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.

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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.

Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.

Do You Have the “Want To”?

1 Peter 5:2 

The next word Peter has for Shepherds is about motivation.  We can all learn from his observations,but Peter has leadership in mind when he says:  “…serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;”

Years ago I worked at the seminary I attended and lived on campus next door to a fella that was attending there at the time.  He played the trumpet and was very interested in becoming a music minister.  His wife however felt there was no money there.  He needed to be a preacher.  One problem:  The man couldn’t preach!

He once preached a sermon on Joel at the church my family attended.  It was long and dry, but we made it through.  Afterward we saw the wife of the Hispanic pastor coming out of the church shaking her head.

We immediately assumed she had trouble understanding the message because her English wasn’t that good.  She responded, “I understand what he said.  But… boring!  No reason for the Bible to be boring!”

His lack of preaching skills was due to a motivation problem.  He couldn’t preach because his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t have the “want-to.”

If you are a leader at church, or serve on a committee at church, or work in a para-church organization, hear this:  if you are doing ministry because you feel like you have to… you need to examine your motives.  God wants you to want to.

Every year churches have the same problem with a lot of their committees.  No one wants to be the chair of the committee.  “I’ll be on it (begrudgedly) but don’t put me in charge.  No one wants to take the reigns of leadership!  Sometimes the committee decides:  Let’s just not have a head of committee.  We’ll all just do our jobs and lead together.  The result:  the committee is weakened and nothing gets done.
You might say:  “But I don’t have the skills to lead!”  I would say, “But do you have the “want to?”  God is able to supply the skills to those that possess the “want to.”  I pray that God will move you to a position where you can lead for His glory… where you WANT to lead for His glory.
WE NEED MORE LEADERS.