Racism

Humankind has a nasty tendency for dividing into groups: us and them.

The Jews hated the Samaritans. The Zealots hated the tax collectors. The Pharisees hated the “sinners.”

Hate might be too strong of a word for what normally happens.

More often our feelings are subtle. We stereotype and label. We cut “our” people more slack than “their” people.

The Jewish Christians were suspicious of the Gentile Christians and vice versa. Somehow the Greek speaking widows got neglected while the Hebrew-speaking widows did just fine in Acts 6.

The Bible is clear: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Humans like to divide on the basis of skin color and language, but God does not approve.

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, there was a beautiful mixture of Parthinians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Cretans, Arabs, Romans, and Asians who came together to learn of Jesus.  We praise the Lamb who “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight! Christ followers must be serious about combating all of the ugly -isms that creep into our hearts. We need to make sure we are aren’t doing things—even little things—that make it harder for the body to be united like Jesus wants.  

In Support of Singles

Valentine’s Day can be tough on our singles. Unfortunately, church isn’t always an easy place for singles either.

Well-intended friends try to fix you up. Many of our activities are hosted by couples, so it’s easy to get left out or feel like a third wheel.

We have a lot of people who are afraid of saying the wrong thing so divorced people and widows find themselves alone in a crowd.

I wish I had an easy solution for the hurts and frustrations our singles have felt. I don’t. I do have an apology—I’m sorry that life is hard, and I’m sorry that we have made it harder.

In the Bible, singleness is not viewed as a defect, but as a sign of spiritual maturity:

Paul wrote, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)

He continues, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is….Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife…I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided… I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:26-27, 32-35)

Singles aren’t second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. I want to make sure that I act that way!

A Geography of Faith

God designed our hearts and minds to lock on to certain places.

When I walk into a room and forget what I’ve come to do, I turn around and walk back in. It’s funny how that jogs my memory.

When I drive past a cemetery, my mind almost involuntarily remembers the graveside services I’ve attended there.

When I visit Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, I have flashbacks to the birth of our kids.

I smile every time I see the pedestrian bridge across the Cumberland River in Nashville where I proposed to Leslie.

I cringe whenever I pass the dentist’s office.

We recognize that, in one sense, there is no such thing as “holy land.” The rocks in Israel aren’t sacrosanct—but there’s still something special about the fact that our heroes of faith lived and died there. We know that the church building is built with the same drywall and steel as the firehall, but the weddings and funerals and baptisms and worship services have a way of sanctifying it in our memory.

One thing I’ve noticed while reading through the Old Testament this year is just how prevalent the “geography of faith” is. Abraham and Jacob set up altars to remember God’s providence in specific places. Joseph was adamant that his bones not be left in Egypt, but taken back to the land of promise.

This principle could be abused and idolized, but used correctly, it’s helpful.

It’s wise to intentionally remember the times and the places when God has blessed you.

Here’s an exercise to try: draw a map of the big God-moments in your life, and let the geography of your faith remind you of the journey God has brought you on so far.

Thirsty?

Have you ever had a plumber come to work at your house? If he has to shut off the water, it is amazing how it happens. Like clockwork, immediately everyone either needs to use the bathroom or wants a drink of water!

When I read the Bible, it is easy for me to be really hard on the people in the stories.

The Israelites whine and complain.

The apostles argue amongst themselves.

Everyone misses the point.

I like to pretend that I would have done so much better! (Yeah, right!)

In Exodus 15, after the Israelites cross the Red Sea, they head into the Desert of Shur. “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (Exodus 15:22 NIV).

How many days would you travel by foot in the desert without water before you started to complain?

Maybe that was the wrong question. How many hours would you make it?

Not long at all!

If I read the text right, they only started to grumble when they got to Marah, where the water was bitter.

I’m not letting the Israelites off the hook. Grumbling is never a blessing, but the fact it took them at least three days to start doing it shows us greater faith and patience than we might have realized. Ten minutes after the plumber shuts off a faucet in my air-conditioned house, I’m thirsty. It took the Israelites three days!

Let’s make a lesson out of this: the next time I start to grumble, I’m going to ask myself, “Can I wait 3 days?” After all, in the Bible story, a lot can change in three days…

Don’t Make It Worse!

Government officials in Delhi, India, were concerned about the deadly Cobras in the area, so they came up with a simple solution: they put a bounty on them. Citizens could turn in dead snakes for money.

Initially, that’s exactly what happened, but before long, some people saw an opportunity. They began to breed cobras to turn in for the bounty! The government was frustrated by this turn of events, so they cancelled the program.

Now that the program was over, cobra breeders were out of business. What did they do? They released their inventory into the wild. By the time the program was over, there were more Cobras than ever!

What’s the moral of the story? There’s no problem that government can’t make worse? Maybe!

Many times when I try to solve a problem, I make it worse.

Do you remember Abram and Sarai? They had a problem. God had promised them children, but they didn’t have any. So they decided to solve the problem themselves. Abram had a child by Sarai’s servant, Hagar. Not only did this not solve the problem—God had told Abram and Sarai that they together would have a son—but it made it worse. Now there is a woman scorned, a boy raised in a broken home, and ultimately a new conflict that lasts throughout the duration of history.

David’s sin with Bathsheba was bad enough, but it got even worse when he tried to solve it at the expense of Uriah’s life.

Here’s some simple advice: when you mess up, do whatever you can not to make things worse!

Martin Luther King Day

This is the weekend set aside to honor the work of Dr. King. Let’s honor his legacy by reflecting on a few of his challenging words.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

The time is always right to do what is right.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

When he would preach about the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, Dr. King suggested that the priest and the Levite might have passed by the injured man because of fear. They were afraid of what they would miss out on if they stopped. They were afraid of what might happen to them if they stopped. Dr. King said the difference between them and the good Samaritan boiled down to a question. The religious leaders asked, “What will happen to me if I help?” The good Samaritan asked, “What will happen to him if I don’t?”

Life is Precious

Life is precious. Man is made in God’s image, after his likeness (Genesis 1:26). We are formed by God’s hand and inspired with God’s very breath (Genesis 2:6-7).

You can even see this in the holiness codes in Leviticus. Unclean animals, generally, are the ones that scavenge on the dead. People are made ceremonially unclean when they come into contact with death or even things that represent new life not beginning.

In this week’s daily Bible reading, a line in Genesis 9 stood out to me. God warned humanity that he would require an accounting whenever blood was shed. That didn’t surprise me; I remembered when Abel was murdered that his blood cried out from the ground (4:10). Of course humans are accountable when they take life!

What surprised me was that God said “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man” (9:5).

Evidently, human life is so sacred that God will even call into judgment the wild animals that take it.

There’s even a law in Exodus 21:28 that calls for the execution of an ox that gores a person to death. If its owner was grossly negligent, the owner might meet the same fate.

Life is incredibly special, a gift to be cherished. Let’s make sure that we treat every human life the way God intends for us to.  

The Most-Waived Right

A law enforcement friend told me that most often when he interviews a subject, he doesn’t have any problems getting information out of him. Most of us talk entirely too much, even when it hurts our cause.

In Romans 14, when Paul is dealing with controversies about meat sacrificed to idols and holy days and a whole manner of first century issues, he gives some surprising instructions: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:22 NIV)

Paul might agree that most of us talk entirely too much.

I have lots of opinions, feelings, ideas, and thoughts, and just like for you, all of them are correct. As my old friend “Makk Truck” used to say, “That’s my opinion and it ought to be yours!”

One of the great markers of wisdom is the ability to know when to share our genius insights and when to keep our mouths shut. I haven’t figured that one out quite yet, but if I ever do, should I tell you the secret?

Fortunately Paul gives us an answer anyway in Ephesians 4:29. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth.” Mostly you think of 4-letter words when you hear this line, and that’s true enough, but the word “corrupt” means something rotten that spreads decay. Can you think of a time when someone spoke to you in a way that let the air out of your tires? A time when gossip slandered a friend and poisoned a group? He continues, “…but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Let’s lean into our right to remain silent a little more, unless waiving that right builds up, fits the moment, and spreads grace.

Heckling the Preacher

In 1885 a rowdy riverboat captain decided to go to a tent revival in downtown Nashville.

He was rich, making a fortune off the family riverboat business. Not only did his boats provide transportation for goods and people, they were the 1885 version of the party barge. He made his money off drunkenness, gambling, and “assorted other vices.”

He didn’t go to church to hear the preaching. He didn’t go out of a sense of obligation. He didn’t go because he loved the Lord. He wasn’t even there out of a sense of curiosity.

He went because he thought it sounded fun to heckle the preacher.

I wish that May 10, 1885 sermon had been recorded, because something amazing happened. That riverboat captain was convicted and converted. He left meeting committed to gospel ideas. He was so convinced that he pledged $100,000 (in 1885 money!) to construct a permanent meetinghouse large enough for every person in Nashville who wanted to hear preaching in this new Union Gospel Tabernacle.

After Thomas Green Ryman’s death, the building took on the name you and I know, the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of country music, which was first dedicated to the work of the church.

We never know what someone’s motivation might be for coming to worship, but by the grace of God, sometimes it has changed by the time they leave. And even if it hasn’t, “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1;18)

Reactions and Overreactions

Before we have time to think, we react.

In Luke 9:51-55, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem when a Samaritan village chose not to receive him. James and John reacted. They said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

It was reasonable for them to be emotional about their rejection of Jesus. Their action was unkind and inhospitable. They could be sad or mad or frustrated or any combination of those things, but I think that they over-reacted because Jesus immediately turned and rebuked them. Some manuscripts add a line to the end of verse 56: “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (KJV). Their overreaction caused them to miss the point and forget their place.

It’s reasonable for me to be frustrated when someone says or does something silly, but I need to take care to keep my overreactions in check. Proverbs says that “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”