God is Sovereign, and Good

When tragedy strikes, such as Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in Houston, it may be cause for people to question God’s goodness, even his existence. Here are two good things that may come from such tragedy.

Tragedy teaches the world what is truly important.

Catastrophe is a powerful values clarification exercise.

I am too focused on mundane trivialities, convinced that my priorities are most important, consumed by consumerism, absorbed in my personal world and wearied by the exigencies of life. When tragedy strikes and I am forced to pay attention to more important matters. I empathize with the hurt and loss of others.

The Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans rightly cancelled their preseason game in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, so that Texans players could be with their families. JJ Watt has raised in excess of four million dollars for victims. Football and the rivalries we make so much of become meaningless in the face of disaster.

Tragedy makes us realize what is truly important: loving other people and caring for their needs along with–and even above–our own. When a disaster like Katrina or Harvey strikes, many of us realize that this life is not all there is, and we choose to live by faith in the God who promises eternal life. “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but what is unseen is eternal… So we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:18 & 5:7).

When a mass shooting happens we realize that good and evil are not just a matter of what we do and don’t like. We realize that there is something dramatically wrong with the world. And we have the opportunity to cry out for help and wisdom to the almighty, good and loving God from whom the world has turned. Each of us may turn back to this God. A faith revival could begin. What is your response to tragedy? Do you despair? Do you turn away in apathy indifference in an effort to preserve your own emotions? Do you blame God, complain to God, or do you cry out in faith, and act out in love?

Both nations that sought to take over the world during WWII believed that they were racially superior. In the wake of WWII the American attitude toward race was ripe for change. Enter Martin Luther King Jr. and the willingness not only to speak out and push for immediate change, but to suffer to see it through. The horrendous way civil rights protesters were treated was a tragedy, and many people were moved by it. However, the root of racism—a belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group— was cut when Hitler was defeated, and severed entirely when the empire of the rising sun was stopped. Intransigent racism continues to exist even today, but it is difficult to maintain the superiority of one’s own group when you have the example of between 35 and 60 million people dead as the result of that belief, when you have 6 million Jews who were murdered because of that belief.

The reality of a universal good and evil is well accepted today, even among atheists. That may well be due to the intense examples of evil we have witnessed since 911. It is extremely difficult to maintain that good and evil are completely relative when faced with suicide bombers, mass shooters and the chronic daily examples of murder, rape and senseless violence.

Now, I am not trying to convince you that everyone learns the lessons that tragedy teaches, or that everybody comes to the same conclusion. 911 may have helped to forge a consensus regarding the objective and universal existence of good and evil. In fact, 911 and the subsequent horrors we’ve witnessed may have already brought about the demise of postmodern relativism. However, the same event motivated the rise of the so-called new atheists and their spate of books aimed at extinguishing faith in God, especially monotheistic faith as exemplified by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So, not everyone arrives at the same conclusions when facing terrorism and tragedy. Some draw closer to God, some curse him, and some disbelieve in his existence. However, it is difficult remain truly agnostic in the wake of a Hurricane Harvey or Katrina or the 250,000 who died in the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004.

Some will question the goodness of God for bringing or permitting a disaster like Harvey. I saw a Tweet from one such skeptic who asked, “There are a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this? The Tweet is wrong on multiple levels:  is the guy blaming god, or seeking to disprove his existence, and why is he baiting Texas’ Christian population? Whatever his purpose, it is grossly insensitive to the suffering of many in South Texas. However, a reply from Trey Bedrick has a positive observation as a result of the compassionate responses of many people in our nation to this tragedy: “Yeah. I see my God bringing people together of every race to help one another in a time our country was on the verge of race wars.” How long this effect will last is unknown, but fighting over over hundred year old statues seems insignificant when people have lost everything.

Tragedy is an unavoidable values clarification exercise. I place this under the heading God Is Sovereign for good reason. God allows catastrophes to happen, or He may cause tragedy to discipline or punish. Unless you’re a genuine prophet, you cannot say why. You aren’t the judge. None of us—no human who has ever lived— would have the right to let evil take place just so people will realize what is important or affirm the reality of good and evil. God can. God has that right. Because he is God. I may question him, but it would be better to fear him, fall on my face before him and cry out for mercy, comfort and help in times of trouble.

Heroes are born from the womb of tragedy.

As we’ve seen, tragedy presents a test of what’s truly important,. Those who realize that what’s important is love, compassion, concern for other people, and who take the opportunity to do good and help those in an emergency, are heroes.

As I write this, heroes are everywhere in south Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the overwhelming deluge of rain that has flooded a large part of Houston. The so called Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers from Louisiana, brought their boats and have been rescuing people stranded by the flood. One man and his friends have focused on rescuing people’s pets. Pictures of heroes are posted on social media: a man, carrying children through waist deep water, another man carrying a woman and her baby, another with a rope and reaching out for others who are in danger of being swept along by flowing water. We have a friend, one of my former youth from FHBC days, named Charles Lauersdorf. He’s a marine who has been to Iraq five times. Charlie wanted to help, so he bought a boat and went down to Houston. One of his marine buddies volunteered to go and keep a watch for looters who were reported to be shooting at boats. These are two of many men went and are still down there.

Charlie posted the following on Fb while he was on his boat (Aug. 30, 2017):  “Having listened to thousands of calls for Rescue over the radio, I have YET to hear skin color used as a reference…. “Family of 4”, “two elderly people”, “3 women and 2 kids and 4 dogs and a bird”…but no skin color. Why not? Because it doesn’t effing matter! Rant over.”

One of Charlies marine buddies posted in response:  “Yeah, I liked it when we were all green.”

Tragedy reveals heroes, and heroes don’t rescue a skin color, they rescue a person (or in some cases an animal!). Can’t say the same for the race baiters and political opportunists who have shown their contempt for Texas in the wake of Harvey  Trump pledged a million dollars, other unlikely celebs like Miley Cyrus have stepped up to give huge sums. Don’t look to the media to determine who the heroes are. The real heroes sure aren’t marching in the streets, waving Nazi flags, and shouting about the supremacy of the white race,  nor are they wearing black, covering their faces like terrorists do, inciting and committing violence, rioting and chanting: “No Trump, no wall, no America at all!”

Advertisements

The Walking Dead

So, what’s the deal with Zombies? Why are so many people so entertained by programs like Walking Dead? The first Zombie movie with cultural influence came out in 1968, and was called “Night of the Living Dead.” Even though it was in black and white, it was too scary for me to watch as a kid. Next, there was “Dawn of the Dead,” which came out in 1978, then “Day of the Dead” in 1985, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2003, and finally Land of the Dead hit theaters in 2005. Oh, and there was the 20004 British spoof called “Shaun of the Dead,” and in 2013 there was even a zombie romantic comedy (imagine that!) titled Warm Bodies. And last, but certainly not least, is the hit TV series Walking Dead. All of these movies, the TV show, and the video game “Resident Evil” either originated from, or were influenced by, the legendary George Romero, who passed away on July 16th of this year (2017). RIP

Zombies in Voodoo
But did you know, Zombies are an actual part of the belief system of voodoo, particularly as it is practiced in Haiti? Voodoo teaches that a dead person can be revived in a ritual performed by a priest or priestess (houngan or mambo). The walking dead then remains under the control of the one who revived it.

Zombies All Around Us
The truth is, there is no such thing as a real Zombie. Is there? Well, at least, the Zombies of voodoo, George Romero movies and the Walking Dead TV series don’t exist. But, is it possible that there’s another kind of Zombie… one that’s born infected with death and each year becomes more and more like a zombie? Maybe the walking dead are all around us and we sense it subconsciously. Is that the reason some of us are so entertained by the Walking Dead? Are there Zombies among us?

Question:
What would cause a pair of young men to hop on the DART train’s blue line with the express intent of “hittin’ a lick” in downtown Garland where, as they later stated, “all the rich people live.” What would cause these two cousins to search in vain for a “chopper” before boarding the train? For the uninitiated a “chopper” is an AK 47 assault rifle. What would cause these two to share a smoke and have a nice 30 minute conversation with Matt Butler and Steven Swann outside Butler’s Christian record studio in downtown Garland, with the intent of sizing Butler and Swann up. What would cause Demarius Cummings to turn to his cousin and affirm, “that’s our lick.” And what would cause James Broadnax to pull a revolver out of his wasteband, turn and fire, hitting both Bulter and Swann in the body. And what would cause Broadnax to walk up to each of his victims and “pop” them in the head? This incident took place in 2008 about two blocks from our church on the same night our the worship team practiced. What would cause Broadnax and Cummings to boast to their friends and relatives about the murders and the fact that they stole Steven Swann’s 17 year old car? What would cause James Broadnax to hurl a profanity laced insult at Butler and Swann’s parents in a jailhouse interview, after getting caught a few days later? And what would cause Cummings to scream, curse and fight four bailiff’s as he resisted returning to a courtroom to hear victim impact statements three years later?
James Broadnax and Demarius Cummings are the walking dead.

Question:
What would cause a woman to drink, do ecstasy and smoke weed, then drive? What would cause her to continue getting drunk and high as she cruised from club to club for most of the night? What would cause this woman to drive her car home and park it in the garage… with a man she hit impaled alive on the broken glass of her windshield? What would cause this woman to check on the man periodically, not to help him, but in the hope that he would soon die? What would cause this woman and her friends to finally remove the mans body from the windshield and hide it?

The woman was Chante Mallard, the man she hit and could have saved was Gregory Biggs. The incident took place in 2001 in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Chante Mallard is a monster, and neither you nor I could ever do such a thing, could we?
Chante Mallard is a zombie.

Question:
What would cause a celebrity who appears to have it all to build an amusement park on his sprawling estate, in order to lure children there? What would cause him to show them pornography, give them wine, and have them sleep with him with the express purpose of consuming their innocence.

What would cause a mother to use her children to make money by pimping them out to a sexual predator?

All of this reminds us of the story of Hansel and Gretel, whose mother suggested to their father that they be abandoned in the forest, because the parents could no longer afford to feed them. Deep in the forest a wicked old witch had built a house made of bread with a roof of cake and windows of clear sugar to lure children to her, so that she could eat them.

Question:
Why would a young man to have unprotected sex with his girlfriend?
Why would the girl to choose to abort their baby?
Why do 40 percent of HIV positive people hide this fact from their sexual partners?
Why would a couple who fell in love as teenagers and got married in their twenties to get divorced in their thirties?
Why would a man leave his wife and forsake his children?
Why would a father refuse to make child support payments?
They’re all zombies.

Question:
Why have mass shootings become so common? On April 20th, 1999 the nation was shocked when Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris walked into Columbine High School and fatally shot 13 of their classmates. On April 16, 2007 the nation was rocked when Seung Hui Cho shot and killed 27 fellow Virginia Tech students and 5 faculty members. In a rambling diatribe Cho expressed jealousy and contempt for “wealthy brats” at his school. We were horrified in December (14) 2012 when 20 year old Adam Lanza slipped into Sandy Hook Elementary school and murdered 20 little kids in cold blood.
The shock has worn off. Mass shootings are now a regular occurrence in the USA. The term “active shooter” has made its way into our vocabulary. What has caused this?

Question:
What would cause a group to march waving Confederate and Nazi flags to promote white supremacy? And what would cause a group of self-righteous social justice warriors calling themselves Antifa to counter-protest and incite violence? What caused 20 year old Hitler-loving James Alex Fields to drive his nearly new Dodge Challenger into those protestors, killing 32 year old Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others? Was it terrorism, hatred, rage, fear, mental illness? Or are they all the walking dead?

What caused 22 year old Younes Abouyaaqoub to drive a van into a crowd the next day in Spain, killing 13 people? Why do terrorists blow themselves up? Is it really for God? Or is there a personal interest? Islamic extremists, for their part, teach that those who kill infidels will have a hero’s welcome in heaven, where they’ll live in a pleasure garden with 70 virgins.

Self-Centeredness

If you think there is no answer to these questions, you would be mistaken.
If you think the motives for the crimes I’ve described are varied, you would only be partially correct, because there is indeed one underlying cause.
If you think the answer to these questions is a bad environment, poor parenting, poverty, or a lack of education, you are mislead.
If you think people are born to do evil, you would only be partially correct.
“Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
If you think the cause is Satan, you would only be partially right.
If you think the reason is evil, you would only be partially right.
If you think the answer to these questions is sin, you’re close.

The real answer, the underlying motive of all of the horrible things I’ve mentioned, and many more reported daily by the voyeuristic news media, probably seems quite harmless. In fact, the cause is common to all human beings. It could be called Original Sin. The basic motive for all evil action is self-centeredness.

Not everyone will agree with me on this. In fact, Philosophers like Ayn Rand have advocated for selfishness as a powerful, positive and proper motive for all human action. (Nico Machiavelli is another example.)

Even Christian psychologists and teachers have reinforced the natural human bent toward self-centeredness by twisting Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you’ve been in a typical Christian church or school for any period of time, you have likely heard this false teaching, which goes something like this:
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, it’s impossible to love your neighbor if you do not love yourself first.
“Love yourself first” is a gross misinterpretation of both Jesus and the OT text he quoted. It perverts the Lord’s command for me to love my neighbor by turning it into an affirmation of my natural bent to pursue my own self interest. This is a critical error that originates from humanist philosophy and has been long popularized through psychology. It is not at all what Jesus taught.

Thesis
Today I want to make the case that self centeredness is at the root of every form of human evil. For centuries philosophers and theologians have debated whether human beings are essentially good or evil. John Calvin taught humans are totally depraved. Thomas Hobbes observed that without the rule of law and the threat of punishment life would be “solitary, nasty, brutish and short.”
Jean Jaques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau both supported the notion that people are basically good, believing that it is society which corrupts human nature. In truth, humans are capable of great good, and extreme evil. All humans are inherently selfish. Observe the patients in any mental institution and you will see that most, if not all, display an excess of self-absorption. Unchecked, selfishness will destroy every relationship you have. The consequence of teaching three generations of children to love themselves first is a crisis of narcissism, which is now destroying our nation.

Self-centeredness is the root of injustice.
It is the root of cruelty.
It is the root of murder.
It is the root of every form of stealing.
It is the primary reason for lying.
It is the root of every type of sexual perversion.
It is the root of jealousy and envy.
Selfishness is the basis for capitalism,
and the reason socialism and communism always fail.
Self-centeredness is at the root of humanism.
It is human nature apart from Christ.
It is Original Sin.
Self-centeredness is the opposite of love,
which is why loving yourself first is a contradiction.
Following self makes me God’s rival, and makes him my enemy.
It is self-centeredness that turns people into zombies.

Jesus’ Teaching
Jesus did not teach me to love myself first. He taught me to love the Lord my God with all of my heart and soul, mind and strength, and then to love my neighbor as I already (naturally) love myself (Mt. 22:37-40). The Lord’s purpose is to move me away from self-centeredness and toward compassion. Also, love here doesn’t refer to some kind of affection, a good feeling about God and myself. Rather, love is looking out for the best interest of the one l choose to care for. That, in fact is what I do for myself: I take care of my needs, seek to fulfill my desires, and pursue my passion. Jesus commanded me to care about those nearby the same way I do myself.

Now, it is true that some of us do a poor job of taking care of ourselves, others have self-destructive tendencies, even self-hatred. If you struggle with these issues, then “love your neighbor as yourself” is not the best analogy. Does that mean I’m wrong. That you do need to learn to love yourself first? No, in fact Jesus gave us a new commandment with a new analogy. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). What you need first is to receive Jesus’ love. Then you will be able to love others the same way Jesus loves you. That is the answer.

Obeying Jesus’ command to love God and others will cause me to forget about myself. Love is inherently selfless. The more selfish I am, the less capable I am of love. Jesus commands every genuine Christian (disciple) to deny self, take up the cross and follow Him (Mk. 8:34-35). Jesus Christ warned that I cannot follow Him if I fail or refuse to deny myself. Indeed, I must not love myself first. I have to put self-interest, and even my concern for those closest to me, far beneath the surpassing love I have for Jesus Christ. (Lk. 14:26-27). The Apostle Paul teaches me to have the same mindset that Jesus Christ had: even though he existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God an thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave. The Son of God became a man and humbled himself to the point of death, even the awful death of crucifixion (Ph. 2:6-11).

Radical Inversion
I cannot serve myself and love myself and put myself first. In fact, I must be last in order to become first (Lk. 13:30). I must humble myself before the mighty hand of God and let Him raise me up at the proper time (1 Pt. 5:6). “For no one on earth can exalt a man, whether in the east or west or from the wilderness. God exalts one and puts another down” (Ps. 75:7). Only those God raises up will stay up. Those who attain success, fame, fortune and power from any source other than God may rise only to fall. Like the fable of Icarus, when these high flyers get too close to the sun, their manufactured wings of wax and feathers melt, and they come crashing to to the ground. Self-centered celebrities, star athletes, politicians and preachers: all fall down. The higher they rise, the further they have to fall.

Even those whom God raises up must remain vigilant in their humility before the Lord, rejecting self-centeredness and the temptation to believe they’ve earned success. Rick Warren lists a lack of humility among leaders, including and especially pastors, as a global giant that must be felled. Almost invariably those who achieve great power, wealth or celebrity are (or become) intolerably arrogant. Selfish ambition has been their lifelong pursuit. In promoting their brand, they’ve actually created an idolatrous self image. A Christian may covet a platform to proclaim the Gospel, then end up enjoying the adoration of their fans. Soon enough God will send in an iconoclast to break down this self-made idol.

Often it is their own perverse lusts, abuse of power, corruption, or addiction that shames them or brings them down. Micheal Jackson, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner. Or they struggle with hidden demons that drive them to suicide. Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington. Celebrity drug overdoses and suicides are so common, you’d think we’d learn that being an idol is destructive to the soul. “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before the fall” (Pr. 16:18). If I become my own man, light my own torch, an do it my way, I’ll lie down in torment (Is. 50:11). The rich and famous are not the happiest people, the successful are not the most fulfilled. You and I are not made to be served, but like Jesus we are to serve and to give up our lives. We must humble ourselves, change and become like little children, or we’ll never enter heaven. Those who are humble like little children will be greatest in the God’s kingdom (Mt. 18:3-4).

“The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cr. 5:14a).
I must stop being moved by selfish ambition and self-centered concern. My self love must be replaced by something higher…Self absorption must be replaced by Christ obsession! The love of Christ compels those who believe in him. We love others the way Christ loves us. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” Christ is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Those of you whom the Father chose, he chose to become like Christ. God is love. If we know God, we will be lovers too. I cannot live a life of love and live for myself. I do not live for “me” any longer, and every time I default back to that original sin, I become sick, sad and loveless like the world I am here to help save. I’ve become a zombie!

Paul spoke prophetically to Timothy about this (2 Tm. 3:1-5):
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
The first statement reveals the root problem: “People will be lovers of themselves.” Lifewell, we must be people on mission to save men and women from themselves, and from the world and the devil who would convince them that they should live and believe in themselves. The way it is done is to point all men and women to Jesus Christ. If I am going to live a life of love, I must live a Christ-focused life.

But how do I do that? How can I escape myself? Who will worry about me, understand me take and take care of my needs? I have no choice. I have to look out for myself first…

Zombies in the room!
Wait a minute. What is that smell?! Do my ears deceive me, or can I hear a low moan? Is it a hallucination, or do my eyes see…Zombies! Yes, they’re here. Look around you. Look at yourself! Could you be a Zombie, one of the living dead? Are you selfish? Are you living a meaningless, purposeless existence, trudging mindlessly through each day, seeking someone or something to make you feel alive?

To survive you may be feeding off of those whom you believe to be more alive than you. That’s why you covet and envy the beautiful people, celebrities, athletes, film stars, rock stars, comedians. That’s why some of you cling so desperately to your significant other. That’s why our dying world is so obsessed with sex! Sure sex is pleasurable, but sex is also consumption. It allows you to merge your dying flesh with someone who makes you feel alive. If you’re not doing this with another person, your probably doing it in your fantasy world with images you have burned into your mind from some scene or screen. If you’re too timid to consume another, you might be consuming yourself narcissistically. Do you stare at yourself in the mirror? How many selfies do you take? This consumption of flesh to stay alive is the root behind homosexuality. It is why our nation is fixated on youth. There are those who feed on the young, which is the reason there are increasing numbers of pedophiles. They’re all Zombies! We’re living among the walking dead.

“Christ died for all, therefore all died” (2 Cr. 5:14b).
You are either one of the living dead, or the once dead who live. Either way, we are all dead. What are you dead to: this world, or Christ?
When Christ died on the cross, he eliminated for all time the possibility of hope on earth apart from himself.
We must stop seeking happiness and fulfillment in anything apart from Jesus. When I come to Jesus I become dead to everything outside Him. Paul said, “…in the cross of Christ… the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gl. 6:14). The cross is a cutting line. The cross divided history. The cross is unavoidable. You have the blood of an innocent man all over you. Either your sin makes you guilty of Christ’s blood to your condemnation, or your faith in his blood justifies you from every sin and the result is eternal glorification. You are dead to God or dead to the world: it all depends on where you put your faith. If you trust the God who sent his Son to die for you, then you’ll live with him forever. But first you must die.

Little “i am” must Die
To truly live I must die to Zombie me. To preserve my life, I must lose it. Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies it abides alone and remains unchanged, but if it dies it produces a harvest of fruit (Jn. 12:24). There can be no compromise or coexistence between Christ and the old egotistical, egocentric, ambitious little god “i”. Self is an idol who shall be given no quarter and shown no mercy. Little “i am” must die. This happens when I give up, give in and repent of my plans, dreams, and self-esteem, and when I identify Christ’s cross as my own. Remember, Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Christ, and that symbol of a man carrying the cross is a picture of me (and you). Jesus stated clearly that in order to follow him I must deny myself and take up my cross. You see, it wasn’t Jesus’ cross that Simon carried, but his own, and yours, and mine. Yet Jesus died in our place on that cross. More than that, Jesus represented you and me on that cross. He died AS ME. He became my sin! Now, I must count my old self as crucified, dead and buried!

“For I have been crucified with Christ and no longer do I live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gl. 2:20). “Knowing this, that the old self was crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we might no longer be slaves to sin” (Rm. 6:6). “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory” (Cl. 3:3-4).
Hallelujah!

Feed on Christ
To go on living a zombie must feed, and so must you and I. Yet God is the only one who can give life. He is the only one who possesses immortality. Feeding on pretty flesh is death to the soul, eternal death. No, we must feed on Christ’s flesh and blood to really live, and live forever.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn. 6:53-55).
Now, do you understand why we eat the Lord’s Supper? It is a symbol of what Jesus was talking about here. We must consume Christ to live. We must be absorbed and obsessed with Jesus alone. To have this kind of passion for anyone or anything else is sick. It is like eating rotten meat. It leads to eternal death and hell. It is idolatry. Jesus said:
“Do you take offense at this? It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I spoke to you are spirit and life.”
(Jn. 6:61b & 63).

Passion
There’s a lot of talk about passion in our time. What is your passion? Is it money? Sex? Food? Boxing or UFC? Is it politics or social justice? Painting, music, movies, sports, food, wine, craft beer, video games, technology or cars? Is you passion your husband or wife, your family or home? Your passion may be worthy or it may be worthless. However, only Christ is worthy of your undivided, undiluted, absolutely committed passionate love. If you’re among the chosen, if you’ve chosen to follow Jesus Christ, then you’re a part of the church. The church is the bride of Christ. We’ve been selected by the groom to make love to him for all eternity. There will be no marriage or sex in heaven. Your marriage covenant is dissolved by death. If you belong to Jesus, you’ll be married to Him and be intimate with him for all eternity. This is spiritual, it is a mystery, but it is we’re talking about God who is love.

“I have counted everything garbage that I may gain Christ,” said the Apostle (Ph. 3:8). Why? Because Jesus is worthy! Because of his surpassing greatness and glory. Because Jesus Christ is what human beings are supposed to be: lovers and servants of the Most High God. Christ Jesus has the glory, and the honor and the power forever. Amen! I’d rather be a floor polisher in the temple of YHWH than to dwell in a palace here on earth. I don’t know what God is going to do with me for the little time I have left on earth. I don’t know if I’ll have much of a reward in the kingdom. I do know it ain’t about me, or you, or Lifewell, or America, or Democrats or Republicans, or climate change, or social justice. No, it’s all about Christ Jesus. I’m submitted to him. He can do whatever he wants with me. Christo-centricity is my electricity. Christ is life, the rest is… well, worthless compared to Christ. “Whom have I in heaven but you, and earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25)

What are you all about right now? Are you egocentric or Christo-centric? Who do you live for? What do you feed on? Are you one of the living dead, or one of the dead who lives forever? Come to Jesus and die to yourself. “Whoever loves his life, loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25)

Under Someone’s Power
According to voodoo doctrine, a Zombie is under the power of the person who performed the ritual to revive it from death. Let’s use that as an analogy: without Christ Jesus, you’re under the power of whatever you turn to for life. This could be something bad, like drugs, alcohol, porn, or immoral sex. “Truly, truly the one who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:32). Or you could be under the power of someone good, like a close friend, a spouse, or your kids. Even the best relationship is bound to go bad when you’re dependent on that person for life and happiness.

The real master over you is the one who deceived you into believing that you could obtain life and happiness from any source other than the one true and living God. The master I speak of is the the evil god of this world, the Prince of the Power of the Air, the Father of Lies who uses deception and delusion to keep the world under his dark spell. However, when you hear the truth of the Gospel of Christ, the spell is broken long enough for you to make a choice. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rm. 10:17).

This reminds me of the story of Prince Rilian in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The prince is imprisoned underground by the evil queen of the underworld. The greatest evil, however, is that most of the time the prince does not even know who he is. The witch queen has put him under a spell, which has erased his memory and identity. However, for one hour each night he comes to his senses. During this time the Queen puts him in a room alone and has him tied to a silver chair. In the book of the same name, Prince Rilian is freed from the silver chair, and his enchantment, when he calls on the name of Aslan in front of Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum, the heroes whom Aslan the Lion has sent to release him. In Narnia, Aslan is the type of Christ, who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the Bible.

If you’re self-centered and follow your own desires and inclinations, then you are really under the evil spell of the Father of Lies. But right now you’re hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which can and will set you free, if only you believe and obey (Jn. 8:31-32). “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed!” (Jn. 8:35) I implore you to come out from the seduction of this evil master. Recognize the lie of living for yourself and loving yourself first. You’ve been created to live for the glory of the Great King of Kings, Jesus Christ. Call on the name of Jesus to save you (Rm. 10:9-10, 13). Have you come to your senses? There you sit in your own silver chair. In the name of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, I say to you: Arise! Your bonds are cut. Stand and confess Christ before the heroes of Lifewell, whom God has put in your life to help release you from your Zombie-like existence (Mt. 10:32-33).

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 identity 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 a person doesn’t obey authority, if they break the law, they should be arrested, prosecuted and punished. If you don’t like the law, then work 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.