT Stadium in Arlington last night. I didn’t see the show.
Outside the front door of my church today there is a car show going on with classic vehicles from the 50’s-70’s and music from the same time period.

We love to look back. Sometimes it seems we cannot escape our past; sometimes we wish we could return.

I saw the first Star Wars as a 15 year old during a visit with my birth dad in North Carolina. I had little hope of seeing this blockbuster movie in my hometown, since the lines literally circled the block at the Cine Capri—the only theater where it was playing in Phoenix, AZ. However, there were very few people in the theater in downtown Weaverville, NC that summer day in 1977. I sat in the middle of the auditorium all by myself. I felt special. That day I also bought my very first record album: Hotel California by The Eagles. That was 40 years ago.

I went to the first concert of U2’s Joshua Tree tour at ASU Activity Center in April of 1987. It was enjoyable. Then on December 19th and 20th of the same year U2 concluded the tour at ASU Stadium. I was there both nights with young men from Arizona Youth Associates, the group home where I worked as Program Director. Tickets were only $5, very cheap even way back then. U2 wanted to be sure to fill the stadium both nights because they were filming the documentary Rattle and Hum. If you fast forward to the middle of that movie, you’ll experience some of what we did. It was amazing, far and away the best concert experience I’ve ever had. After the concert ended 60,000 people exited the stadium peacefully singing “40” together, which is a song based on Psalm 40.

Now, here’s the question: If I could go back 40 or 30 years ago, would I? Maybe for a visit, but I wouldn’t want to live it all over again. Movies and music help us to visit in a sense. However, I want to live today. Now that doesn’t mean I like our current time period better than the late 70’s or late 80’s. I really don’t. However, everything I’ve experienced, all of the lessons I’ve learned, and all of the life I’ve lived has been preparation for where I am now. I need to remember the past, but also forget the past. I must remember what I’ve learned, but forgive and forget the pain and evil caused by people. I also need to seek forgiveness from God (and others when it’s possible) for my failures and wrongs.

The most important decision I made in the past changed the trajectory of my life. I’m in a much different place than I could have been. At 16 years of age, on Easter Sunday to be precise, I committed my life to Jesus Christ. I received forgiveness for all of the wrong I did. That was 39 years ago, and the forgiveness has never stopped coming. I confess, he forgives. That commitment is something I cannot forget because Jesus has stayed with me and continues to transform me. Through all of the changes in my life and in this crazy world the unchanging Christ has been the constant. He has always been my leader and friend.