Tag Archives: Gospel

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).

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Radical Economy of Grace

Christ’s Radical Inversion of Social Values
General Comment on Luke 6:27-38

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Luke 6:27-36)

“You reap what you sow…”
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Law of Karma in Eastern religion.
The above represent expressions of the natural law of reciprocity, which is the ruling principle for economic and social relationships in the natural world.

In his commentary on Luke Joel B. Green recognizes two types of reciprocity in societies. The first is “balanced reciprocity,” which is: “the direct exchange of goods of approximately equal value within a relatively narrow period of time” (Green, “The Gospel of Luke” from The New International Commentary series, p. 202). The second type Green calls “generalized reciprocity,” wherein: “the exchange is essentially one sided, altruistic, the giving of a gift without explicit stipulations for any reciprocation in kind” (ibid. p. 202).
The generalized type is always found among the members the nuclear family (parents and children), but in some cases and cultures it is seen among members of the extended family.
Jesus challenged the world system, commanding his disciples to extend generalized reciprocity beyond the trusted boundary of family into the hostile territory of our enemies. As Jesus’ disciples we are to love our enemies by doing good to them, praying for them and blessing them, even though they may curse us. This is no lofty, unattainable ideal, but Christ’s expectation for all Christians all of the time. This teaching of Jesus alone, if followed seriously, could radically transform every society in which it is practiced.

Jesus came to radically transform the economy of the world system. He did not merely teach his disciples, challenging them to live differently. Jesus came to earth to pay the massive debt owed by every person as the result of sin. “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus cancelled the sin debt owed by all people when he took it upon himself, then suffered humiliation, beating and the death of crucifixion. Jesus established a new economy based upon grace. That is the fundamental feature of the Gospel. When Jesus Christ paid all debts with His act of love on the cross, he provided an inexhaustible, super-fund of good merit from which every person may draw when they confess sin, repent and put faith in the Savior.

We are called to extend the grace and forgiveness we have received to everyone we meet.

How can we do this? Is Jesus calling us to be dishonored doormats? He is calling us to be like Himself. As the Roman soldiers drove the nails into His hands, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Yet how will we have the courage to do this? Jesus said, “if someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes something from you do not demand it back” (from Luke 6:29-30). Are we to give over our possessions simply because immoral people demand it? Are we to give up our homes to the homeless? Are we to spend all of our valuable leisure time “going the second mile” for ungrateful people (see Matthew’s version of Jesus’ message, in 5:41)? Who will protect me? Who will take care of my needs? The Father will provide for and protect me.

We do these things as we abide in Christ. We ask for wisdom from His Holy Spirit before we act rashly, or refuse to act on the basis of self-protection and selfish motives. We are to act without concern for ourselves. Instead, we act: 1) in obedience to Christ’s command, 2) with discretion from the Holy Spirit, 3) in the true best interest of the other, whether friend or foe, family or outsider, honest or criminal.
This is God’s agape’ love. We can do it because we have a God and Father who promises to repay and care for us. In fact, when we act in obedience to Christ’s command and teaching, we are abiding in Him and thereby actively placing ourselves in the care and favor of His Almighty Father, and ours (cf. John 15:5-10, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:1-10).

Relevant quotes from Green:

“Jesus rejects the life of obligation and debt (see Luke 4:18-19). In its place he first posits a generalized reciprocity, the sort of open-handed sharing characteristic of families, and urges that actions typical among kin be the norm for interaction with all persons. But he also envisions a form of ideal benefaction: give to others without expectation of return, and God will give to you…
That is, in redefining the world for his followers…Jesus posits as its foundation his image of God as merciful Father (Luke 6:36)….That is, Jesus declares such behavior demonstrates that one is a child of God” (ibid. p. 270 & 271)

“Love is expressed in doing good—that is, not by passivity in the face of opposition but in proactivity: doing good, blessing, praying and offering the second cheek and shirt along with coat” (ibid. p. 272).

Christ came to radically transform every relationship. Stating all of this is one thing, but I must learn to live it and do it every day, and so must you if you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

You Serve What You Fear

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“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

In the New American Commentary David Garland make this thought provoking observation: “It is said that whatever it is that one fears the most that is what one will serve the most.”

What do you fear the most in this life? In what ways can you see yourself serving that fear? Perhaps we could look at it this way: what do you serve to keep your fear at bay? Before I committed my life to Jesus Christ, it was fear of demonic evil that drove me toward salvation. I sought protection from Christ. I believed he had more power than what threatened me. Still do.

Now, if it is true that what we serve most is what we fear most, then it explains why so many people’s worship of God is half-hearted, and why sincere service among those who claim to believe in Jesus is so infrequent and weak. We simply do not fear God.

Failure to fear God may be the backlash from too much teaching on cheap grace. It is also the expected consequence of the widespread assumption: “I can do whatever I want; God won’t care.” We could see this as a relative of atheism. For all practical purposes, regardless of what one professes, without fear (deep respect) there can be no realistic faith in the God who created the universe and will call every person to account for their actions.

Paul always kept the judgment of God before him. He fully expected to be evaluated by Christ at the judgment bar of Christ. I do not believe that the Apostle feared that the verdict would go against him. He had confident faith that he was made right by Christ’s atoning death on the cross and victorious resurrection. However, he fully realized that everyone needs to be persuaded of the truth. The reality is, “It is appointed for everyone once to die, and then comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NLT).

Everyone will be judged and we all desperately need salvation from eternal condemnation. Concern for those who are headed for destruction drove Paul to persuade people by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus. “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6, NLT).

So, what do you serve? Could it be something that helps you suppress your fear? Some people serve addictions to alcohol and/or drugs to escape anxiety/worry, which is a type of fear. People absorb themselves in academics or their careers, distract themselves with entertainment and games, become obsessed with competition or personal projects, all to escape the fear of insignificance, loneliness and death.

“Fear God and you need fear nothing else” (Isaiah 8:13). Add to that, “Fear God and you will worship nothing else.” Fear God and every activity will be an act of worship, every act of service will be for his sake.

Vindication Part 2

This is the second installment in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the intro to the series in my notes on Facebook.

I began ministry in Garland in November of 1992. I had just finished the fourth and most well attended year of a Halloween production I started in The Colony, Texas. It was called House of Judgement. I had no idea at the time how big this Christian dramatic alternative to the traditional haunted house would become.

In my last year in The Colony 2,000 people came through the house. In its first year in Garland, we exceeded that number when 2,250 came through. There was great support from the new church. A wonderful lady, who has since gone to be with the Lord, donated magazine quality flyers to publicize the event. Even still, during one of the performances one of the older volunteers seemed amazed at the number of people who were coming through the House. He confided that he had believed no more than a few people would be interested.

In 1994 people waited in line for hours to witness our Halloween drama and 4,650 came through. We had certainly outgrown the church facilities. Some church members complained: “How big are you going to let this thing get?” Every year many people prayed to receive Christ as the result of what they had witnessed. By this time hundreds of people had responded to our dramatic presentation. So, were we supposed to limit the number of people who heard the Gospel?

The following year was 1995 and the church graciously allowed us to use a recreation center it owned. Over 7,000 people came through the House. More than 10,000 attended when we held it at the same facility the next year. Our final year in this venue was 1997. We had the longest lines in our history, performed into the wee hours of the morning, and well over 11,000 people came through. I don’t believe we could have accommodated more.

Each year I wrote a different script for the production. If you are unfamiliar with House of Judgment, it is a morality play performed on multiple stages. An audience, typically of between 40-50 members, enters the House every 20 minutes or so, and watches the play by moving through a maze from stage to stage. House of Judgement stories were about the lives of teenagers who faced the earthly and eternal consequences of their choices. The story changed every year, but one thing remained the same: teenagers made choices that resulted in their deaths; those who believed in Jesus Christ went to heaven; those who rejected Jesus went to hell. We had some amazing, dramatic representations of heaven and hell!

We had stories about teenagers in gangs, boy-girl relationships gone bad, racism, drugs, suicide, and other issues faced by young people. Sadly, some in our church felt that these stories, and the language used by the actors was offensive. They wanted to edit the scripts. In 1997 I submitted my script to the pastor, who had others look at it. I received it back with portions circled in red, which reminded me of getting a paper back from the teacher at school. One of the memorable offenses I was supposed to remove was the following. A young person is at a party talking about another kid, whom he doesn’t like much. He explains why the other teen is late in coming to the party: “Yeah, he’s a trainer. Always stays late after games and kisses coach’s butt.” I was supposed to edit the phrase “kisses coach’s butt” because of how offensive it was. Thankfully the pastor saw how silly this was and the phrase stayed in the script. This is just an example of a problem that had been brewing for years. We were experiencing resistance and the erosion of support for a ministry that was reaching more and more people with a real and relevant Gospel.

The recreation center had its own board of directors, and they were not always happy with shutting the facility down for this production. Additionally, we probably didn’t return the facility to the condition they expected. I take responsibility for this. My only excuse is the extreme weariness of our key volunteers by the end of a production. We had plenty of people who wanted to be in the show, but few volunteers who wanted to clean up after. A little understanding would have been nice, though.

In 1997 we paid the recreation center for the use of the facility (even though it was owned by the church for which I worked). That year many, many people prayed to receive Christ because of our event. I remember going to the board meeting one night after the event concluded. I was very tired but excited to report the phenomenal number of people who attended and, more importantly, the large number who had responded to the Gospel in the counseling room. There was no enthusiasm from the board. None. I handed them a check for the rent and the treasurer took it without comment or commendation. They opposed us doing House of Judgement there again.

That was the last year House of Judgment was done under the sole authority of the church where I served. A wise woman at the church, who had founded a crisis pregnancy center, recommended that we become a non-profit organization. HOJ, Inc. was born.

In 1998 we encountered more opposition and difficulty than any previous year. We were essentially on our own. We had no building. We had no money. We did have many young people who were interested in acting, and plenty of volunteers ready to work. I had written a brand new script based, in part, on actual events and real people. It promised to be a powerful show. We began rehearsals in August of that year, even before we had a building. The recreation center was kind enough to permit us to use their facility for auditions and rehearsals. This was also the facility where I did youth ministry each week. By mid-September we still had no building in which to perform. The church that I served was too small and would not allow us to perform in their building in any case. We were also still not permitted to do it at the recreation center, even in an emergency. What to do? Where to go?

I searched and searched for a building large enough to accommodate the show, and which we could afford. Finally, we discovered an old shopping center in Richardson, Texas with an owner who was willing to rent it to us for a month. It would cost us far more than we would have had to pay the recreation center of my church, and it had been abandoned for a decade or more. However, I believed we could use it. There were no walls, so we could build our maze and scenes however we wanted. This was going to cost a fortune compared to previous House of Judgement productions. Where would the money come from? Not from my church, which had all but abandoned the project. I decided to open multiple credit card accounts and pay for it that way.

The biggest problem immediately facing us was time. We couldn’t get into the building until October 1st, but the show was scheduled to begin on the 12th. We were going to allow parents of our actors to come through that day as a kind of live dress rehearsal. So, we had 12 days, and three or four credit cards for capital. From this we would create the largest production we’d ever done. Thanks in large part to the leadership and hard work of two professionals who were in the construction industry we met the deadline… sort of.

Ceilings in the old grocery store were over 20 feet. Most of our scenes required a ceiling of less than half that height. Problem was, the fire marshall informed us that we couldn’t create a lower ceiling unless we also lowered the emergency fire sprinklers. This was cost and time prohibitive. As the result, all of our sets were left open at the top. This would present a significant noise challenge. Audiences in one scene would hear things going on in other scenes around them: dialog, music, screaming, gunshots. It was going to be a nightmare. I just hoped people who came through would be able to hear the dialog and get the message. Honestly, I was so discouraged that I never went through and watched the show that year. I was kept rather busy trying to get audiences through, anyhow.

When the first audience of parents and volunteers came through to test us out on October 12th, the final scene was still under construction! In House of Judgement the last scene is always hell. Our hell in 1998 was simple: it consisted of crosses that the condemned would be chained to, symbolic of their rejection of Jesus’ death on the cross. They would have to pay the penalty of their sins by suffering eternal death on crosses of their own. The first several audiences that entered could probably hear a chain saw cutting the telephone poles, which were being used to construct those crosses for the final scene. Construction finished before the first audience got to the scene, but it was certainly not what I’d planned, and I’m sure it wasn’t a terribly scary hell scene… yet.

The House was finished by the following weekend and we opened to the public. We began to see a response we’d never seen before. An average of one in every four people who came through House of Judgement 1998 indicated on a card that they prayed to receive Christ. In spite of all the difficulty and imperfection of the production that year, 13,500 people experience it.  We had 1,800 come through in a single Saturday night!

That year a videographer approached me about taping the show and turning it into a movie. The movie is called Dark Persuasion and can be viewed online at www.youtube.com/deorl