How Far is Too Far?

The news headlines are littered with stories of celebrities of all stripes falling into moral failure. It’s not a new occurrence by any means, but the reaction to the news seems to be changing.

Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and raping a woman. As a result, he has been expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, been removed from the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, and all references to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The Cosby Show” have been removed from the Television Academy’s web site.

Tanya Harding pled guilty to a felony charge of hindering the prosecution in the attack against Nancy Kerrigan. The US Figure Skating Association stripped her of her 1994 National Championship and banned her for life from being an athlete or coach. However, they did NOT strip her of her 1991 national title.

Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle-area, was removed from his position after it was found he had been, among other things, abusing his power. As a result, his books were removed from Christian book stores and he lost his position in other ministries.

Pastor Bill Hybels was forced to retire early due to alleged misconduct that spans over 40 years. It is yet to be seen what the fall out will be.

Theological differences cause people to react as well.

Rob Bell wrote a book that argues for universal salvation. His books were removed from Lifeway Bookstores, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptists.

When Eugene Peterson made a statement that seemingly supported gay marriage. Lifeway threatened to remove his work, including his The Message paraphrase translation of the Bible. Peterson clarified his stance supporting traditional marriage, and all was forgiven.

My question, and I don’t know that I have a great answer for it, is where is the line?

If we look back at our national history, many of our Presidents have had some serious moral failures. FDR incarcerated Japanese-Americans and he refused to accept more Jewish refugees. Jefferson and Jackson defended slavery and were responsible for executions of Native American peoples. JFK was unfaithful to his wife. Yet all of these men did good for our nation. We celebrate them, we honor them.

So my question is simply, “How far is too far?”

Obviously, we hold those who claim to be moral leaders, such as clergy, to higher standards. If a person preaches about the sinfulness of adultery and then is found to be having affairs, his credibility is shattered. It’s hypocritical we say and we ban his books from our bookstores.

In theological differences we do the same thing – if someone becomes heretical in their teaching (by our standards), we tend to believe that all their previous teaching, not matter how on point or beneficial to us in the past, must be bad as well.

Where do we draw the line? When do we say that someone has gone too far or done too much to be remembered for anything other than their sins?

When Jesus was confronted with the woman who was found committing adultery in John 8, he told the crowd that whoever had never sinned could throw the first stone. Then the accusers slinked away, one by one.

The fact of the matter is that we are all sinful people, and if our whole life’s story was bared out before the world – our inner most thoughts scrawled across the pages of a magazine – we may not look so good either.

I am not saying that there should not be consequences for these men and women – there should be – no one should be given a free pass just because they can make us laugh, make a good product, or pass good legislation. There is no legitimate excuse for sinful behavior.

But before we join in on the stoning, we need to make sure that we remember that we, too, are sinners in need of a Savior. None of us is perfect, and we are all deserving of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.

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“Deliver us from Evil…” It doesn’t mean what you might think.

In the prayer Jesus gave to us to follow, he includes the line “and deliver us from evil.” I think many times we assume that this deliverance is going to passively come to us in the form of divine intervention – or at least that’s what we hope. I believe, however, that while that may be the case at part of the time, Jesus had something else in mind.

When we see evil addressed in Scripture, it is often in the context of some sort of battle. There’s a war between good and evil happening all around us. If you need evidence of this, simply turn on the evening news. Ultimately Jesus defeated evil on the cross. There will be a day when Jesus will return and set things right – goodness and peace will reign. In the meantime, however, we are living in a time when evil is thriving. I believe that when Jesus tells us to pray “deliver us from evil,” he is saying that he will be with us in this evil time, but we are not to sit idly by – we are to act.

In Matthew 16:18 (ESV), Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The gates of any wall are meant to be a defensive advantage. You don’t charge the enemy with gates leading the way. That means that when Jesus is saying that the gates of hell shall not prevail, he is envisioning a charge let by His Church, against the gates of hell – against evil. The church is not supposed to lock our doors, hide behind our gates, and simply wait for Jesus to return. Quite the contrary! We are to be out in the world attacking and denouncing evil and injustice everywhere we see it. When Jesus says to pray that God will deliver us from evil, he’s telling us that in our forward-moving attack positions, we ask God to give us the victory over oppression, tyranny, bigotry, and evil in all forms.

As the Church we are God’s agents of love and grace in the world. As such we cannot simply wait for Jesus to return and do nothing in the meantime – we must act. We must have compassion for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the persecuted, the marginalized, the weary. But compassion is more than a feeling. Compassion without action is only pity.

Pity is a feeling that one has about the plight of someone else. But God calls us to have more than a feeling – he calls us to act. Micah 6:8 (NLT) say that we are “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (our) God.” Those are ACTION words!

Following Christ is not only about believing the right things, it is also about doing the right things. The right things are not always easy to do, and they often require sacrifice. But as we attack the gates of hell by doing the right things, we pray that the Father will deliver us to victory in battle. Christianity is not a spectator sport – it requires action. Look around your world, see where evil seems to have the upper hand, and then pray that God will give you the strength to conquer it in the name of Jesus.

Doubting Jesus? Even some Disciples…

The Great Commission in the book of Matthew is one of the most well known and most-preached sections of the Bible. It gives us our marching orders; Jesus tells us what we are to do with our lives: make disciples of all nations. That seems like an overwhelming task! Thankfully, Jesus says that he will never leave us as we do this.

When studying the Great Commission, however, I like to start a few verses prior to verse 18, the traditional beginning of the passage.

“Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!” – Matthew 28:16-17 (NLT)

When Jesus rose from the dead, there was much doubt amongst the people. After all, who rises from the dead? What’s fascinating to me is that even among the disciples there was doubt. Even among those who followed Jesus closely for the three years of his ministry had doubts about Jesus and his resurrection.

If the disciples, who now are seeing Jesus face-to-face, had doubts about Jesus and his claims, how much more can we expect people today (including those in the church) to have doubts about Jesus?

When people think of doubt, they often link it to a lack of faith. But in fact, the definition of doubt is to feel unconvinced or uncertain about something. So, is it necessary for followers of Christ to be completely doubt-free? I don’t think so.

When Thomas doubted Jesus, did Jesus rebuke him? No! He gave him evidence so that he might believe. I believe God still works that way today.

When we have doubt, it shows that we are thinking critically about things. It shows that we are not blindly following. So instead of hiding out doubt, we ought to use that doubt to motivate us toward researching our faith and getting to know more about it, thereby getting to know more about Jesus.

There are certain things that we are guaranteed as followers of Christ, and things we need not doubt. One is our salvation. We can have assurance of our salvation. If we have placed our faith and trust in Christ, we can be assured that Jesus will not leave us. 1 John 5:13 says “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Our eternal destiny is not something that we need to wonder about – the Bible is written to give us assurance.

But what about our other doubts? I would argue that the best way to deal with your doubts is to share them with other followers of Christ. We have been united in a community of faith, and we are to help one another learn and grow in the faith. One way we do that is by being honest with others about what we’re struggling with. Sharing your doubt is not a sign of weakness – rather, it shows that you are always learning and thinking and willing to admit that you may not have all the answers.

One author who does a phenomenal job answering doubts is Lee Strobel. He has written a number of books, beginning with The Case for Christ. Strobel started as an atheist who set out to discredit Christianity. As he studied the facts, however, he became convinced of the truth of the gospel and gave his life to Christ. As a result, he has shared his story and evidence with millions, and has helped many people overcome their doubts.

So today, if you have doubts, don’t worry – you are in good company. Share your doubts with other followers of Christ and lean on each other during these seasons. Don’t silently suffer and allow your doubt to eat away at you and your relationship with God. Think of your doubt as a gift from God, inviting you to know him more and more. Doubt is only wrong if you don’t allow it to motivate you to action.

 

7 Things YOU Can Do this Easter to Help Guests Feel Welcome

Easter is Sunday! Are you ready?

This Sunday is Easter, and Easter is traditionally one of our largest attended services of the year. Here are 7 things that EVERYONE can do to help make this Sunday a grand success.

1. Please use the invite cards to invite the people you have been praying for. If you need additional cards, let me know and we will get you what we can.

2. Invite people even if they weren’t on your original list! The Easter Egg Hunt after the service is a big draw for families. Use social media to spread the word!

3. Continue to pray! Pray for those you are inviting, pray for those that others are inviting, and pray for those who may come in without a specific invitation – maybe they will read our newspaper articles or received a door hanger this past Sunday.

4. Be a one-time member of the First Impressions Team on Sunday. We need EVERYONE to help focus on the first time guests this Sunday. Think about their situation – first time in a new church – how would you want to be treated? Let’s forgo some of our usual fellowship to really make sure that guests feel welcome. Ask them about themselves. Tell them why you attend HCC! Do this both before and after the service.

5. Stay for the Egg Hunt, and cross the street! The families that come will no doubt stay for the egg hunt across the street. While the kids are hunting, the parents are often left standing alone. We need YOU to help them feel welcome and help them make connections. It will also be a great time for you to check out our remodeled Children’s Church room!

6. Be a one-time member of the outside greeting team! For Easter only (at this time) we would like to have 3 people outside to welcome and direct new families. There will be a person in each parking lot and one on Marshall. The purpose of these outside greeters is just to give a friendly smile/wave to people, and to let people know that we care about their experience from the moment they arrive, not just once they step in the door.

Finally,

7. Be ready to give up your seat. When you see people coming into the auditorium on Sunday, think about where they want to sit. Most guests want to sit near the back and on the aisles. If those are your traditional seats, consider moving around a bit. Also take note of empty seats between you. If there’s not room for the family that just walked in, YOU be the person to move so that they can sit down together.

Easter Sunday is not about Hays Christian Church. It’s about something much bigger and more important: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. What you and I do on Sunday, however, may have a direct impact on whether or not a person is open to hearing the message of the gospel. If they have a terrible time finding a seat, if no one talks to them, if the church is dirty, or any number of other things, that can turn them off to hearing about what we’re all there for. Don’t underestimate your ability to point people to the Savior this Sunday!

Thank you for being an important part of our Hays Christian Church family! I look forward to seeing you and all of the first time guests this Sunday!

Doubting Thomas…Not so Different

How do you know when something is true? Do you base your decision on facts? Do you base your decision on your own experience? How about your feelings?

The fact is, most of us, though we say we base things on fact, lean more on our own experience and feelings than we’d like to admit.

In our passage, Thomas, faced with the facts – 10 other witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection – didn’t believe them. He based his decision on his own experience that people don’t rise from the dead. The people he had seen who had died, had all stayed dead. Though he was facing the eye-witness testimony of his trusted friends and companions, he still doubted.

I think that most of us, if faced with the same situation, would have been with Thomas as opposed to the other disciples. I know we don’t like to think that, but in reality, we would probably have doubted as well.

Even today we face myriad of facts and theories and evidence that attempts to refute the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Books have been written, speaking engagements have been booked, all claiming that Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax or just a fable.

I’m not going to get into refuting some of those theories right now, but I would encourage you to check out any of “The Case for …” books by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist who set out to disprove Christianity. Instead, he found that the evidence points to what the Bible teaches.

Thomas was a man who had lived with Jesus for three years, studying him, listening to him, loving him. Yet when it came time for him to believe what had happened he doubted. If you have doubts today about your faith or your future, Thomas would make a good companion for you. His example, and the way Jesus spoke with him, set the stage for how we should combat our own fears and doubts.

First, Thomas was open and honest about his doubt. The first thing we must do if we are ever going to get the answers for the questions we seek is to be honest about having the questions in the first place. God can handle the questions that we have. In fact, he wants us to ask the questions and find the answer. And that leads us into the second thing to note.

Second, Jesus never rebukes Thomas for doubting. Instead of yelling at him and telling him he should have believed, we see Jesus calmly and lovingly showing him the evidence he needs. God doesn’t want you to hide your doubt, he wants you to express it so that he can help you overcome it.

When you have doubts about the faith, it is important to share those with a trusted Christian leader who can help you find the answers that you seek. Certainly there are always going to be questions we can’t answer, but there are many answers found in Scripture that can help us through our periods of doubt.

When you face doubt, know that you are not alone. God will never leave you or turn his back on you because you have questions and doubt. In fact, some of the greatest understandings about God you have may come directly from the period of doubt you’re currently in.

Don’t be afraid of your doubt, but don’t stop in that doubt. Work through it so that God can show you the wonderful truth of him and his word.

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

– John 20:24-29 (MSG)

Politics vs. Jesus and the Poor

I’ve got a friend who regularly says, “Don’t mix politics with church.” To a certain extent, I agree, but I don’t go as far as my friend. What do I mean? I’ll try to explain.

The Church is a place to focus on the spiritual realities of our world. That means we are concerned with people’s souls and eternal destinies. That part, I believe, we can all agree with. However, our calling as Christ-followers doesn’t end with that.

If we look to Jesus, we can see example after example where he took loving action for the sake of the poor, bruised, and hurting. He took the plight of the disenfranchised people in society and did something about it. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He associated closely with women and lepers. He broke sacred laws in order to serve a higher purpose; namely, to love others.

In addition to his example, Jesus teaches over and over that we should care for the poor. He doesn’t simply leave his actions and example open to interpretation – he explicitly states that we must care for the poor and those in need. He goes so far as to say that the greatest commandment, after loving God, is loving others.

If a person claims to be a follower of Christ, then a hallmark of that person must be that he or she cares for the poor and needy in some way. There’s no question about that. It is a clear command of Christ.

The problem, of course, begins when we talk about how to specifically live out that commandment. And that’s where politics enters into the discussion. Unfortunately, it has come to a point in American politics where fulfilling Jesus’ command to care for those in need has become a political issue. It has become a point of contention for many debates, and it has even been used as a litmus test to see if a person is a “true” Republican or Democrat.

The problem really stems from the fact that we disagree on who is truly in need, and we disagree about whose responsibility it is to pay for the assistance. Many Republicans seem to think that the welfare rolls are filled with people who could work, but are abusing the system, just living off the backs of the hard-working people of our country. In depth research seems to indicate that while some of that is going on, the most frequent cases of fraud tend to be at the administration level, not the recipient level.

Yes, there are going to be people who abuse the system. That’s just the way it is. We can and should seek to stop that abuse. However, that does not give us an excuse to just write off anyone who receives assistance as a mooch or parasite sucking our resources dry. There are people working a job, sometimes multiple jobs, still unable to afford basic necessities for their families. And there are people who are unable to work due to disability or mental illness. We simply cannot write off programs that help these people because of the abuse of some.

Jesus did not give us a list of qualifiers for helping those in need. He didn’t say, “Help the poor only if they can meet the following requirements…” He simply said, “Help the poor.” When we seek to politicize the helping of those in need, we negate the words of Jesus for our own benefit.

Just to be totally transparent, I am a registered Republican. There are many things I love about the Republican party. Our recent history of politicizing and cutting aid to the poor, however, makes me angry. To me, it’s not just a political issue – it’s a Christian issue. Do we follow Jesus or not?

So do politics belong with religion and in the church? No, in the case of specifically preaching for or against a party or person, but yes, when we face issues that Jesus speaks about, such as helping the poor.

Our faith is not just one segment of our lives; it is to permeate our entire being. It should influence each and every decision we make – because Jesus lays claim to our whole heart, not just a part. If you call yourself a follower of Christ, as I do, then I encourage you to consider Jesus’ mandate to help the poor. Are we doing enough? Where can we do better? Do the policies of our elected leaders match Jesus’ high priority of helping the poor? If not, then we have a moral obligation to do something about it. What will you do?

 

Guardians of Fatherhood

Fatherhood. It’s an issue that touches us all. No matter who we are, or how we were raised, we all have a father. Some fathers are absent; some are unknown; some are present; some are loving.

This past weekend my son and I saw “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two,” and I was surprised to the find the theme of fatherhood featured so prominently in a major superhero movie.

The main character, Star-Lord, was taken from Earth after his mother passed away from brain cancer. He was raised by a thief, Yondu. Yondu took Star-Lord in and raised him. Yet Star-Lord (real name Peter Quill) always wondered who his father was. He wondered how his father could have deserted his mother and him, and why he never came to find him after his mother passed away.

In the film, Peter does find out who his father is. They meet and, at least initially, have the reunion that Peter always wanted. Without giving too much away, the dream is almost always better than the reality.

Peter realizes that though he now knows his biological father, his true father was the man who raised him. It takes a tragedy for Yondu and Peter to admit their bond of love, but Peter soon realizes that he has had a father all along in Yondu.

What we see depicted in this movie reminds me of something that I saw hanging on the wall of my own dad’s office: “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.”

Our father is dictated by biology – our daddy is the man who loves us and shows care and compassion for us. Our daddy is the one who stands by us when things get tough. Our daddy is the one who will lay down his life for us.

I was blessed to have a daddy like that; a man full of faith who would sacrifice for me, love me, and mold me into a man of God.

Some people, unfortunately, never find a daddy. There are no men in their lives who will stand up for them, love them, or sacrifice for them. For those individuals, the only daddy they may ever know is the Abba Father, God himself.

When Jesus taught us to pray, he tells us to pray, “Abba.” Abba is an affectionate word, sometimes translated “daddy.” Jesus teaches us that while our situation on earth may not be ideal, our Daddy in heaven is always with us, loving us, and ultimately willing to sacrifice for us.

Our Heavenly Daddy sent his own Son to die in our place, so that we can be with our Daddy for all eternity. It was the ultimate sacrifice made for us, regardless of who we are or what we have done. His sacrifice, and the obedience of Jesus on the cross, is what opens the door for us to experience true love and acceptance.

No matter what your life experience, know that there is a Daddy who knows you by name, who loves you, and who wants to connect with you on a personal level. Call out to him and experience the true love that only a Daddy can bring.