The Southern Baptist Convention Takes On The Alt-Right: What Happened, Why It Matters, and What It Means For Us

I Am A Man

Last Wednesday, at its annual gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning all forms of racism in America, targeting specifically what has become known over the past year as the “alt-right” white nationalist movement.

This was undoubtedly a significant moment for a body that was- tragically, but truthfully- born and built in the 19th century on an expressly pro-slavery position, and has a checkered history on issues of racial equality and justice.  At the same time, for those who have been paying attention not just to the SBC’s past but to its recent present and seeming future, the move shouldn’t be all that surprising.  Last week’s resolution marked the third consecutive year that the body has taken up the cause of racial reconciliation in its gathering, immediately following last June’s condemnation of the Confederate battle flag.  The convention is growing more diverse in more ways than one, and rising SBC leaders- while maintaining a steadfast commitment to biblical authority and traditionally held convictions- have proven increasingly eager to speak out prophetically on a broader range of social and moral issues, with none more prominent than race.

So why are we talking about this anyway?  Two reasons…

1- Southern Baptists represent America’s second largest organized Christian body, surpassed only by Roman Catholics, and are therefore a leading voice of influence among American Christians, especially in the Southeastern US.

2- Fellowship Church is affiliated with the SBC, meaning that we voluntarily hold to the convention’s statement of belief (Baptist Faith & Message 2000) and that we voluntarily contribute financially to the convention’s collective missions and ministry efforts across North America and around the world.

That being the case, I think it is vitally important that we (a) understand what happened last week in Phoenix, (b) identify why it matters, and (c) consider what it means for us as followers of Jesus gathered together in this community.  First, take a few moments to read the full text of the resolution for yourself…

RESOLUTION 10
ON THE ANTI-GOSPEL OF ALT-RIGHT WHITE SUPREMACY

WHEREAS, Scripture teaches, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26); and

WHEREAS, The Psalmist proclaimed, “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD” (Psalm 24:1); and

WHEREAS, The Apostle Peter said, “God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34–35); and

WHEREAS, Our justification before God is based on faith in Christ Jesus alone and not in our ethnicity
(Galatians 3:27–28); and

WHEREAS, Scripture proclaims that Jesus is purchasing by His blood believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); and

WHEREAS, Throughout eternity we will gather with a “multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” in worship of our risen Savior (Revelation 7:9); and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message conveys that all Christians are obligated to make the will of Christ supreme in their own lives and in human society, opposing all forms of racism, selfishness, and vice, and bringing government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love; and

WHEREAS, We know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred; and

WHEREAS, In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention repudiated “historic acts of evil, such as slavery,” committed “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry,” and “genuinely repent[ed] of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously”; and

WHEREAS, In recent years the Convention has nominated and elected individuals from a variety of ethnicities, including electing our first African-American president in 2012; and

WHEREAS, In recent resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention called on “all Christian men and women to pray and labor for the day when our Lord will set all things right and racial prejudice and injustice will be no more” (2014); expressed continued grief “over the presence of racism and the recent escalation of racial tension in our nation” (2015); and urged fellow Christians to discontinue using the Confederate battle flag, acknowledging that it is “used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people” (2016); and

WHEREAS, More than 20 percent (nearly eleven thousand) of our cooperating Southern Baptist congregations identify as predominately non-Anglo and for the last three years more than 50 percent of Southern Baptist new church plants have been predominately non-Anglo; and

WHEREAS, B&H Academic recently published Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighting our continuing need to root out vestiges of racism from our own hearts as Southern Baptists; and

WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

It is critical to note that despite some initial procedural difficulties getting the resolution to a floor vote, support for this statement and the convictions it expresses was, by all accounts, unanimous among the near-5,000 voters present.  In other words, this is no “fringe segment” of the convention, but rather a solidly representative group of Baptist leaders and laypeople from across the entire nation.

This is obviously a significant statement saturated with Gospel truth and anchored deeply in God’s Word.  Before delving into why the “alt-right” movement is described above as not only racist, but also “anti-Gospel,” let me clarify what a convention resolution is and is not.  Given that all Baptist churches exist autonmously- that is, outside of any formal hierarchy- resolutions are non-binding on individual congregations such as Fellowship.  They are position statements, not orders.

In Baptist life, it is our opportunity- and let it be noted, our responsibility- to examine all such statements through a biblical lens and respond to them accordingly.  That being the case, how should we think about- and even more importantly, what should we do about- this strongly worded, much talked about resolution at an individual and local level?  Let’s consider this together…

  • Most significant (in my view) is the resolution’s incisive identification of “alt-right white supremacy” as not only inherently and thoroughly racist, but “anti-Gospel.” That’s a pretty serious charge, wouldn’t you say?  So does it hold up to biblical scrutiny, based on our understanding what the “Gospel” is?  I would answer, without hesitation, yes.  Here’s why…
    • The Bible teaches that all men and women were created in God’s image. This places all racial and ethnic groups of equal value before God.  None are inherently superior- or inferior- to any other.
    • The Bible teaches that the fundamental problem of our lives is sin– not the absence of a particular racial or ethnic identity, be it white or any other. All have sinned.
    • The Bible teaches God’s solution to our sin problem is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Even setting aside the fact that Jesus Himself was not white, it is critical to recognize the racial and ethnic universality of His saving work.  His sinless life is credited to all who believe, regardless of race; His sacrificial death is sufficient for all who trust, regardless of ethnicity; His victorious resurrection is a triumph for all who surrender, regardless of national identity.
    • The Bible teaches start to finish that God is deliberately building a church and a Kingdom that is global in scope, encompassing “every tribe, language, people, and nation.” His Kingdom transcends all earthly kingdoms and overcomes all earthly barriers.  Such a beautifully diverse Kingdom magnifies His glory supremely.
  • Thinking practically, it is not difficult to see how racist or nationalistic ideologies undermine the local church’s ability to faithfully fulfill her mission, or (in the positive) how potentially powerful it is when a local church commits to reflect and pursue the far-reaching, God-glorifying diversity which our Creator intended. Particularly in the tense, divisive days in which we live today not only in our nation, but across the globe, it is a phenomenal “counter cultural” witness to the watching world when the church is a leading voice and example of what racial healing, unity, and cooperation can look like through the power of the biblical Gospel.

That said, how can you put into practice individually- and how can we put into practice corporately as a church- the convictions expressed in this resolution?  This is admittedly a long haul conversation, not something that will be solved with a quick fix of any kind.  But here are a few ideas of stir our thinking today…

  • We must first recognize and repent of any racial or ethnic prejudice that exists within our own hearts and minds. So often, especially on hot button issues such as this one, we all too quickly look to point the finger at others without “keeping it real” about our own struggles.  I get that it can be incredibly uncomfortable to own up to your sin, but we simply cannot move forward with any integrity or influence without first getting our own house in order before God and before others.
  • We must also become- much as the SBC has done nationally- become a prophetic voice in our community as to the “anti-Gospel” of all racism, and in this cultural, specifically of “alt-right white supremacy.” Where we encounter it- be it within our own congregation, or in the community at large- we must be bold in confronting it as a grievous sin and pointing to the Bible’s clear teaching on the universality of the image of God, the problem of sin, and the solution of the Gospel.
  • We must work hard to understand- and empathize with- the unique challenges and struggles experienced by minority groups. I believe this happens through the intentional cultivation of relationships with those of diverse backgrounds, as well as a willingness to ask questions that may not have particularly easy or comfortable answers.  We simply must have the humility to listen to those who are different than us, and seek genuine understanding before self-justification.
  • We must always, always, always anchor our words and actions firmly in God’s Word, not our own opinions or the sway of surrounding culture. It is easy to get swept up in the emotional frenzy of a social media driven world, but our convictions as Christians ought to run much deeper than simply the controversy of the week.  As the SBC resolution demonstrates with tremendous clarity, this is without question a Gospel issue, and one that is undoubtedly worth fighting for.  But to do that faithfully, we must do the work necessary to understand why that is so- not just because it makes us feel good, or feel like we “fit in” to our cultural surroundings.
  • Most of all, we must maintain a steadfast commitment to our God-given mission- “to make disciples of all nations.” Racism and nationalism simply can’t be harbored in our hearts if that mission is going to be pursued and completed.  To reach all, we must love and value all- just as God does. To teach all, we must come eye to eye with Bible’s clear teaching on these issues- and be prepared to be “doers of the Word, not hearers only,” while calling others who identify as Jesus followers to do the same.  Further, we must commit ourselves to making the most of every opportunity for cross-cultural partnerships in this global mission, not viewing or treating our minority brothers and sisters as mission projects, but rather as mission partners.

It is a massive task to attempt to take on such a weighty issue in a limited space like this one, but my hope and prayer is that what you’ve read here today will spark in you a response of repentance (where it is needed), compassion (because it is always needed), and a humble, passionate commitment to engage this issue through a Gospel framework.  I encourage and challenge you to take some time this week to dig into the biblical teaching on this issue on your own.  Allow God’s Word to speak for itself, and be ready to receive it and put it into practice as it does!

If you have additional questions, or would like to engage in further conversation on this issue, I encourage you to contact me at tblount@fellowshipchurch.cc

The Happiest Place On Earth

Magic Kingdom

I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!”…Psalm 122:1 (ESV)

“We’re going to Disney World!”  Last Christmas morning, that was the big announcement in the Blount household.  In 147 days, to kick off our summer break, we would be spending a few days in what has commonly been called “the happiest place on Earth.”  Two weeks ago and four days ago, that countdown ended, and we took our long awaited trip…and it did not disappoint!  It was an exhausting week, to be sure, but one filled with so many special surprises and memorable moments for our family.  It did these parents’ hearts good to be able to enjoy this unique blessing with our kids.

So much can be said- and has been said- about what Disney does well, but the single thing that struck me more than any other was just how happy those working there seemed to be.  Despite the fact that they were working in very crowded conditions, and amidst the oppressive Florida heat and humidity, it was as though they counted it a genuine privilege to serve their guests- millions of them annually- with joy, passion, and excellence.  Add to this the staggering reality that it requires upwards of 75,000 cast members to keep the show running every single day, and their ability to build and sustain that kind of culture becomes all the more impressive.

Reflecting on our family’s experience as we returned home, here’s the question that I haven’t been able to shake since-
When was the last time I was as committed to serving God and others in the way that Disney’s cast members were committed to serving meSpecifically, when was the last time I showed up to Fellowship Church on a Sunday (or any other time, for that matter) with the humbling sense that I am even allowed and afforded such a great privilege?  When was the last time I approached my calling- which is of eternal weight and significance- with the same level of joy, passion, and excellence displayed by those hosting others on a temporary vacation?

You may have noticed those words- “joy, passion, and excellence”- and connected them to one of our Core Actions at Fellowship- look alive.  God’s Word makes clear that we ought to approach Him with such a spirit- “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:1-2a)- and additionally, that we ought to demonstrate the same attitude in our dealings with one another- “Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b).  When we do these things in these ways, God’s rightful glory is magnified- and others’ lives have the potential to be impacted for eternity!  Here are just a few simple, practical ways that you can look alive this week as you show up at Fellowship…

  • Pray before you arrive that God would prepare your heart to truly worship Him as He deserves and desires.
  • Participate fully and passionately in every opportunity afforded you- singing, praying, giving, hearing God’s Word, and responding to it.
  • Serve with a smile- whether that be in an “official” role on one of our Serve Teams, or simply as one actively searching out opportunities to meet needs in the lives of others.
  • Go above and beyond (there’s another one of those pesky Core Actions!) whenever, wherever, and however you can. Don’t just look to do the “bare minimum” for others- give them your best, in whatever unique situation you find yourself.
  • Introduce yourself to someone you haven’t met before- and take the time to really take an interest in who they are and what they’re all about. Don’t be hurried- look them in the eye, listen to their story, and ask God how you can best love them.
  • Look for reasons to be grateful instead of reasons to be critical.
  • Walk away asking God with an open heart, open mind, and open eyes and ears for how you can carry such a spirit into the remainder of your week at home, work, and wherever else you go.

There’s no question for our family- We left Disney bought in to the hype; it met and exceeded our expectations with very few exceptions.  I look forward to the next time I can visit.  And why is that true?  Because of the people who made it happen.  Next time someone shows up at Fellowship Church- or in your life Monday through Saturday as a follower of Jesus and a member of FC- will they be able to say the same thing?  Friends, we have much more to offer the world than just a great week of vacation memories.  Let’s look alive this and every week so that our great God might be glorified and our world might know and experience real life in Him!

Love Without Limits?

Line Sand

It is the wide love of God for us that leads us down the narrow road of love.

That’s the bold assertion that we made last Sunday as we launched into the last segment of Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount through our new series, The Right Way.  We zeroed in on the radical breadth of who God loves, how God loves, and why God loves- and what that should mean in the lives of those of us who have received that love through Jesus.  We learned that God’s life changing love is available to all– which means that ours should be too, including (but not limited to)…

  • Those of other racial, ethnic backgrounds
  • Those of other religious faiths (or no faith at all)
  • Those of other political opinions
  • Those of other economic statuses
  • Those of other moral convictions and lifestyles
  • Even those who have wounded us deeply

This list is undoubtedly uncomfortable to consider- and even more so to put into practice.  But as we said on Sunday, while it may be improbable, if the Gospel is true it is not impossible!  After all, if a holy God can love rebels like us (and the Cross of Christ proves that He has), then surely His love can flow through us into the lives of anyone in this world.

But this raises a tension for us, doesn’t it?  How are we supposed to love those with whom we deeply, profoundly disagree?  I’m not talking about petty disagreements, but the “heavy” stuff of life- matters like the sanctity of all human life; the nature of marriage, family, and sexuality; the appropriate response to social and economic injustice; the authority of the Bible; and the truthfulness of the Gospel.  How can we reconcile God’s command to love like He does without compromising core level convictions in the process?  Is this even possible?

I believe God’s answer to that question is a resounding yesbut to get to that yes, we’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

I firmly believe that when it comes to the issue of “love”- and what “counts” as “love”- we’ve been sold a lie.  This is a lie that I believe originated in secular thinking, but has deeply infiltrated the thinking of many in God’s church.  What is it?  That love equals agreement, acceptance, and affirmation.  In other words, “If you love me, you’ll agree with me, accept me without hesitation, and affirm my choices without question.”  We see this kind of thinking play out most explicitly when it comes to questions of sexuality, but I believe it informs the way we think now about just about everything.

The lie itself probably shouldn’t surprise us.  But what is truly tragic is to the degree to which supposedly Bible believing, orthodoxy affirming followers of Jesus have bought it without question, and have abandoned centuries of consistent Christian teaching and veered into questionable- and I believe destructive- territory, all because they’ve adopted an insufficient definition of love.  What we must come to see is that a “love” that merely agrees, accepts, and affirms without question or evaluation is actually profoundly unloving– and ultimately ungodly.

The way I see it, we’ve missed the boat on this thing in two directions- both of which arise from this same poisonous root.  Some in the church have blurred the lines between right and wrong, between truth and error, between sin and righteousness.  Others, to the opposite extreme, have taken those lines- as revealed in God’s Word- and used them as weapons to insult, exclude, and elevate themselves over others in self-righteous judgment.  But in both cases, the same lie is in play- in the former case, if I love you then I must agree with you, and in the latter, if I disagree with you I don’t have to love you.  So what, then, is the alternative to these two “ditches”?  Again, as it always is, the Gospel is our guide.  Consider…

  • God makes the truth clear- and so should we. God doesn’t play “hide and seek” with us on issues of right and wrong.  While His Word may not address every potential nuance we face in life, it is decidedly not lacking in clarity on the big questions we face on a day in, day out basis.  It is critical as the people of God that we understand this revealed truth well and express it clearly as we have opportunity.  Now we must be humble here, recognizing that while God is infallible, we are not- which means that we need to keep pressing in for rich understanding and right application.
  • God demonstrates active love toward those who reject His truth- and so should we. At one time, all of us rejected God’s truth- apart from His gracious intervention, “there is no one righteous- no, not one!”  And yet God was gracious, kind, and compassionate toward us- so much so that He sent Jesus from heaven to earth to pay the price for our sin and provide us an opportunity to repent of that sin, and to trust and follow Him.  As 2 Peter 3:9 declares, “God is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  This heart ought to be reflected in the way we approach and engage with those who reject God- just as we once did.
  • God was willing to endure suffering to see others rescued- and so should we. This is the most stunning aspect of the Gospel- that the holy God of heaven would willfully submit Himself to unjust suffering so that His enemies could know His saving love.  Crazy as that sounds, that’s the standard that He sets for us too- not that we would literally go to the Cross to redeem those with whom we disagree, but that we would be willing to be misunderstood and mistreated for the sake of the Gospel.  This isn’t only true for those in hostile global contexts, but also for those of us in everyday life in a culture that is increasingly emboldened in its opposition to the truth revealed in God’s Word.  What if, instead of virulently fighting for our “rights” (although I am a big believer in religious liberty for all), we went the second mile to seek to understand our “enemies” and guide them toward true satisfaction and freedom in submission to our Creator?  There is no guarantee how that ends up, but the clear witness of God’s Word is that that’s our calling and responsibility.

To summarize, when it comes to the idea of “love without limits,” what we find is that there are limits to what we can in good conscience agree with, accept, and affirm– but that there are not limits to the actions we take to see those held captive by sin’s deception set free by the grace of God.  I want to encourage and challenge you today to consider which of the above “ditches” you are most prone to stumble into, and to instead walk in God’s supernatural strength to love others even when it is messy- just as you yourself have been loved by this God.

 

Tell A Better Story

Book

Last week, I had the great privilege of traveling- along with Pastors Kirk, Brian, and Griff- to Atlanta, Georgia for three days of refreshing, energizing, and challenging training for pastors and leaders.  The theme of the conference we attended was For Our Neighbors, which- if I keeping it completely real with you here- didn’t do much for me initially.  After all, I figured, I’m already a pretty neighbor-ly guy.  Tell me something I don’t already know!

Well, as is often the case in life and faith, often what we need isn’t the revelation of something new, but rather the repetition of something old.  And as we traveled back home on Friday evening, I was pretty confident that God has said exactly what He intended to say to me in our three days away.

You don’t need me to tell you this, but it hasn’t been the easiest, most pleasant year in our community- or in our nation, for that matter.  We’ve stared down- and continue to face today- a potent combination of challenges, from natural disasters to racial tensions to political drama to the everyday maladies that come our way in this broken world.

I have my stories.
You have your stories.
We have our stories.
And in the midst of that turmoil, we all have a choice to make- particularly so as the people of God, called by His name.

Can we tell a better story?

Ryan Leak, one of the presenters at last week’s event, said something striking about the current state of affairs in our world- “If things are as bad as we say they are (and they may well be!), then now is the best time we’ve had in a long time to make a difference for good.”  Do you believe this?  If so, does your life as a follower of Jesus reflect that?

Let’s face it- It would be very easy to wither under the onslaught of sin’s effects in our lives and in our world today.  It would be easy to complain and condemn.  It would be easy to hunker down and isolate ourselves.  It would be easy to descend into the battle using the world’s weapons and ways.  It would be easy to give up the fight altogether.  Chances are, we’ve all tried on one or more of these strategies at some point.

But if we believe our own message as followers of Jesus, then we should be neither surprised by the state of the world we’re in, nor cynical about God’s ability to bring restoration into even the most broken of situations and circumstances.  And as His representatives and ambassadors this side of heaven, it’s our responsibility and opportunity to speak that truth- and to live it too!

Can we tell a better story?

Here are a few ways I believe we can, starting right now…

  • When literal storms rage (and they do!), we can be on the leading edge of caring with compassion for those afflicted and impacted, working to help them put the pieces of their homes and lives back together. By the way, this is one we’ve seen firsthand in a powerful way over the past nine months…but the need isn’t behind us yet.  Consider coming out this Saturday, May 6 for our next Geaux Day to serve families still rebuilding!
  • When storms of moral confusion rage (and they are!), we can point with conviction and compassion (both as essential) to the gracious design of a Creator who is working not for our harm, but rather for our joy. Even as we are often misunderstood and mischaracterized, we can stand ready to welcome the world-worn “refugees” of a sexual “revolution” that has left in its wake far more victims (especially women and children) than victors.
  • When storms of racial tension rage (and they are!), we can work to build bridges of empathy and understanding among different groups, seeking healing and reconciliation in real relationships with others. As followers of Jesus, we have the unique opportunity to demonstrate to the watching world the power of a Christ-centered diversity that finds its power in a shared identity that doesn’t deny our differences, but does transcend them.
  • When storms of political division rage (and they are!), we can steadfastly refuse to take up the world’s weapons of hatred and hostility, and instead contend for Christ-exalting convictions while at the same time demonstrating Christ-like character. We can hold up our ultimate allegiance to a King and a Kingdom that transcends the temporary, and hold to the confidence that He is indeed sovereign over all the affairs of humankind, even when that is tough to see.  On this basis, we can trade in the “pocket change” of temporary political wins for the bottomless riches of His eternal victory- and then work in love to see light overcome darkness in the meantime.
  • When storms of spiritual aimlessness rage (and they are!), we can bear witness to the wanderers that there is an Answer to all their longings- and His name is Jesus Christ. We can demonstrate that it is in Him alone that the peace, purpose, justice, joy, hope, and love for which we’re all searching can be fully and finally found.

Friends, as the people of God, called by His name, we have a better story.  God has given that to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.  He now calls us to raise our voices and proclaim it in word and deed to the watching, wondering, wandering, weary world- not simply as a religious story confined to our pews and pulpits on Sundays, but as a rescue story released in power through every corner of our lives every single day.  That’s our opportunity.  That’s our responsibility.  That’s our privilege!

Will you tell a better story?

Who’s Your Hero?

Lego Batman

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”- 1 Corinthians 1:31 (ESV)

I recently took my two boys to see the new Lego Batman Movie.  It was a fantastic way to spend a night out with my “dudes” (their words).

The film was a great mix of kid-friendly features (I mean, what genius marketing to combine Legos and superheroes, two foolproof attractions for boys, into one overpriced film!) and snarky, adult-friendly humor.  As the name suggests, Batman sits at the center of movie’s storyline, soundly defeating every would-be evildoer that comes his way and saving the good people of Gotham City, over and over and over again.

He does a lot of good, and everyone in turn thinks he is great- most of all, Batman himself.  From an opening sequence where he saves Gotham while singing and rapping an anthem (to himself) called “Who’s The (Bat)Man,” it is clear throughout the movie that the Dark Knight’s “drug of choice” is the undying adulation to which (in his mind) his heroics have entitled him.  It is, in short, the fuel that keeps him going day after day, year after year, in the superhero life.

Now aside from a providing a couple hours of laughs, this obviously over-the-top character got me thinking- How often do we live our lives, especially in relationship to God, in much the same way?  To be more specific, how often do we do the “godly things” we do as a means to inflate our own egos, make an impression on others, and most dangerously and deceptively of all, entitle God to love and accept us?  How often do we set ourselves up as the hero of our own life and faith?  Perhaps we’ve learned how to dress it up a bit more subtly than Batman, but I’m concerned that for too many of us (including myself!), the heart is far too much the same.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul warns us of this universal temptation to “make much of ourselves”- and often to use God to do it!  He exhorts the Corinthians in 2:1-5…

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

So against the backdrop of Batman’s self-glorifying antics and Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired warning, here’s a question for all of us to consider carefully today- Who is the “hero” of your faith?  That is, when others interact with you, hearing your speech and observing your actions, whose “glory” do they see and hear most on display?  Is it you, or is it “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”?  Here are a few questions to help you “keep it real” on this…

  • When you speak of your salvation, is your focus on God’s gracious provision or on your work in “getting your life right”?
  • When you speak of your growth in Christian maturity, is your focus on God’s power to transform or your efforts to “become a better person”?
  • When you do something good or godly, are you immediately tempted to tell someone about it (or to make it more timely, to post something about on social media for everyone to see)? If so, why?  What are you seeking to gain?
  • When you read the Bible, do you read primarily with yourself in mind, or with God in mind? In other words, who is at the “center of the story”?
  • When you share your faith with others, is your focus on everything they need to do, or on everything that God has done on their behalf?

I want to take care here not to be misunderstood in what I am saying.  I am not contending that we have no personal responsibility in following Jesus, or that it is always wrong to share of our successes and victories on that journey.  After all, the Bible does tell us in Matthew 5:16 to “let our light shine before men,” but let’s take care to read the reason we are to do so- “so that others might see our good works and praise our Father who is in heaven.”  In other words, it should always come back to Him- His grace, His power, His glory.  Jesus alone is worthy to be the “hero” of our lives!

“Just Stop It Already!” Why God Commands Us To Rest

Off Button

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, ESV)

Which of God’s commands do you find most difficult to obey? 

For simplicity’s sake, let’s boil it down to just the Ten Commandments to identify an answer.  There are some pretty strong candidates here, aren’t there?

I mean, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff?  Especially in our consumeristic, media saturated culture, that’s a tough one.  One trip to your Facebook or Instagram feed proves this.

And don’t lie– I mean, about anything?  Maybe we can avoid the “big ones,” but to tell the whole truth all the time?  That’s a high standard- and a costly one at times.

Even the seemingly easy commandments like “don’t murder” and “don’t commit adultery” aren’t- according to Jesus- all that easy at all.  As Matthew 5 makes clear, harboring anger against someone equals “murder,” and entertaining lustful thoughts equals “adultery.”  Yikes.

Today, though, I don’t want to talk about any of these seemingly more “scandalous” acts of rebellion, significant as they are.  Instead, I want to zero in on perhaps the least carefully considered commandment in all of God’s law- the Fourth Commandment, God’s directive to “observe the Sabbath,” or put more simply, to rest regularly.

The command itself has an odd history, finding its origin in God’s work of creation in Genesis 1-2.  As the account goes, God creates everything out of nothing in six days- heavens and earth, land and sea, plants and animals, and ultimately humankind.  And then, on the seventh day, the God “who never sleeps or slumbers” rests.  Now why would a Deity of such unlimited capacity choose to take a day off?

To be clear, I don’t believe that God in any way had reached His end.  He wasn’t tired from all that creating.  He wasn’t stressed out.  There was no internal tension in the Trinity.  Instead, I believe God was establishing for us- as a model, which He would later make explicit in a command- the critical importance of taking time to “stop and be still.”  He created this world to operate according to certain laws, principles, and rhythms- and one of the most significant of these rhythms is that of work and rest.

Work is a good thing, created by God for His glory and our good.  We know this because work existed in the Garden of Eden before sin entered God’s good world.  Part of God’s curse on sin was that some aspects of work would become difficult and toilsome, but prior to the Fall, work was a God-given gift designed for flourishing.  There are many of us who need to be reminded of this today, and approach our work with a renewed sense of gratitude and purpose.

That being the case, God never intended that our work would be unending or all-consuming.  Just as work has an important role to play in our lives, so does rest– so much so that God not only suggests that we rest, but actually commands it.  He even provides us with a “schedule”- once out of every seven days, take the day to “stop and be still,” to focus on unhurried time with Him and with those whom has placed in our lives.

So here’s the question that we must grapple with today- Why is this so important to God, so as to put it on the same level as commands such as “don’t worship other gods” and “don’t kill people”?  What are the benefits of taking seriously God’s command to rest regularly?  Let’s take a look at a few…

  • Regular rest reminds us that God is God- and we are not. One of the foremost idols with which we wrestle in our culture is that of control.  To put it bluntly, we all struggle with a “God complex” to some degree.  We believe the Serpent’s lie that we can “be like God”- knowing it all, fixing it all, and being everywhere for everyone in our lives.  Taking time to “stop and be still” reminds us that the world will keep turning even when we aren’t “on”- because we were never holding it in our hands anyway!
  • Regular rest honors God’s creative design. God created human beings with amazing capacity physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.  But let’s be clear- He did not create us to “live without limits” in any of these areas.  And when we unwisely attempt to press against the outer edges of these limits by failing to rest, His design demands that we will pay dearly for it.  For some, this will mean physical breakdown…for others, a mental or emotional crisis…for still others, a relational implosion.  In any case, it is critical that we submit to the sovereign Designer on this.  We will be far better off for it.
  • Regular rest opens the door to rich, thriving relationships. Pastor and author John Ortberg says it well- “Hurry is always the enemy of love.”  You and I know this to be true; we experience it on a near-everyday basis.  The more hurried we live, the less time we have for people- or for God.  We may fool ourselves into believing that we keep the pace we do “for others” (or even more dangerously and deceptively, “for God”!), but dig down deep enough, and you’ll find that there is some self-serving motive underlying all that unbridled busy-ness.  When we live well rested, as God intends, we are able to give our best to God and to others- not our leftovers!
  • Regular rest enables us to make wise, God honoring decisions. Let’s be real here- Exhausted people make pretty awful decisions.  It is when we are tired that we are at our most vulnerable to the deceptions and temptations of our Enemy.  Why?  Because we possess little reserve left to “fight the good fight,” and even worse, we can begin to believe the lie that we “owe it to ourselves” to compromise.  After all, look at all the great things we have done!  But in this blinded state, we can throw away true “Kingdom greatness” simply because we cannot bear to “fall behind” in our pursuit of what we have deemed “great.”

We could go on, of course, but I think we’ve said enough here.  Here’s the challenge I want to pose to you in light of all this- Take one day in the next week to really rest- to “observe God’s Sabbath”- and see how you respond to it.  If you find it difficult to do this (and trust me when I say that some of us are going to find it agonizing), ask God and yourself why.  Measure the benefits and the costs, and weight them against each other.  Ask God with an open heart and mind to really teach you through this time.  Give Him time and space to speak and work.  I believe that if you’ll take this simple step to trust Him, that He will do a good work- though perhaps not a comfortable work- in your heart, mind, and body that will be to His glory and others’ good.  Will you take one day this week and “just stop it already”?

What Does Money Mean To You?

Cash Stack

“But godliness with contentment is great gain…for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pieced themselves with many pangs”- 1 Timothy 6:6, 10 (ESV)

“Money is a tool, a test, and a testimony”- Ron Blue

Let’s take a test together- When you think about money, what is the very first thing that comes to your mind?

  • …Is it the comfort it can buy you?
  • …Or the security it can offer you?
  • …Or the power it can give you over others?
  • …Or the status to which it can elevate you?
  • …Or something else altogether?

Let’s face it- Each of us has a slightly unique answer to this question, a different thing that money does for us.  This is critically important to pay attention to- because inevitably, for better or for worse, our perspective on money shapes our practice with it.  Or to state it differently, our desires always shape our decisions.  Consider a few ways this can play out financially…

  • When money = comfort, we tend to spend big, and at our worst, without planning or discipline.
  • When money = security, we lean hard into saving, and likely experience nagging anxiety no matter how much we have.
  • When money = status, we often spend to make a statement, with mixed motives that can stain even our seemingly “good deeds” (“Have you seen how much they gave to ____________? Wow!”)

All of these scenarios- along with many others we could list here, but haven’t- are visible ways that what the Bible calls the “love of money” shows up in our lives.  Notice that in each circumstance, it isn’t necessarily money itself that we “love,” but rather what money can get us.  Money is like the “key” that promises to open up the doors that we want to walk through.

So why is this a problem?  Because although money can often open the first “door” (and perhaps a few after that!)- be it the “door” of comfort, security, power, status, or something else- there are always more doors to open.  There is never a point at which “enough” is actually enough.

  • There will always be more comforts to be pursued.
  • There will always be more emergencies to avoid.
  • There will always be more people to influence, impress, or (if we’re being brutally honest) outdo.

Most of us, of course, don’t think this way.  We believe the lie that one day, we’ll get “there” financially, wherever “there” is- and then we’ll be satisfied.  But we never do- at least not for long.  We always find ourselves standing at yet another locked “door,” with an insatiable craving for that which we believe will open it yet again.  As Pastor Andy Stanley has said wisely, “Our appetites for more are never fully and finally satisfied.”

So what’s the alternative?  How can we take what we’ve learned from this little exercise and put it into practice in a productive and God glorifying way?  I believe there are three key steps each of us must take…

  • First, understand and own your unique vulnerability in this area. If you’re prone to unwise spending, say it.  If your lean is toward anxious saving, speak it.  If you honestly lack a generous heart, admit it.  I get that this can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s critical if we are ever going to break out of the cycle in which many of us find ourselves.
  • Second, shift your thinking on money from something you live for to something you live with. As Christian financial expert Ron Blue says, money itself isn’t evil, but it can never function as an end unto itself.  It is, instead, “a tool, a test, and a testimony”- something that provides us with an opportunity to grow in maturity and trust in Jesus Christ, and to powerfully share His love with others.
  • Finally, and most importantly of all, consider how Jesus alone can do for you what you’ve been asking money to do. Search His Word for promises that speak to the longings of your heart and mind, and replace your craving for money with a growing craving for Him.  Make Him your comfort…make Him your security…make Him your worth and value.  He alone can fully and finally satisfy.  Don’t trade His truth for money’s lies!

I remember vividly when this became real to me.  I had never thought of myself as a “lover of money” before, but a few years ago, after several years of disciplined budgeting and diligent saving on a relatively modest income, I was feeling pretty good about the “security” that our money had afforded us.

And then, in a rapid fire “series of unfortunate events,” it all went away- and I was incredibly bothered.  Not that it was wrong to be bothered under the circumstances, which were admittedly unpleasant.  But this went deeper than a mere, “Oh, that stinks.”  What the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me was that, in an unconscious way, I had begun to place more trust in money- and in my own ability to manage- than I did in God, and in His ability to provide it.  This was humbling to recognize and admit, but it became apparent to me at that point that this was my unique vulnerability, and I needed to repent and ask God to change my heart in this area.

A few years later, we are working toward some goals once again, seeking to be wise stewards of that which God has entrusted to us.  This time around, though, my hope and prayer is that our ultimate confidence will not be in our own financial savvy, but in God’s good heart and able hand.  We will do our best to be wise, but ultimately we are trusting in Him as our all-satisfying hope.

That’s my story in response to this little exercise.  What’s yours?  I pray you’ll take the time this week to consider it, starting with this simple question- What does money mean to you?