Stop Tolerating Tolerance – Insist on a Better Way

1 John 3:14-18

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (3:18)

After You Believe - N. T. WrightReading through N. T. Wright‘s work on ethics (or as he would prefer, his work on virtue), I came across this powerful passage.  In the culture wars the word “tolerance” is volleyed around a lot.  Not sure on what most people use as a working definition of that word, but it has always struck me as very sterile term.  Never read a more powerful contrast between it and genuine love than in these words by Wright.  Take a moment to really read and to digest this.

From After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (p. 254.):

“Forgiveness is held as a virtue by many in our world, in a way which is quite foreign to some other worldviews.  (I recall the shock on being told by a friend in the Middle East that forgiveness had never been seen as a good thing there.)  We know we don’t do it, by and large, but we think we should.  The result of this, unfortunately, is that we have developed a corollary that is neither love nor forgiveness–namely, tolerance.

The problem with this is clear:  I can “tolerate” you without it costing me anything very much.  I can shrug my shoulders, walk away, and leave you to do your own thing.  That, admittedly, is preferable to my taking you by the throat and shaking you until you agree with me.  But it is certainly not love.

N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright

Love affirms the reality of the other person, the other culture, the other way of life; love takes the trouble to get to know the other person or culture, finding out how he, she, or it ticks, what makes it special; and finally, love wants the best for that person or culture.

It was love, not just an arrogant imposition of alien standards, that drove much of the world to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa.  It was love, not a dewy-eyed anti-business prejudice (though that’s what they said to him at the time), that drove abolitionist William Wilberforce to protest against the slave trade.  It is love, not cultural imperialism, that says it is dehumanizing and society-destroying to burn a surviving widow on her husband’s funeral pyre, or to kill the daughter who has eloped with a man of a different religion or race.

Love must confront “tolerance” and insist, as it always had done, on a better way.”

Well said!  Do more than “tolerate” people today… go out and love them in deed and truth.

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“We’re Here for You!” – Help for Those Contemplating Suicide

HelpActs 16:27-34

A few months ago a suicide was reported in the national news.  Matthew Warren, son of Rick Warren – the pastor of Saddleback Community Church in southern California – bought a gun over the internet and ended his life.  (He was 27.)  The news struck the Christian community very hard.  There were those that chose that moment to attack the popular pastor, but many more that offered words of comfort in the aftermath.

One article was valuable to me as a pastor was:  “When Suicide Strikes in the Body of Christ” by Al Hsu.  In the article he mentions our passage today.

“The Bible has a very powerful example of suicide prevention. Acts 16 tells about when Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi. When an earthquake opened the doors of the prison, the Philippian jailer drew his sword and was about to kill himself. He thought that the prisoners had all escaped, and he decided to kill himself rather than face execution. But Paul cried out, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” He intervened in the jailer’s life and stopped him from killing himself. He gave him a reason to live and led the jailer and his whole family to Christ.

We can do the same. If you see people who are in despair, tell them, “Don’t harm yourself! We are here for you!” The warning signs of suicide include prolonged depression and hopelessness, isolation or withdrawal, loss of interest in usual activities, giving away possessions, suicidal thoughts or fantasies, and suicide attempts. If you see these warning signs in a loved one, get help. Talk to them about it. Ask if they’re doing okay, and specifically ask if they’ve thought about killing themselves.” (Read the full article here:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/april-web-only/when-suicide-strikes-in-body-of-christ.html)

I have as a pastor had on two occasions in which men show up at my doorstep  just after attempting suicide.  I wish I could tell you I was well equipped in seminary for those events.  Ministry in such moments is messy and requires a lot of prayer.  (Thankful for a prayerful wife in such ministry moments!)  What struck me about both situations was how isolated both men had gotten themselves.  I wondered if a strong sense of community might have helped them. I am grateful that they reached out to someone before the attempt was successful.

There is a whole lot of words that can be brought to bear on how to counsel the depressed and suicidal.  Paul’s words are now among my favorite.  “Don’t harm yourself!  We are all here!”  Is there someone you know that need those words today?

Memorial Day Reminder!

john mccainJohn 15:13

Before you fire up the grill… before you add the bacon to your baked beans recipe… and  before your spread out the checkered table cloth across the picnic table… pause… remember… and give thanks.

A patriotic story to help us gain some focus, told by Senator John McCain:

“Let me tell you what I think about our Pledge for Allegiance, our flag, and our country.  I want to tell you a story about when I was a prisoner of war.  I spent 5 ½ years in the Hanoi Hilton.  In the early years of our imprisonment, the North Vietnamese kept us in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell.

In 1971, the North Vietnamese moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men to a room.  This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change.  And was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans, led by people like Nancy and Ronald Reagan, on behalf of a few hundred POWs, 10,000 miles from home.

One of the men moved into my cell was Mike Christian.  Mike came from a small town near Selma, Alabama.  He didn’t wear a pair of shoes until he was thirteen years old.  At seventeen, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.  He later earned a commission.  He became a Naval flying officer, and was shot down and captured in 1967.  Mike had a keen and deep appreciation for the opportunities this country — and our military — provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.

The uniforms we wore in prison consisted of a blue short-sleeved shirt, trousers that looked like pajama trousers and rubber sandals that were made out of automobile tires.  I recommend them highly; one pair lasted my entire stay.

As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home.  In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves and other items of clothing.  Mike got himself a piece of white cloth and a piece of red cloth and fashioned himself a bamboo needle.  Over a period of a couple of months, he sewed the American flag on the inside of his shirt. 

Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike’s shirt on the wall of our cell, and say the Pledge of Allegiance.  I know that saying the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important or meaningful part of our day now, but I can assure you that – for those men in that stark prison cell – it was indeed the most important and meaningful event of our day.

One day, the Vietnamese searched our cell and discovered Mike’s shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it.  That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, called for Mike Christian to come out, closed the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all of us, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours.

Then they opened the door of the cell and threw him back inside.  He was not in good shape.  We tried to comfort and take care of him as well as we could.  The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept.  Four naked light bulbs in each corner of the room. 

After things quieted down, I went to lie down to go to sleep.  As I did, I happened to look in the corner of the room.  Sitting there beneath that dim light bulb, with a piece of white cloth, a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian.  Sitting there, with his eyes almost shut from his beating, making another American flag.  He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better.  He was making that flag because he knew how important it was for us to be able to pledge our allegiance to our flag and country.”

That flag is still waving due in part to the men and women who have laid down their lives to defend it.  Greater love has no man or woman than this.  So salute that flag  proudly!  Thank you…

You are now free enjoy your weekend!

memorial day

You Can’t Choose Your Circumstances, But You Can Choose Your Attitude!

Acts 16:16-40grindstone

The quotable John Maxwell once said this:  “Life can be likened to a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you depends on what you are made of.”

Paul and Silas were made of some tough stuff!  After driving the demon out of a slave girl, they find their good deed punished by being stripped, beaten, and jailed.  Not exactly how the two wished to spend their weekend.  Circumstances are like that.  Before you know what hit you, you are knee deep in the weeds.  But you don’t get to choose the circumstances of your life.  There is so much going on that is beyond your control… evil people, viruses, lousy timing, and direct opposition from the enemy, as well as other factors can derail your plans.  But while don’t get to choose your circumstances… but you do get to choose your attitude.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Now it was midnight.  Let this stick in your mind.  Paul and Silas have chosen their joyful attitude stocksnot after climbing out of a comfortable bed, but after having been stripped, beaten with rods, thrown into prison and flogged severely.  And then they were put in stocks… you’ve seen these things.  You may have your picture taken in them.  They are designed not only to humiliate the person being punished but make them EXTREMELY uncomfortable.  And… it was midnight.  The hour when your body is tired and weary… and your worst fears plague you.

Is it midnight in your world?  Maybe you’ve taken an emotional beating.  You may have lost your job, your home, your dignity.  You are uncomfortable.  And it is midnight… so what do you do?  You choose joy.

How do you do that?  This duo had many bumps and bruises, but they also had three outlets for abundant joy.

1)  They had each other.  Are you hanging around the right people?  Joyful, positive individuals that share life with you can help lift your spirits.

2)  They were praying.   Imagine for a moment that you’re in the mother house in Calcutta Calcutta nuns in chapelhelping out the Mother Teresa‘s ministry.  It’s very early in the morning, about 20 till five. A bell rings.  A voice calls out “Let us bless the Lord.”  Which is answered by: “Thanks be to God.”
The sisters go down to the still quietness of the chapel.  Outside of the chapel, a blackboard lists people all over the world who have asked for prayers from the sisters.
They pray for half an hour kneeling on the floor.  There are no seats.

What keeps their attitudes strong in the face the dying masses in Calcutta?  They begin their day praising God and in prayer.  In Paul’s midnight, the new day was just being birthed.  He took the wee hours of the morning to pray for the strength to face what that day would bring.

3)  They were singing.  Yes, singing.  There is something about a song that can lift the spirit.  What is your radio set to?  Is it uplifting ?  Have you thought to incorporate hymns or songs of praise into your prayer time?  It will turn your usual gripe session with the Lord into a symphony of praise to Him… and in the process help put all your woes into perspective.

You know what happens next.  An earthquake hits.  It was enough to rattle the nerves of even their crusty jailer.  Paul and Silas could have responded with:  “Great, now an earthquake?  You’ve got to be kidding, God!”  They didn’t.  Their reaction was one of calm and respect in the midst of utter chaos.  This is something that only comes to those who as a habit, pray and sing their way through life’s ups and downs.

Poor circumstances?  That’s unfortunate.  But poor attitude?  That’s really your choice… and that grindstone in your life may just be revealing what you’re really made of.

Look for the Open Hearts

Open Heart

Pick up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life

—Part 5 of 5—

Acts 17:13-15

Paul and Silas have reached Macedonia.  Now what?  When you reach your mission field you don’t arrive with a list of instructions on how to do you ministry.  You start to wonder if you were called at all.  You think:  “If I can’t figure out how to start maybe I’m not the one to do the work.”

Do what Paul and Silas did.  Look for the open hearts.  You don’t have to begin by converting the masses… just one heart at a time.  Look for that first “one.”

 13On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

purple cloth

Purple Cloth

Paul’s “one” was Lydia.  She was a dealer in purple cloth. Now, on the whole I prefer modern translations of the Bible, but they let us down a bit here. The old Authorized Version, sticking closely to the Greek, says that she’s a seller of purple. Just that. A seller of purple.

These days we’re used to being able to get any color we want. You can take your purple couch cushion over to Home Depot and they’ll scan it into a machine, and mix up a paint exactly the same shade on the spot.  If you want a shirt or a blouse in a department store they have all of the colors in various shades and in all sizes.

It didn’t used to be like that. Dyes were natural, not synthetic, and the dye for purple was made from a juice found in minute quantities in shellfish. It took thousands of crustaceans to make a yard or two of purple cloth. So it was very expensive, worth its weight in silver it was said. It was a statement of status and wealth, the Louis Vuitton handbag or the Rolex watch of Roman times.

That is what Lydia is selling. She’s selling purple; purple cloth, purple robes. She’s not local. She’s from Thyatira, a town well known for making purple cloth. She seems to be the head of her household. As a traveling trader she is most likely wealthy.  She’s not Jewish, but she believes in God. She is what the Jews referred to as a ’Godfearer’ – someone who worships in the synagogue, but hasn’t converted completely to Judaism.

To have a synagogue you need ten men who will meet together to say prayers. Phillipi, it seems, doesn’t have a synagogue. If there’s no synagogue, then any Jews that happen to be in the town or passing through know to meet near the river on the Sabbath to pray. That’s where Lydia goes, and it’s where Paul and Silas go too.

So here is this rich, confident woman, meeting Paul for the first time.  Paul who was never rich must have been anything but confident at this point in his ministry.

And then Lydia’s heart opened.

There is something about being in the right place at the right time in the will of God, pursuing your God given calling… that produces open hearts.

When I first started as pastor at First Baptist Cloverdale it was months before I saw anything happen at the altar.  Then one Sunday Tina Trettin was listening to the message and asked her friend beside her, “Does anyone ever go down there?”  That Sunday Tina Trettin came to the Lord.  Soon her and her whole family were baptized.  Not long afterwards her neighbors and their children were saved and baptized… and other neighborhood friends began to visit.  Tina was my “one.”  God opened her heart and then used her to open the hearts of those she loved.  These open hearts  confirmed to me that I was where I was supposed to be.

Have an outreach event planned soon?  Feeling a little frightened at the prospect of meeting people you don’t know?  There may be some rejection… sure.  But you aren’t looking for everyone to respond… you are looking for the “one.”  The one with the open heart… and the key to the hearts of others.

To finish up my series let’s talk calling.   You may be discouraged right now.  But keep seeking.  You might not be hearing from God.  Keep listening.  You might not know what to do with this call God has given you.  Set your sails!  You might not see large amount of fruit from your ministry right now.  But do you see any open hearts?  Look around for those that are opening to your ministry.  Be encouraged… don’t give up.

Tony Campolo tells the story of a friend who discovered his true calling in life.  He had been a college English teacher, but suddenly quit his position—to become a mailman.  After hearing the man’s reasons for resigning from teaching to become a mailman, Campolo tried to encourage him with the old Protestant work ethic:  “Charlie, if you’re going to be a mailman, then be the best mailman in the world!”  To which his friend replied, “I’m a lousy mailman, Tony.  I’m the last one to get back to the post office every day, and besides, I can’t sleep at night.”  When he asked for an explanation, here is what Campolo heard:  “There are so many lonely people on my route who never had anyone visit them until I became their mailman.  Have you ever tried to sleep after drinking fifteen cups of coffee in one day?”  Tony Campolo reached an important conclusion about his friend Charlie:  “He was alive with the excitement that come to a person doing something meaningful with his life.” (Max Anders. Holman New Testament Commentary: Romans, pp. 18-19.)

Go out and do that meaningful something.  Pick up the phone… God has a calling on YOUR life.

Set Your Sail!

sailboatPick up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life

Part 4 of 5

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Acts 17:10-12

10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

Now what did Paul and Silas do next?  They set their sails and when to Macedonia.  This will determine whether or not you will ever discover the will of God for your life.  God more often calls the willing.  If He knows that in calling you to Macedonia you will spend forever reading travel brochures and learn native customs and read articles about how Macedonians think… and never get around to booking passage to the country… He would rather call someone else.

Amazama Ministries

Amazama Ministries

I concur with Katie Davis, the 20 something missionary in Uganda in her book, Kisses from Katie:

“I don’t always know where this life is going I can’t see the end of the road, but here is the great part.  Courage is not about knowing the path.  It is about taking the first step.”

Kathy Lang heard such a calling.

“A veteran surgical nurse for over 25 years, Kathy was looking for a new job. An agency that staffs nurses offered her a position at a prison. Without hesitation, Kathy replied emphatically, “No!”

A few days later in the car, she was listening to a Keith Green CD when her ears were startled by the lyrics: “I was in prison, and I rotted there; I’d prayed that you’d come.”

Over the next ten days she was bombarded with prison references everywhere she turned. On the TV and the radio—prison news. Her devotion book had references to prison. Kathy finally relinquished: “Okay, God, I get it!”

When she arrived home, she called the agency, but the job had been filled. Undaunted, she visited a local youth detention facility to inquire if they needed a nurse, only to learn there was a hiring freeze. For the next four months she kept calling agencies to inquire. And she prayed.  One night, Kathy and her daughter Jessica were driving home from the store. As they passed the prison at exactly 9:00 p.m., she and Jessica prayed, asking the Lord to open the door if it was truly his will for Kathy to work there. She promised to never stop praying for those girls.  Exactly 12 hours later, at precisely 9:00 the next morning, the agency called to offer her that job. …

[As Kathy worked in the clinic,] she had the idea to give every girl a Bible. Through a small grant, Kathy was able to get a few hundred of them for the cost of shipping. …  At the end of each appointment [Kathy had with a female prisoner], she offered the girl a Bible, briefly explaining how to use it. Their responses were mixed between joy and refusal.  Kathy’s heart ached for these girls, most of whom were from difficult backgrounds with little hope for change.

After [Kathy] gave out the first batch of Bibles, her vision was expanded to do more. She contacted various prison chaplains and was able to place more than 6,000 Bibles in four years. …  Kathy’s goal is to see a Bible in the hand of every prisoner. And she has kept her promise to God—she never stops praying for them.  Kathy’s guiding verse for her mission with these troubled youth comes from Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  (Cindy Huff, “Taking Jesus to Jail,” Today’s Christian, July/August 2008.)

Have you heard a calling from God and then sat on it?  Earlier I said God more frequently calls those that are willing.  But he also calls a few Jonahs.  Maybe you are one of those.  I know where I am suppose to go… but I am unwilling to.

Get those sails up!  Take that first step.  Make that call.  Start praying.  You will be able to do more than you could ever imagine.

Their Cries… Your Calling!

Pick Up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life – Part 3 of 5

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Acts 17:9prayer2

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul and Silas had never stopped praying on that second missionary journey.  Even after so many shut and locked doors.  Even when they reached Troas and what appeared to be the end of the line.  They kept listening for a specific call of God and eventually they heard it.  That is when things got interesting.  It is the same for us today… to keep asking and praying and listening always proceeds the most interesting moments in life.

Psychiatrist Gerald May wrote, “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call the heart.  We are born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies.  We are often unaware of it, but the desire is always awake.”

Pastor Craig Barnes commenting on May’s quote, said:  “When the desire becomes too much, they can try to bury it beneath excessive work, another purchase, or another move to another place.  They can try to numb the desire, but that will only lead to addiction.  They can even spend most of life trying to tame the desire with respectability and the construction of a good reputation.  But the wild desire just keeps breaking out of the closed chambers of the heart in unguarded moments.  G. K. Chesterton has called this “the divine discontent” that incessantly reminds us we were created for something else.  – Craig Barnes (Searching for Home:  Spirituality for Restless Souls, p. 64.)

Blessed is the man or woman that has found that something else!   Blessed are those that have discovered their God given calling.

It is interesting that Paul and Silas’ call here comes in the form of an actual call from a specific group of people.  Their cries [the Macedonians] became the call of God for Paul and Silas.

David Brainerd who won many thousands of American Indians to Christ, once said, “I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went thru, so that I could but gain souls for Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I awoke, it was the first thought that I had, the thought of this great work.”
He caught a vision hearing the American Indians crying, “come over here and help us!”

Hudson Taylor

David Livingston, the first man to take the gospel into the heart of Africa, said, “I must open a way to the interior or perish!”
It was do or die…and he caught that vision when he heard the Africans crying, “come over here and help us!”

J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer Missionary to China, said, “I feel as though I cannot live if something is not done for China.”  His life came alive when he heard the Chinese cry:  “come over here and help us!”

It is one of the saddest things in the world to miss or choose not to hear God and not to hear the call of those who cry for help.

The story has been told of the little church in Germany sited near train tracks that carried Jews to their death.  “Each Sunday Morning,” the German man telling the story said, “we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!”
“Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.”
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard  them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it much any more; but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”

What cry have you heard and chose to ignore?  The cry of the inner city?  The cry of Africa?  The cry of unwed mothers?  The cry of those caught in the sex trafficking trade?  The cry of the orphan?

Proverbs 21:13 reminds us:  13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.

How dare we sit in our comfortable church buildings and sing our songs and eat our fill at our potlucks and enjoy our sweet fellowship, and then walk out those church doors deafened to the cries of the world?

Want to better understand your calling?  Let their cries become your calling.  And then things will start to get interesting.