Category Archives: Character

Thankful for the fight!

Do you do the whole let’s-go-around-the-room-and-share-what-we’re-thankful-for thing on Thanksgiving Day?

It’s a great practice, and if you’re like me you probably express thanks for God’s grace in your life, your loved ones, and the many blessings of freedom we get to experience in America. However, if we were able to transport the Apostle Paul into our Thanksgiving Day gatherings and plop him down on our sofas, I think he would add something unique to the conversation. I think he would stand and say, “I’m thankful for the fight.”

In his famous words in 2 Timothy 4:7 he said that the fight of faith was a good fight.

I think there are three things that make a fight good:

  1. A fight is a good fight when we’re fighting for something good.
  2. A fight is a good fight when we fight well in the fight.
  3. A fight is a good fight when we win the fight.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are destined for all three:

  1. We are fighting for the greatest good in the universe—the expansion of God’s kingdom in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on our planet.
  2. We have the revelation of Scripture and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us fight well in our part of the battle.
  3. Finally, we are promised victory. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t always love the fight, but I’m grateful for it—and I can concur with the Apostle Paul that it is indeed good. Can you?

Advertisements

What excellence looks like

This is what my daily sermon looks like.

Every morning after I drop Maddie off at school, I watch this crossing guard work the intersection of Benson and Arrow Highway and I am inspired.

I don’t know this guy’s name, occupation, or station in life, but for a few seconds before my light turns green he preaches to me, showing me what excellence really looks like. He is friendly, enthusiastic, decisive, and strong. He tells cars when to back off and when they can proceed. He takes extra time with the children and the elderly, and he gives wide berth to the skateboarders who nearly run him over, often throwing him a high five as they cruise by.

His outfit is crisp, his demeanor is clear, and perhaps even more importantly he seems to be having fun. I watch him monitor his intersection and I vow to be a better pastor. I watch him perform his crossing guard  duties and I vow to be a better dad.

There’s something about excellence–about a job well done and well expressed–that challenges our passivity and inspires us to greater heights.

He’s only a crossing guard but he’s teaching me about worship. He’s teaching me about life, and I’ve actually come to look forward to seeing his work each morning. I hope the hosts of heaven can watch you and me at our worship and work and feel the same inspiration and awe that this crossing guard evokes in me.

A moral obligation to be intelligent

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34)

In his book Strength to Love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that it was not merely sin that nailed Jesus to the cross; it was also ignorance. “The men who cried, ‘Crucify him,’ were not bad men but rather blind men. The jeering mob that lined the roadside that led to Calvary was not composed of evil people but of blind people. They knew not what they did. What a tragedy!”[1]

History is replete with accounts of men and women who engaged in woeful behavior based largely in either ignorance or misunderstanding. Mankind’s historical inquisitions and persecutions had strains of ignorance and intellectual blindness running through them that made their outcomes doubly tragic: they were evil, yes, but they were also uninformed. Misunderstandings of science, racial equality, mental illnesses, and many other things have led to oppression, enslavement, and misguided notions that have traumatized the human race.

We are called to be better. I think we should ponder these words from Dr. King and consider where they might apply to our perspectives and our engagement with the world: “Sincerity and conscientiousness in themselves are not enough. History has proven that these noble virtues may degenerate into tragic vices. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. The church must implore men to be good and well-intentioned. But devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forces leading to shameful crucifixions. Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.”[2]

Let’s commit today to redoubling our efforts at being good, just, conscientious, and intelligent.

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Strength to Love, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), p. 43.

[2] Ibid., 46.

Why isn’t goodness more satisfying?

Stolen water is sweet; bread eaten in secret is delicious!

That’s what the ancient proverbs writer said, and it still rings true today. We, humans, love the illicit and the forbidden.

Why is this?

Why is forbidden fruit so tempting? Why do we crave the things that aren’t healthy for us? Why do we want what we probably shouldn’t have?

The answer is…we actually don’t. We don’t want the illicit; we don’t want the counterfeit—we actually DO want the authentic and the good.

The problem is that goodness usually requires some up-front payment, whereas the illicit doesn’t charge us until a little later on—it’s like a quick and easy credit card transaction that satisfies today but makes us pay tomorrow. Goodness and beauty make us work for it on the front end, and if we aren’t willing to pay that price we’ll turn to lesser substitutes that can hurt us on the back side.

King David understood this. Throughout his life, he walked both paths: the illicit and legitimate, and his conclusion was clear. True satisfaction (the kind that lets you sleep at night and brings life to your soul) only comes from what is good. In fact, David said that when our desires touch God’s goodness it’s so satisfying that it’s almost like we start aging in reverse. He said that God “satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles” (Psalm 103:5).

Jesus agreed with David. He said the Kingdom of God—the reality of the goodness of life in God—was like a treasure buried in a field. It took some work and it cost a life to find it, but once found, it was worth every cent of payment.

The ministry of standing

When Nazi Germany bombed London in the direst moments of WWII, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would routinely climb onto a roof (or on top of his car if he was on the ground) to stand and watch the bombs fall. His defiant silhouette—no doubt replete with his famous Churchillian cigar—was a reminder to anyone who saw him that Great Britain was not defeated yet. His ministry of standing in the face of insurmountable odds injected the citizens of the British Isles with hope and won him the nickname “Lion.”

Did you know that’s your ministry too? Ephesians 6 tells us that there are moments in our lives when we’ve done everything that we know to do and all that remains is for us to climb onto a rooftop and take our stand.

Standing isn’t the most glamorous ministry you will ever have. It’s not the most enjoyable of assignments—indeed, we usually don’t engage in this task until most other options have failed us—however, there is something in the standing that releases the power of God.

And after you have done everything…stand.”

Are you standing today? Are you holding your ground despite overwhelming circumstances? Is your rooftop silhouette a silent reminder that you haven’t lost all faith and that the outcome of your battle is far from over?

History tells us that when England was standing America was stirring. Who knows what heavenly forces are stirring on your behalf as you continue to take your stand?

 

 

Angrier than we need to be

engine-lightAre you an angry person?

Amid all of the potential issues that we humans can grapple with, is anger near the top of your list? I certainly have my share of issues, but anger isn’t usually one of them. Overall I’m pretty patient and laid back—except for those times when merging drivers try to sneak past me on the freeway shoulder and then cut in front of me…or when drivers are driving too slow…or when today’s aggressive political culture starts infecting me…and then I realize that I’m not quite as anger-free as I like to think I am.

I’m actually quite a bit angrier than I usually admit. I’m angry about more things than I realize, and when I feel the angry I probably feel more of it than is warranted.

What should I do with my anger? What should you do with yours?

The Bible says, “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) so there is certainly a place for “righteous” anger, but how do I know if my anger is righteous or not? How do I know if my anger is justified or not? Anger isn’t something I choose to feel—it just emerges in me—so what do I do with it?

Perhaps a helpful metaphor could be the imagery of your car’s dashboard. Anger is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. The light itself is neither right nor wrong; it is simply an indicator of a deeper issue. Yes, your oil light may be blinking but the issue is not the light it’s the lack of oil in your car. So too with us, our emotions of anger are indicators of a deeper concern.

Perhaps we are reacting to injustice…perhaps we are defensive for another human being…perhaps a situation is being poorly or dangerously handled in front of us…or perhaps we are just being selfish, and we are angry at whatever is interrupting our way.

Our anger must be judged, that’s the first step to dealing with it appropriately. We need to identify whether the underlying issue is valid or not. Then based on our assessment—valid or invalid—we respond appropriately. Anger can guide us to justice and relational repair, or it can fuel selfish, self-destructive patterns. Let’s follow it to the deeper issues and then harness it for our good.

And while we’re at it, let’s please stop driving slower than the flow of traffic on the freeway!

Where your headquarters should be

fortressAt Grace Church we support a ministry called AIM (Agape International Missions), an organization devoted to abolishing sex trafficking in our generation. A number of years ago AIM shut down a horrifying brothel in Svay Pak, Cambodia where young, elementary age girls were employed as sex slaves. In the center of the brothel—the place where virgin girls were kept—there was a brightly painted room called The Pink Room. Through a series of powerful events AIM was able to shut down the brothel and tear apart The Pink Room, and today the former Pink Room is now a part of their ministerial headquarters!

Before King David could set up his headquarters in the city of Jerusalem he too had to drive out some enemy occupants. The Jebusites, entrenched in their Jerusalem stronghold, had defied Israel for many decades until David came along and dispossessed them (2 Samuel 5:7).

Often, strategic centers for mercy, truth, and justice have to be taken before they can be occupied.

I wonder where your headquarters needs to be established?

You might not need to convert a brothel or evict an army from a mountaintop, but you still need a place to set up shop. You need a command center, from which you will conduct your ministry to the world. Perhaps that place is a former stronghold in your life. Perhaps your ministry will flow from an area of former weakness.

  • If your marriage has suffered, perhaps it’s marriage ministry.
  • If you’ve struggled with dishonesty, perhaps it’s a new life of integrity.
  • If you’ve been addicted, perhaps you will bring freedom to others.
  • If you’ve floundered as a parent, maybe you’ll turn a fresh page.

Regardless of its nature, we all have areas in our character and our story that need to be renovated and re-purposed, and sometimes our internal strongholds are harder to defeat than external ones. The proverbs writer said, “He who rules his spirit (is better than) he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32 NASB).

Let’s add our story to that of AIM’s and King David’s…let’s be men and women who rule our spirits, capture our strongholds, and use those places as beachheads for the glory of God.