Where is the Hope?

SONY DSCRomans 5:5

When one becomes weary of evil acts that he or she can do nothing to stop… the next logical emotion for one to experience  is despair.    But as a believer in Jesus we need to remember that we have been given hope… a living hope. (1 Peter 1:3)   The response of hope is a step away from a secular mindset during a time of crisis.  Moderns might be able to curb their anger and put it to constructive use.  They definitely have turned out with compassionate service.  But hope?  It is a commodity that is hard to come by in times like these.

In Romans Chapter 5 Paul writes of a hope that “…does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Hope in times of terror is not a natural thing… it is a supernatural thing!  And our hearts, infused by the Holy Spirit, are the ONLY means by which we can experience it.

But what is it we are hoping for?

1.  The end of evil forever.

There is lots of Scripture on this… but one will suffice.  2 Peter 3:7 -“…by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Several pastors from the Boston area posted blogs about the attack on their city.  One resonated with me.  Adam Mabry, the pastor of Alethea Church wrote an article called “A Pastor’s Perspective on the Attacks on My City.”  This is an excerpt:

“So what are we to make of it all? What are we to think when tragedy mingles with beauty? …When blood spills with    tears? [He then invites us to look to Jesus on the cross. And says:]  He, shining like the sun, brought grace and truth, kindness and undeserved mercy. And… He also experienced the deepest and darkest violence humanity has ever accomplished. … There, tragedy mingled with beauty, pain accompanied grace, and the blood of God himself spilt along with his tears. The gospel shows us that, in Christ, darkness, selfishness, terror, sin, and depravity can be and will be once and finally overcome. That’s the hope—the only hope—for the deepest why of pain.”

Evil will be overcome one day.  And I would not want to be one of the Boston bombers standing before God unrepentant on judgment day.   Believer, it is okay to desire to see justice, but don’t ring your hands if things move too slowly.  Don’t worry that there may be others involved that seem to get away Scott Free.  God has better surveillance than all of the Boston PD.  God sees.  God knows.  And He will judge.

2.  There is also hope for today.

Sometimes we despair because we think of those that lost loved ones and those that lost limbs.  We secretly think:  I’m glad it wasn’t me or my loved ones… and then we feel guilty for thinking that.  But we can’t escape it.  How would I cope if I had been standing there on Marathon day?

Here is where hope really should kick in.  We need to trust that God can use any tragedy to his glory.  No matter what evil men plot… God can turn it around.  God is still causing all things to work together for the good of those called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)  We either believe this or not!  Randy Alcorn voiced it this way:  “Evils, whether moral or natural, will not have the final say.  God will replace both with everlasting good.”

You might ask yourself:  “What can I offer to people today through these tragedies?”  Offer hope… real, lasting and living  hope.

One event that happened in the week following the marathon that did not get a lot of coverage (for obvious reasons) was the death of Sportscaster, Pat Summerall.  On the CBS evening news they ran a short piece on him and in it mentioned his faith.  That reminded me of an article in my files from Sports Spectrum magazine.

“For 45 years, Pat Summerall’s voice and face spelled football. He anchored CBS and FOX’s NFL telecasts (often alongside pat summerallJohn Madden) and broadcast 16 Super Bowls (and served as a CBS Radio analyst or pregame reporter for 10 more). This is the part of Pat Summerall’s story that most people know. In the Christian sports magazine Sports Spectrum, reporter Art Stricklin tells the rest of Pat’s story:

Pat was an only child whose parents divorced before he was born, leaving him feeling empty and alone. He became an alcoholic, living from drink to drink as his body broke down. During the 1994 Masters tournament—[Summerall also did voiceover work for high-profile golf tournaments]—he faced up: “I’d been getting sick a lot, throwing up blood—and I got sick again at 4 a.m. I looked in the mirror, saw what a terrible sight I was, and said to myself, This isn’t how I want to live.

Pat spent 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California. This helped alleviate his alcohol problems but didn’t address his spiritual vacuum. Then he bumped into [Tom Landry, his old football coach from his days as a star kicker]. [Landry] explained about [Pat’s] spiritual need and connected him with Dallas Cowboy‘s chaplain John Weber. Pat’s life was transformed, and he was baptized at age 69.

Art Stricklin closes his article with a few words chaplain John Weber offered to sum up Summerall’s journey: “[Pat] was once the life of every party with a drink in his hand. Now he gets his power from another source.”

We hold on to the hope that can change the destiny of our neighbors, family and friends.  Don’t give in to the despair around you.  Offer hope.

Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

A Christian Response to EvilGalatians 6:9

This is the third in the series “A Christian’s Response to Evil.”  In this series we are looking at common responses in a season of terror and how we as believers need to be responding.  Last post I wrote that the common first reaction to evil is rage… but how our response needs to be Godly anger or resolve.

In this post I want to address the common response in the wake of tragedy of weariness or compassion fatigue.  The last 7 years in American history have shaken up all of us.  Clackamas Town Center, Oregon shooting (12/11/12)… Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin (8/5/12)… Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting (7/20/12)… Cafe Racer Espresso shooting in Seattle, WA (5/29/12)… Oikos University shooting in Oakland, CA (4/2/12)… Chardon High School shooting in Chardon, OH (2/27/12)… IHOP restaurant shooting in Carson City, NV (9/6/12)… Safeway shooting in Tucson, AZ (Rep. Gabby Giffords shot in the head) (1/8/12)… Fort Hood Shooting (11/5/09)… Virginia Tech Shooting (4/16/07)… Amish Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster, PA (10/2/06)….  that is just seven years back… and I didn’t include all of the mass killings in the list.

If you are like me when you heard about the Boston Marathon bombing last week your first thought was:  “Again?”  It is so easy to want to give up on caring… to get tired of helping.  Because the tragedies don’t end.

Last Monday in Boston someone literally blew up the finish line.  Weary runners that had been on the course for 4 hours… exhaustionwith the end in their sights watched as chaos ensued.  Have you ever felt that way about life?  You help and help and there seems to be no keeping the darkness back.  Then… there goes the finish line.  You want to sit on the track and cry.  You reach the point that your heart shrinks and you want to go back to caring for  “me and mine” and leave all that saving the world stuff for somebody else.

The Scriptures teach that as believers we are not to “… lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

Jesus taught us to go an extra mile.  Some of the runners at the marathon crossed the finish line and didn’t stop running until they ran to the nearest hospital to offer blood.  Some dehydrated runners in medical tents with IV’s in their arms, ripped them out to clear the tent for the wounded.

Let me ask you, believer… “What extra mile are you running?”  For the hurting, the downtrodden, the exploited, the lost in this world.

Romans 12:17 & 21 teaches us: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. …21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  The goodness that comes out of you thwarts the efforts of the “terrorists.”  So give, help, serve and love.

How can I help a city that is 1,100 miles away?  You can start by helping your neighbor across the street.  Don’t lose heart… instead offer  a compassionate “extra mile” kind of compassion.

Mark Buchanan in his book, The Holy Wild, shared an excerpt from a letter written by a missionary couple in Brazil:

“Driving through the Christmas traffic, fighting the drizzling rain, I chanced on a four-year-old little girl.  She was wet and cold and shaking.  Her clothes were ragged, her hair was matted, and her nose was running.  She walked between the cars at the stoplight, washing headlights because she was too short to wash windshields.  A few gave her coins, others honked at her to get away from their vehicles.

As I drove away only some fifty cents poorer, I raged at God for the injustice in the world that allowed the situation.  “God, how could you stand by, helpless?”  Later that evening, God came to me softly with that still small voice and responded not in like kind to my rage, but with tenderness, “I have done something.  I created you.”  (The Holy Wild, pp.  86-87.)

God hasn’t moved the finish line.  The finish line is Christ-like character.  And every crisis is another chance to grow in His grace.

Is It Okay to Be Angry?

A Christian Response to EvilEphesians 4:26-27 / Colossians 3:8

“Can I be angry?”  That is the #1 Question that has been asked of me as a pastor coming out of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog (“A Christian’s Response to Evil”) even this pastor was not immune to “simmering” a bit in the aftermath.

lit match 2But is such anger okay?  In Ephesians (4:26) Paul says to “Be Angry and do not sin…” but Paul also writes in Colossians (3:8) to “…put them all aside:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

Which is it?  To be or not to be… angry?   There was a deacon in the first church I served in as a youth pastor who believed it was NEVER okay to be angry.  When I showed him Ephesians 4:26 (in my naive attempt to “set him straight”) he was still unconvinced (and slightly angry with me).

I have come to believe in these past few decades that though he still wasn’t right, he might be close to telling the truth.  Our human anger is seldom righteous and without sin.

And yet… I still firmly believe that there are times (such as the events in Boston last week) when it is wrong NOT to be angry.  As Henry Ward Beecher wrote:  “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good.  Now and then a man should be shaken to the core with indignation over things evil.”

Now this Scripture offers qualifications:  Don’t sin with your anger.  Don’t let it stay the night.  Don’t allow Satan to get a foot hold in your life through it.  Vengeful rage is not okay… but a Godly anger is.

Now what does Paul mean in Colossians?  The things Paul warns us about there are the steps we might potentially take beyond our initial emotion.  The word anger in Colossians 3:8 has as its root the Greek work, “oregomai.”  This word means to “stretch out one’s self in order to touch or grasp something or to reach after or desire something.”(Thayer)  The anger Paul is talking about here is one that we have “given ourselves over to.”  This is expressed in the next four things Paul tells the Colossians to be rid of…  1. wrath (a boiling up type of anger), 2. malice (a desire to injure the object of our wrath), 3. slander (to use our tongue to talk bad about them), and 4. abusive speech (foul and obscene speech toward that person, i.e. “cussing them out”).

Giving ourselves over to our anger seldom turns out well.  I read in a Daily Bread Devotional that “in the spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a boston ballpark 1894routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine. The Orioles’ John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.”

That is a real life illustration of what happens when we give ourselves over to our anger… ourselves and those around us get burned.  Is it okay to be angry?  Yes… but we are not allow to nurse it, churn it over and over and then dispense it like a high pressure fire hose.

So what do I do with this anger I feel?  Many believe that Paul in Ephesians was quoting David in Psalm 4:  “In your anger do not sin.” (Psalm 4:4, NIV)  If that is the case, then we would do well to do what David suggests:  “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” (v.4b-5, NASB)

So in the wake of the Boston bombings or whatever other violent act that is sure to follow… be angry that someone would think so callously about human life.   But then… calm yourself down… meditate in your heart on the Word of God (perhaps on Colossians 3:8!), and then put your trust in a God of justice who has things well under control.

A Christian’s Response to Evil

CaringProverbs 6:16-19

Not sure where you were when you heard the news on Monday.  I was at the church office.  My tablet buzzed on the desktop like when I’m getting an email.  But it was actually an update from my USA Today app:  “Blasts heard at the sight of the Boston marathon.”

I knew.  I just knew.  This was going to be bad.

And as the story poured out over the news the next few days… like you, I was in shock.  And I was filled with sympathy for the victims,… But also there was this angry, cranky thing that began to develop.  This normally calm and collected, peace loving pastor was getting increasingly hot.  It was kind of  a simmer because it was a “I’m in denial” kind of mad.  Eventually I was able to get in touch with my feelings.

And I took them to God.

Reading my Facebook newsfeed it seemed that everyone from my family members to friends to complete strangers and even corporate entities were offering words of comfort to the people of Boston.  But even so… there was this underlying bubbling up of rage.

One late night comic said:  “I know it is my job to make you laugh.  And I know some people need to watch TV or something to get their mind off of such things.  But I don’t want to.  I’m angry.”

Tuesday, as I was working on my Sunday sermon, I became increasingly convinced that I needed to change my topic from Christian friendship to the subject of evil.

I don’t usually preach topically.  I don’t usually preach on current events.  But I believe that some needs need to be addressed from the pulpit.  Not just because of Monday’s events… and not just because of the increasing onslaught of violence America has been experiencing, but because we as believers need to be prepared to talk to our neighbors, our co-workers, our hair-cutters, our unsaved family members, etc. in a time like this.

Many lives were saved at the Marathon that day because of a large number of first responders already present there at the finish line.  Not only were they close to the events to offer aid but these workers and others at Boston area hospitals had already been training for just such an unfortunate event for years.

How about us?  Are we as believers prepared if something like this happened close to home? At a Titans game?  At our block party?  In our family home?  What is the right response?  I’m pretty sure seething about it isn’t the solution.  So I went to the Scriptures.

Over the next few week or so, I will humbly offer some of what I found.  I hope it is a comfort.  For now, I have posted an old sermon of mine (“How God Will Deal With Evil”) on my sermon download page.   I included an article by Mel Lawrenz, titled:  “Facing Treachery, Again” on my “Around the Web” page (see tab above).   And Sunday from the pulpit I will preach on this topic and hope to post that sermon next week as well.

In the meantime, I want to share where God stands on Boston’s events.  He stands against those behind this terror (as of this writing, one suspect is dead and the other is in hiding).  Out of the seven things Proverbs 6:16-19 says that God hates are:  “…hands that shed innocent blood.  A heart that devises wicked plans.
and “Feet that run rapidly to evil.”

As to how God feels toward the victims?  Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  As those who claim to be God’s children… let us prepare our hearts as we near those hurting in our world today.

The Creative Companion

finger crossActs 15:40-41

40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Quick:  Do a friend count?  How many close friendship can you name in 5 minutes?  Guys, your wife doesn’t count no matter how close the two of you might be.  I mean companions that you don’t share a breakfast table with.  As the old saying goes:  “…someone when you make a fool of yourself doesn’t think you’ve done a permanent job.”  Someone that sharpens you and makes you a better you.

Paul had that in Silas.  What do we know about him?

We learn from earlier in chapter 15, that Silas was one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church that delivered the compromise at the recent counsel held there.  He is called “a prophet (v. 32).  We learn later that Silas is a Roman citizen (which would aide Paul in his travels) and in the book of 1 Peter that he served as an amanuensis (in other words… took dictation) for Peter.  1 Peter is some of the finest Greek in the New Testament… which meant Silas was skilled in the Greek language.  Silas is the obvious choice of a traveling companion for Paul

He’s experienced.  He’s talented.  He’s like-minded.

Now we all need people like Barnabus in our lives… mentors that call us out when we are wrong.  But we also need someone like Silas, one who comes along side us to laugh with us, cry with us, share a night in jail with us (see Acts chapter 16)… I’m talking about a Christian friend that shares life with you.  Do you have one for your journey?  Can someone call you such a friend?

A recent sad statistic I read was that 70% of pastors say they have no close friend.  These are our leaders… that provide direction, comfort and protection for the flock.  And they are… lonely.  And they are… complacent.  They have no one to sharpen then…  encourage them… strengthen them.

So how did you do on the pop quiz earlier?  Did you come up empty?  I believe God is calling us to deepen our relationships.  Recently my wife Janine read a Facebook post from a friend in another state.  She was excited about her church and put it this way:  “I am  so happy that I get to grow old with these people.”  Wow!   Jesus said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  That is a call to a “can’t wait to grow old with” kind of love.

Seek to get to know someone today.  Break down the barriers of fear and mistrust.  Laugh with somebody.  Enjoy the God given gift of camaraderieRalph Waldo Emerson once wrote:  “We force no doors in friendship, but like the Christ in Revelation, we stand reverently at the door without, to knock.  And only if the door be opened from within, may we welcome in to sup with our friend and he with us.”  Whose door do you need to knock on today?

Whatever Happened to…?

church directory22 Timothy 4:11

VH1 used to host a show devoted to today’s question:  Whatever happened to… Christopher Cross or M.C. Hammer… etc. ?  Several magazines I’ve seen recently have asked:  “Whatever happened to the cast of [insert television show of yesteryear]?  We seem fascinated to solve these mysteries.  Here is one you can research on your own today.  Pull out a church directory that is over 2 or 3 years old.  Look at the names and faces.  Who is missing from the sanctuary these days?  Did you know they were gone?  Ever wonder what happened to them anyway?

Chances are they didn’t run into a Barnabas.  He was the Apostle to the lost cause.  He once stuck his neck out for a man name Saul who was facing a Christian community scared witless over his recent “conversion.”  Everyone stayed clear of him… that is except for Barnabas.  Fast forward a few years and you have this “son of encouragement” standing with a man named Mark.  Mark had deserted Paul and Barnabas the first go around, but now wants to get back in the game.  Paul (formerly Saul) says:  “No dice!”  But Barnabas is willing to stick his neck for yet another “lost cause.”  He takes his cousin Mark and they sail to Cyprus.

We need men and women like Barnabas in the church today.  People that aren’t so quick to update the directory.  They are aware that there is a story behind every photo… and some of those men and women are redeemable.

Barnabas’ faith was later vindicated by Paul himself.  2 Timothy 4:11 reads:  “Only Luke is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.   … When you come… bring my scrolls, especially the parchments.”  What do you get when you put Luke (author of the Gospel Luke and the Book of Acts. a master historian), the scrolls and parchments of Paul, Paul himself and Mark together in the same room?  You get the second book of the New Testament.  The one that bears the name of a one time  “quitter.”  God love Barnabas for not giving up on this kid!

Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley shared this story about a “Barnabas” type named Ruth Graham:  “Disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker testifies of her kindness.  Despite the fact that Bakker’s public scandal, which involved sex, hush money, and defrauded investors in a real estate scheme, had brought suspicion and scorn on all evangelists, both Grahams maintained a friendship with Bakker throughtout his imprisonment and afterward.

Moreover  “the first Sunday out,” Bakker said, “Ruth Graham called the halfway house I was living in at the Salvation Army and asked permission for me to go to the Montreat Presbyterian Church with her that Sunday morning.  When I got there, the pastor welcomed me and sat me with the Graham family.  There were two whole rows of them—I think every Graham aunt and uncle and cousin was there.  The organ began playing and the place was full, except for a seat next to me.  Then the doors opened and in walked Ruth Graham.  She walked down that aisle and sat next to inmate 07407-059.  I had only been out of prison forty-eight hours, but she told the world that morning that Jim Bakker was her friend.  -Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley  (The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, p. 323.)

Who is that person you see missing from the pews?  Could they be the next Mark?  Don’t be too quick to quit on a “quitter.”  He or she might just surprise you just how far they can go with a little encouragement from you.