Before The Light Fades

As my wife and I were finishing up our weekly shopping, the cashier commented on the large number of Cup-o-Soups and other easily prepared meals that we had in our cart.  Jackie explained to her that our church fills back packs each week to send home with 30 needy children in our community.  All of those items were being purchased to give away.

Jackie and the cashier entered into a conversation about the living conditions and life circumstances that many people in our area face each day.  For many children in west Georgia, the free breakfast and lunch that they receive at school are the best meals that they have all week.  Many of the children that we assist take their back packs home each week and share the little that we give them with the rest of their family.

As we were preparing to leave, the cashier looked at us and said ‘I think that a lot of those people just have their priorities in the wrong place’.  In other words, they have the money, but they don’t spend it wisely.

Her parting comment has been weighing on my mind.  It is so easy to look for fault instead of offering help.  In the end, I think that we are looking for a way to justify our lack of action.  But it’s a fair question…whose fault is it that they are hungry?

In the 9th chapter of John, the disciples of Jesus had a similar question for their Rabbi.  Upon seeing a blind man, they asked Jesus ‘Why was this man born blind?  Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’

Can you hear the accusation in their voices?  Hey Jesus, whose fault is it that he can’t see?  Is it something that he did?  Maybe something his parent’s did? Who is to blame?  It’s easy to hear them today…Hey Jesus, whose fault is it that he doesn’t have any food to eat?  Is it something he did? Or are his parents just wasting their money on beer and cigarettes?  Whose fault is it Jesus?

It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
John 9:3‭-‬5 NLT

Jesus simply says ‘Neither’.  It happened so that the power of God could be seen in him.  When we give of our supply to help others, we are showing them the love that God has for them.  When we allow blessings to pass through us, we are revealing the power of God in the world.  We are being good sons and daughters.

And we too must act quickly.  There is a brief period of time in the life of a child where their innocence and sense of wonder are still intact.  Everything in the world is working right now to destroy their hope and belief.  Your sharing the love of Jesus through a meal, or mentoring, or countless other ways may be the act that opens their spiritual eyes and alters their life forever.

Make a difference in a life today.  Not because they deserve it.  And not because you ‘have to’.

Do it because the light is fading.

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Is Faith > Party?

Over the last few months, God has been turning my theology upside down.  He has transformed my world view more in this short period of time than at any other time in my life.  The way that I view God, the world, and especially the way that I view myself in the world, has completely changed.  Like many changes, it took a crisis to bring this about.  God had to take me to some places that I had never been before to show me some things that I had never seen before.  Perhaps I will be able to share more about that adventure someday, but it’s not truly my story to tell, so it will have to wait…

The scripture that has been my undoing is very familiar if you have been in church for any time at all.  It is Matthew 25, beginning at verse 31, where Jesus describes the judgement day.  He begins by separating all people into 2 groups, which he compares to sheep and goats.  He then welcomes the sheep into his kingdom, and bases his decision on this:  that they had fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, gave him a place to stay when he was a stranger, clothed him when he was naked, and visited him when he was sick or in prison.

Puzzled by this, the sheep ask when they did these things.  He replies that anytime that you did it to the least of these, you did it to me (Jesus).

Jesus then turns to the goats and sends them away to destruction.  As his reasoning he states that it is because they didn’t feed him when he was hungry, or give him drink when he was thirsty, or give him a place to stay when he was a stranger, or clothe him when he was naked, or visit him when he was sick or in prison.

As they were also puzzled by this, they asked when did they ever not do these things to Jesus?  He responds that anytime you didn’t do it to one of these, you didn’t do it to me.

Jesus very plainly makes the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger (that’s immigrants to you & me), the naked (or poor), the sick, and the prisoner a priority, and our treatment of them is at least a sign of how we are serving the one whose name we bear.  He does not mention how they came to be hungry, or immigrants, or sick, or prisoners…he simply tells us what he expects our actions to be towards them.  We must offer aid.

They must be a priority to us because they are a priority to God.

Which brings me to my point.

For 47 years, the reality of my American Christian life has been that I have allowed my political views to inform my religion.  In other words, my identity as a conservative Republican dictated my views towards poverty, immigration, crime, and other social issues.  I was perfectly content quoting scripture such as “the poor you will always have with you”, or “if you don’t work, you don’t eat”, and going about my life.  It seemed ‘right’  to somewhat blindly follow those who were talking about ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘the rule of law’.

Over the past few months, God has been showing me that my blind allegiance was not only wrong.  It was sinful.  My toleration of actions which conflicted the truth of my faith was sinful.  My faith must be greater than my political party ideology.  My faith must inform my political views.  I am a Christian, and everything in life must be filtered through that identity.

I think that it is profound that Jesus specifically says ONE when talking to the goats.  He doesn’t require us to solve all of the world’s problems, because there will always be poor among us.  But he does expect us to be the solution for one.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t believe that there is a political party in America that Jesus would embrace.  They are both flawed, and they both carry water for lobbyists whose interests are anything but biblical.  I hope that over the course of time, the true Church will work to change this.  I intend to use the power of the pen, and the ballot, to hold leaders accountable for their actions that reveal a compromise of their stated faith.

It’s easy to fall into the game of pointing fingers at the Democrats or the Republicans, but Jesus doesn’t divide the sheep and goats based on how they hold their leaders accountable.  He says that he will hold us accountable, as individuals.  I want for my life to be about responding to the call to bring eternal faith, hope, and love, and necessities of life, to the least of these.  Even when the cost of bringing it is mine to bear.

When I was in school, I loved it when the teacher would give us the actual test to study and review before we took the test.  We knew exactly what we would be asked and could be ready on test day.  It seems that Jesus has done that for us in Matthew 25.

I have a note on my desk to remind me to be preparing for the final exam every day.  It simply says…

What are you doing for…

The Hungry

The Thirsty

The Immigrant

The Poor

The Sick

The Prisoner

Jesus?

Looking Out For The ‘Little Ones’

See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 18:10, Jesus.

There is no question that children are important to God.  He is aware of what happens to them and those who oversee them always have an audience with God.  Always.  Jesus goes on to say that for the one who causes a child to sin, it would be better that they tie a rock around their necks and be thrown into the sea than to face the judgement of the one who sees all.

My heart aches for what may happen in Alabama tomorrow, as voters go to the polls to elect their next Senator.  Many pastors and evangelical leaders have chosen to endorse Roy Moore, despite multiple allegations of sexual abuse and assault from girls as young as 14.  The state and national arms of the Republican Party have both endorsed him as a candidate.  And our president, who has fully endorsed him, has gone so far as to in effect say that whatever he is, at least he is not a liberal.  Moore has denied all allegations.  For his part, he has spent most of his public life being held up as a defender of the faith and the rights of Christians.

For far too long, we Christians have been complicit in allowing the label of Christian to be used by those in power to further their own agendas.  We have allowed political parties and our culture to inform our faith.  This should not be so!  We must instead allow our faith to inform and direct our decisions about leaders and policies, regardless of political party.

The Republican party is not the Christian party.  Neither is the Democratic party the party of Believers.  We must show the powers of this world that we do not support their agendas and that we demand better from those who desire to lead us.

The hypocrisy of this age can not be overlooked.  At a point in time where many who would call themselves Christian conservatives are clamoring for the removal of Democratic Senators and Representatives because of alleged sexual abuses, some of those same Christian conservatives are preparing to elect a Senator who has been accused of many sexual abuses himself.

For the record, I would have labeled myself as a Christian conservative.  With only 2 exceptions, Clinton in 1992 and Perot in 1996, I have voted Republican in every election for the past 30 years.    I must confess that I bought into the belief that a conservative is better than a liberal ‘no matter what’ and helped elect our current president.  A decision that I now deeply regret.

I encourage my brothers and sisters across the state line to prayerfully consider what God would have them do tomorrow.  God is not for the Democrats or the Republicans.  God is for God.  God is for the little children.

And don’t be fooled into believing that you have to choose the lesser of two evils.  God sees into the heart of each voter and considers their motivations and actions.  We are all viewed and judged before God as individuals.

If you can’t bring yourself to vote for a Democrat, then may I suggest that you do as Alabama’s other Senator did, Republican Richard Shelby, and write-in the name of a different Republican, because as he said, ‘Alabama deserves better’ than Roy Moore.

As for myself, I will be fasting and praying today that God be glorified through the decision that you make.

It’s Just the Right Thing To Do

Webster’s dictionary defines ‘obey’ as “to comply, to submit to the authority of.”

Anytime that we obey, there is a price to be paid.  At the very least, we have to submit to the authority of the one that we are obeying.  The price that we pay is our independence.  When we agree with the one that we are obeying, we may not recognize that we are actually submitting our independence in the process.

However, if we disagree with the command, the price is even higher.  We are still required to lay down our independence.  We are also required to lay down our preferences, choices (to do or not to do), and desires.  Especially when we are being stretched or pruned, we may be required to comply with something that seems wholly foreign to our natural self.

Every time that we obey, it should strengthen us and help us to be obedient in more difficult situations.  Unfortunately, there are many times that we miss these opportunities for growth because we forget the ‘why’ behind our obedience.

When we share out of our abundance with others…or when we allow someone else to go before us…or when we choose to forgive someone who has offended us, we often say,

“It was just the right thing to do.”

Our actions are exactly right.  We are obedient to the commands of Abba, but we have forgotten that our motivation for doing all of these things is obedience to Abba.

We run into difficulty when we are forced to choose between obedience to Abba and our own desires. When we simply don’t want to obey.  For those who have made a life-style out of choosing disobedience, through destructive addictions and habits, this can be particularly difficult.

In my own life, I chose self-satisfaction over obedience to Abba so consistently, that even when I wanted to change, it was just too difficult to ‘Just Say No’ to me.  My breakthrough came when I began to choose obedience, intentional obedience, in the little things.  Eventually, as my love for Abba and awareness of his goodness and grace in my life grew, I was strengthened to say no to behaviors that were destructive to me.

Proverbs 3:6 tells us “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV)  The power in this verse is in the word ‘ALL’.  When we make it a habit of acknowledging our obedience to Abba, especially in the things that we do that just seem ‘right’, we will have greater ability to say ‘no’ to the big things that come along to derail us.

A friend once told me that he prays before leaving work to get lunch each day.  He acknowledges Abba’s control of his life, and seeks His plan for that day.  My friend doesn’t want his personal hunger to get in the way of a divine encounter that Abba has planned for him somewhere else.

Acknowledge Abba in the everyday choices of life – the ones don’t seem to matter – and you will have greater strength to acknowledge Abba in the situations that repeatedly destroy your confidence and faith.