This last weekend I was volunteering at a church being used as a #COVID testing site, in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Chattanooga. I’m grateful to my friend Bill Ulmer, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and the many healthcare workers and non-medical volunteers who have given of their time, resources, and hearts, to administer thousands of tests to needy people over the last couple months.
As I was standing at the street directing traffic into the church parking lot for the drive-thru testing, I felt a lump under my shoe. I looked down to see what it was and to my dismay, I saw the spent shell of a 9mm bullet.
My mind went to the various homes I’ve lived in throughout my adult life, and the churches I’ve attended. Never have I ever considered that I would find a bullet shell lying outside my home, church, or place of business. It’s a reality that most of us do not have to deal with. But while that may be true for many Americans, bullets are all too much a reality for many of our citizens, who live in Chattanooga and cities across our nation.
Because we don’t see or experience something though doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It simply means it’s not a part of our bubble. But if we are going to be people who care about the needs of others, and the fears they deal with, we must be willing to burst our bubbles, and step outside our insulated world, to better understand the ugly realities that too many others live with every day.
So what if you stepped outside your home, or church, or business, and it wasn’t that uncommon for you to find bullets littering your street? What if your neighbor’s windows, or your own, were shattered by a drive-by shooting? What if violence was something that regularly visited your neighborhood? Would your life be different? Would you wish that others cared? Would your outlook on life change?
I believe that’s part of the message of Jesus when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And it’s also what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:24)
In Chattanooga there are no shortage of churches. We often proudly declare we are the “buckle of the Bible belt.” In fact, approximately 220,000 individuals claim to be followers of Jesus in our county. A “follower” suggests one holds to and seeks to live by the teachings of Jesus. If this is true, then is it too far fetched to believe that the problems of violence, poverty, depression, broken families, inner city dysfunction, and many of the other societal struggles could be better addressed by those who claim to, above all else, 1) Love God, and 2) Love others?
Let me be clear. The ultimate goal of a follower of Jesus is to honor and glorify God. One of the ways we do so is by sharing the Good News, we call the Gospel. That good news is both eternal and immediate. If it’s real in our lives, it will have a transforming affect on how we live, how we treat others, and the Hope we share with them. While we may be able to address many of these temporal needs referenced above, ultimately the greatest need we all have is a spiritual one. But oftentimes the best way to share a spiritual message with others is to first demonstrate that message through tangible physical means. Hence, the Church should be one that ACTS: Advancing Christ Through Service.
So if bullets litter our streets, they are simply symptoms of a deeper, spiritual need by the one who fired that bullet. May we as believers not close our eyes and ears to the needs that are so abundantly obvious. May we not be like the priest and levite, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who walked by the man lying in the ditch, even though they looked directly at him. Rather, let’s be like the Good Samaritan, who saw the need, and stopped to help. This is the true message of Jesus. Let’s love others and by doing so, we are demonstrating our love for God.
Pandemics are nothing new. They’ve been around throughout the history of this globe. How we respond though has differed, as we’re seeing in 2020.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen fear as an overriding emotion, along with anger, distrust and division. And unlike other national crises of the past, America has not united as one family.
Nineteen years ago, when terrorists attacked our nation, we saw both politicians and citizens come together as one. We recognized that when the planes hit their targets, thousands died, regardless of their politics, ethnicities, gender, or faith. Granted, it wasn’t long before that unity began to crumble, but it did occur initially.
Today though, there is no national unity on anything. None. If Trump says yes, the media says no. If scientists say no, Trump says yes. If stats indicate X, vast armies of opinions state Y or Z, with their own set of stats. And the lines of division grow deeper and deeper.
While this division has been growing for some time, historically we’ve seen that times of crises resulted in a warring family putting down its weapons, since the members understood that blood was thicker than water.
Not so today. Rather than laying down its arms, this American family is picking up more arms to wage war even more aggressively. Before I hear the response “Yeah but they…” let‘s remember that “it takes two to tango” and all sides of the growing conflicts in this nation are trigger happy.
➖There’s a kind of blood lust for those on the other side of every argument. Sadly though, this blood lust even flows from professing followers of Jesus. Imagine that!
So you may ask, what does Jesus, Peter, Paul and masks, have to do with the national “civil war” we are witnessing? Everything, at least it should for those who claim to look to these three men for authority and direction in their lives.
Every decision these days further divides. Masks has been one of them. There are those who listen to certain authorities who admonish the value of masks for both their own protection and that of their neighbors. Then there are others who refuse to touch a mask, since it’s a restriction on their “freedoms.” They quickly cite this nation’s founding documents, or some other argument. Some may not disagree with the idea of a mask, but they resent being forced to wear one.
As I was thinking about this, I wondered what Jesus, Peter and Paul would do today if they were present for this controversy? Would they gravitate toward one side of this argument, or another? Would they rally and chant? Would they take to social media to shout down those who differed from their position? I think not, in answer to all these questions.
At the heart of the attitudes of many believers today is an unwillingness to submit to authority. This flows from a belief that freedom trumps all.
This demeanor reminds me of a chaotic time during the early years of Israel, as chronicled in the book of Judges. There we read that “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” If you want a recipe for chaos, division, and ultimately anarchy, embrace that philosophy. It’s this spirit that rules today in America, including in the hearts of many believers.
But Jesus and the Apostles were always respectful to authority. During the three years of Jesus’ ministry, as He instructed His disciples, we saw numerous instances when Jesus modeled submission to and respect for earthly authority.
Recall the instance when Jesus instructed that we should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” There are several truths wrapped up in this short command, but one is that we should respect and submit to earthly authority.
In another instance, Jesus also taught his disciples to pay the temple tax. Likewise there are many truths to learn from this short passage in Matthew 17:24-27, but one key point is found in verses 26b-27:
“…Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
Clearly Jesus was teaching that, despite their freedom to chose whether to pay the tax or not, they should pay it, so as to not offend the temple tax collectors.
Perhaps though, the greatest illustration of submission from Jesus to earthly authority was when He stood before Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem. He did not rebel, challenge or resist. Rather Jesus submitted to an evil earthly ruler, even unto death.
The disciples were slow students at first, as they clung to their old way of life, fought amongst each other, and regularly failed in the lessons Jesus was teaching and modeling for them. But their three years of intense study under Jesus profoundly transformed them, to the core, particularly after Jesus ascended back to heaven, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The men they used to be, the attitudes they displayed, and the things they once valued were all changed, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. The metamorphosis was like nothing the world had ever witnessed. A dozen ordinary men changed the world, because they where wholly transformed in their hearts, and obedient to Jesus.
So let’s quickly look at the attitudes and teachings of just two of these Apostles, Peter and Paul.
➖Regarding submitting to authorities they said this:
➖“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished… give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” Romans 13:1-2, 7b
➖“For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right… Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17
➖“Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” Titus 3:1-2
➖Peter and Paul also had this to say about not offending others and respecting their needs:
➖“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” Romans 14:1
➖“So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” Romans 14:13
➖“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” Romans 15:1-2
➖“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble…. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:9,13
➖“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
➖“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” Galatians 5:13-15
➖“…for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” 1 Corinthians 3:3
While there are many other verses we could point to, in summary, these are the key takeaways, that affirm that Jesus, Peter and Paul would unquestionably wear a mask because:
1. They taught and modeled submission to governmental authority.
2. They desired to be good neighbors, as they followed the teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
3. They were willing to give up their own freedom and rights, if asserting them would offend another brother, or cause them to stumble.
4. They prioritized humility, gentleness, and service to others, above their own needs and desires.
So today, where are you on the mask issue? If you’re willingly wearing one, good for you. Do so in humility, not in pride. Pray for your fellow brother and sisters who are struggling with this issue.
But if you’re not not wearing a mask, or if you’re doing so begrudgingly, seek God and His Word. Ask Him to speak to you and to give you the strength to follow His example and that of His disciples. And then remember this final admonition from the Apostle John:
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6
Once again election season is upon us. While America is already deeply divided between blue and red, democrats and republicans, Trump and non-Trumpers, these various factions are finding themselves even further divided as they squabble over who to vote for in the upcoming the primaries.
As has been the case for more than a decade, I’ve been getting asked about who I might recommend in some of the races. In the past, I tended to have strong opinions about who was the “better” or “right” candidate and I was never hesitant to share when asked. This year is different, for a number of reasons. But that’s for a separate and upcoming post.
In Tennessee there are a couple men who are running to replace Senator Lamar Alexander: Bill Hagerty and Manni Sethi. I have many good friends who are staunch Hagerty supporters. And perhaps an equal number of vocal supporters for Sethi. There are no doubt points that each group of supporters could make to elevate their guy and throw stones at his opponent.
When I see people do this though, I’m completely turned off. So many politicians, and their supporters as well, act as if the only way to win is to trash not only the other guy, but they also must lob bombs at the supporters of the guy as well. We’ve all heard the saying that we should disagree without being disagreeable. If there was a time when we need to show mercy and grace to others, it’s today.
In most primaries, while the candidates may attempt to illustrate the differences between themselves, at the end of the day, when they go to Washington, it’s unlikely they will vote that much differently from each other, particularly these days. As the battle lines have drawn deeper and deeper in our nation, and between democrats and republicans, we have seen that both parties more often than not vote as a bloc. It’s as if there is little to no individuality.
Washington is basically just two big machines. A blue one. And a red one. And those machines gobble up the members of their party, demanding absolute fidelity.
So, if you are listening to the policy differences of Hagerty and Sethi, it’s unlikely anything they say will matter, since the party will ultimately dictate how they vote. I know even as I write this that many will want to take issue with my perspective here. And if so, that’s fine. This is the conclusion I have come to after a couple of decades of political activism and engagement. Of course there are exceptions, but as a rule, this is the case.
So, if you’re asking me who you should vote for, Hagerty or Sethi, my answer may surprise you. I have personal feelings about both men, and have found myself leaning in one direction. But at the end of the day, and after much study and writing on the topic of voting, there is a greater principle at play than simply who I will vote for. While you and I may vote for a candidate, there is a greater Power who holds the final sway in who will win. Yes, God ultimately will determine who will win, since His Word is clear in passage after passage, and story and story, that God:
“… controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” Daniel 2:21
Interestingly enough, Jesus affirmed this same principle moments before His crucifixion when He declared to Pilate, the appointed Roman ruler, that:
“You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” John 19:11
Notice that Jesus said that Pilate’s power, his position, was not given to him by Rome, but rather from above. So likewise, while you may think that your vote is effectively electing the next Senator of Tennessee, there is a greater One who holds sway over the outcome. While you and I may not fully understand this concept, it is true nonetheless.
So you may ask, then what’s the use in voting if God’s going to decide? I believe there are several reasons we should vote, which I intend to answer before the November election via a separate article. But one reason is simply because we are called to be stewards of the resources God gives us. So when you vote, it’s not about electing someone, but it’s about honoring God and trusting Him with the outcome. Truthfully, if you fully understand and embrace this Truth, it will totally free and transform your mind, and you’ll no longer fret over the outcome of an election.
So vote your conscience. Vote for the guy you feel led to. But respect the other guy who will vote for your guy’s opponent. And don’t sweat the outcome. There’s Someone who can see the heart of both men, He knows the end from the beginning, and every day in between, and He knows the right guy to elevate at this time. Trust Him, even when you may not understand, or agree, with Him.
Nehemiah was a great man who accomplished amazing things for God and his Jewish people. Billions of men and women since his time are aware of his success of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days.
But Nehemiah’s success would have never been realized without one trait, that is relatively unknown. Note this phrase from Nehemiah 5:15:
“…because I feared God, I did not act that way.” Nehemiah 5:15
Fear. Did you notice that? This great man who seemed fearless in tackling the monumental task of rebuilding a wall of protection lying in ruins, understood the importance of fearing God.
While we are often encouraged to interpret the word “fear” as “respect” when reading it in the Bible, it’s clear here, and in many other passages, that this is literally FEAR. And this fear of Almighty God, led to changed behavior.
If we read the context of chapter 5 of Nehemiah, we see that the behavior of the culture, government officials, and the citizens, was one that was ungodly, uncaring, and lacking in love for those struggling under oppressive policies and practices.
But Nehemiah was like a fish swimming upstream. He resisted the pressure of the elite and the culture, and instead he forged a different path. But his reason for doing so wasn’t simply because he possessed extraordinary inner strength. Rather, it was because he feared God.
Having studied history, Nehemiah knew that his God was not only the God of love and mercy, but that his God also administered justice. Just as God held Israel to account for its wayward behavior, with devastating consequences, so too Nehemiah believed God would hold him accountable for embracing the cultural norm and status quo, when that behavior was at odds with God’s standards.
Nehemiah’s acts would not escape “El Roi” — the God Who sees. So this belief led Nehemiah to act differently from the rest of his culture. Nehemiah feared the justice of God were he to oppress and mistreat his fellow citizens, as was the norm for his culture.
So what about you and me? Do we fear God? And if so, does that fear result in our own changed behavior? Do we contrast what is accepted universally by our culture with what is taught singularly by God in His Word? Or do we we just follow the fish swimming downstream, because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Studying God’s Word will consistently expose the disparities between the masses and God, between our norms, and God’s standard. So may we be like Nehemiah, who feared God and acted differently, according to God’s Word.
“‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’” Numbers 14:18
As I’ve contemplated the continuing and extensive societal upheaval that is permeating our nation, the above verse came to mind, which affirms the following:
➖God is love. ➖God is slow to anger. ➖God is merciful. ➖God is forgiving.
But… we also know that:
➖God is just. ➖God does not excuse the guilty. ➖God punishes our sins.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see example after example of a wayward people and nation being disciplined for their sinfulness. God’s discipline came in all shapes and sizes, but it was always certain, even though at times the punishment might be delayed for years, or even generations.
In a sense, God was and is predictable. He could be and still can be relied on. We are told this is because He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” (While this quote from Hebrews 13:8 references Jesus, we can apply it to God the Father as well.)
So you might ask, what does this have to do with us, as Americans? I say everything. Since God is unchanging, the same attributes that He displayed, both in living example and also in written word, thousands of years ago, can be relied on today. And so when we read that God “lays the sins of the parents… to the third and fourth generations” it’s not too hard to surmise that the national upheaval we are seeing is a direct consequence of a national sin.
One of our current national sins, that is again erupting onto center stage, is the sin of racism. At its core, racism flows from pride. We reckon ourselves better or more deserving than someone else, based on an external characteristic: skin color. It is pride, plain and simple. And evil. It’s a superior vs inferior attitude that will permeate every part of our being, and nation.
How God must have been grieved:
➖when He witnessed white people abusing and devaluing black people, using them as slaves to enrich their own white lifestyles;
➖when He saw an entire portion of a nation rise up to defend the sin of slavery via a civil war;
➖when He witnessed politicians, representatives of their constituents, pass evil legislation we refer to as Jim Crow laws;
➖when He witnessed, and continues to witness, systemic racism cooked into a nation’s attitudes and policies, and more.
But perhaps what is most grievous about these realities, all the way through 2020, is how the church has enabled and embraced these many sins. Yes enabled and embraced.
When we study our nation’s history we see that “Christians” were every bit as responsible, as unbelievers, for these racist sins of America’s past. Christians owned black slaves. Christians fought to preserve their right to own slaves. Christian politicians and their Christian constituents voted for Jim Crow laws that affirmed their belief that men and women, boys and girls, were lesser then themselves, because their skin color was darker. Christians even donned white robes and pointed hats, thinking they were disguising their identities, not realizing that God saw their hearts, with or without their hideous outfits.
How evil. How un-Christian. How grossly wrong. How unbiblical. And how horrible that there was no difference between the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians.
These sinful and evil attitudes were mainstream with Christians. They were pervasive. And yet, the Bible, the Book every Christian maintained in their homes, and carried with them to church each Sunday, was replete with teachings, truths, and stories against racism, pride, and prejudice.
How obvious to so many of us now. How blinded so many were then. But we should not miss another important point. While Christian’s may have been blind to Scripture, unbelievers were not. They saw the attitudes and sins of Christians were incongruent with the Bible those same believers claimed to follow.
It’s sad when those who reject the Bible, can understand it better than those who claim the Book as their own.
But are we still guilty? Could it be we are still blind? Do we simply point to laws, facts, and stats to “prove” that we’ve rooted out racism in America, as we lull ourselves into believing that it does not exist within the church? If that’s our approach as Christians, have we ever left behind the “sins of our fathers?”
It’s always so easy for us to point out the sins in the lives of others, but there has never been an instance in history, where one person was able to resolve a sin in another person’s life. Never. Sin can only be addressed by the person sinning. Perhaps that’s why Jesus gave us this command:
💡“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Matthew 7:3, 5
So, if the sin of racism possibly resides in our own life, we should look inward vs outward and begin to grapple with our own hearts. As we do, here are a few more questions to help us in our examination:
➖Are we defensive when someone raises these issues, particular when that person’s life story is completely different than ours, and they assert they’ve been the victim of systemic and lifelong racism? ➖Do we raise objections based on political arguments? ➖Have we checked our hearts? ➖Have we allowed the “perfect law of liberty” we know as God’s Word to shine its penetrating light of conviction into the secret recesses of our hearts? ➖Are there attitudes in those corners that bear exposing? ➖Have we intentionally sought out brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than us to listen to and develop relationships with, which will enable us to begin to identify areas in our lives to which we might be blind?
Racism is a cunning enemy because it’s tied into our pride, which flows from the father of lies, Satan himself. So we must be intentional in our desire to expose it. Then we must humble ourselves by acknowledging it, if God convicts us of this sin.
In closing, there are consequences to sins. Both individual and national. As such, I truly believe that the rapid disintegration of our nation economically, socially, politically, and more, is flowing from the seeds we have planted for centuries. True, some of the seeds of racism were at the founding of our nation. But sadly, we have continued to sow the same seeds, and cultivated them from the outpourings of our heart. And we are now reaping a horrible harvest of all we have sown.
But all is not lost. Whether or not America can recover from this national sin, is irrelevant to whether you and I can address any seeds of racism that might be found within us. So as God has once again elevated this deep national sin to center stage, may Christians across our nation, humble ourselves and do as the guilty Psalmist confessed:
💡“Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalms 51:1-3, 7, 10, 17
The year was sixty, The lines were drawn T’was 1860 And hate lived on
The forces were firm Convinced with pride That truth and right Was on their side
The war did come And bodies torn Six hundred twenty Thousand mourned
But many more Did bear the wrong From wounds so deep And hurts still strong
One hundred and sixty Years came and went And laws were embraced With such great intent
But wounds from years Too many to count Still surface again As generations mount.
And so 2020 Moved in as a cloud God’s plan was unclear For a nation so proud
Unyielding and firm We placed ourselves first We each sought our gods And ignored such a curse
Whether wealth or power Or glitz or fame Or whatever else Our desires did claim
Our pride we wore So good and bold The red white and blue Was ours to hold
But God would not dare Bow down to our flags Or yield His glory To all of our rags
And so our pride Was on full display When COVID hit And God halted play
Wall Street did stumble And Main Street shut down Our leaders confused In town after town
God had pressed pause To get our attention But soon the division Became more dissension
Our views so sure Were all that mattered The pride displayed Left friendships shattered
But then that virus From Eden born Of pride thru racism Did rise with scorn
The cry “I Can’t Breathe” Was heard by all Those final words A rallying call
But rather than bow And confess our sin We rallied and chanted Our views once again
The anger was seen In cities and streets And felt so deep In hearts and tweets
So today we repeat What’s happened before When lines were drawn And all kept score
But should we resign To another cruel end Where sisters and brothers And neighbors won’t bend?
Should we just assume That all is now lost And what we do see Will be gone with great cost?
There still yet is Hope But it will not reign When we will not see Injustice and pain
No, this Hope demands We turn from our pride And humbly accept What we have denied.
Our God above all Is able to heal But not on our terms Let’s submit and kneel
When Pride is torn down And God is restored Then black and white Will walk in accord
So will we defeat This virus of old That continues the hate And maintains status quo?
The time is now The choice is ours Will we turn to God Or let pride devour?
Our path to heal These wounds so deep Begins each new day As I awake from my sleep
I am the one I must seek to control My desires submit To a much greater goal
And like Son of Man Who left heaven above And humbled himself To show us true love
May each of us look To love and to labor For God our Creator And the one we call neighbor.
Love God and love others These simple commands Are what Jesus modeled And our God demands.
💡“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.“ Matthew 22:37-39