Not too long ago I shared a link to an article that read Chuck Norris died. Immediately people jumped on this as fake news. Given the current environment we live in that is understandable. It is harder than ever to discern what is truth and fiction. However, in this case if people had clicked on the link they would have seen it was not fake news but a joke about the invincibility of Chuck.
When I posted the link I had no idea it would turn into a social experiment. Yet I found it enlightening. It teaches us what happens when we don’t take the time to educate ourselves. In Acts 17 we have this group of people known as the Bereans. Luke records when they received the message one of the first things they did was “examine the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” They eagerly received the message then looked to the scriptures to see for themselves.
Let’s apply this to our preferred method of applying the scriptures to our lives. We’ve reduced it to a passage here and passage there. We clip it out of context and apply it to our lives, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” we cry as we seek our personal best for whatever goal we’ve set for ourselves. While it is good to have our favorite passage memorized many times these are but headlines of the greater message in His word. When we take the time to read with a goal to understand His word we are better able to understand who God is, who we are, what he desires for our lives. Reading beyond the headlines helps us stand against fake news theology that perverts who God is. In reading beyond the headlines of His word we are better suited to minister to those around us.
Determine to be more than Headline Christians but engaged followers of Christ.
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
One of my favorite sections of the Appalachian Trail is known as the Triple Crown because of three majestic views; Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob, and Dragon Tooth. Of the three, the one that has always captivated me is one I first hiked about 20 years ago, McAfee Knob. It is considered the most photographed spot on the A.T.
Photos of my last trip there have been showing up in my Facebook memories the last few days. What a trip! The first night we camped just short of the Knob. That night we heard from north bounders the view was overrun with people. We had an inkling this might be the case when we drove by the parking area earlier in the day. But we had no idea what we were in for. We arrived the next morning to find a sea of people had already descended on the vista. We practically had to take a number to get a picture of the iconic image. My blood began to boil a wee bit. As we continued our hike we passed a wave of people hiking up the trail to this spot. My blood boiled a little more. These people were ruining it! Sipping McDonald’s, music blasting, and no understanding of trail etiquette how dare they invade this sacred spot!
Not too long ago I was researching kayaks and came across a site where a guy, I’ll call him an elitist, was railing against people in their $100 plastic Walmart canoes ruining the sport of kayaking. My thought was, “What a jerk!” He should appreciate more people are enjoying the sport he loves. It was as I was grumbling about the sea of people I was reminded of my reaction to his rant. I heard the still small voice of rebuke. “You’re being an elitist! These people are learning to appreciate what I have created.” The rebuke was well-timed and spot on. I needed it.
Sadly, I have seen and engaged in this attitude in the church. It is easy to have an elitist attitude towards others that don’t fit our preconceived ideal. People walk through the doors who don’t conform to our image and on some measure we balk. We’ll be polite but not embrace. We’ll say hello but not invest. This has never been the vision of Jesus when he saw people. We must endeavor to appreciate anyone our Savior appreciates. They walk through the doors longing to experience the God we love. Churched or unchurched (I loathe those terms) we should love.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
I am at times an elitist. Father forgive me. Elitism has no place in the heart of anyone who professes Christ as Lord. We embrace who He embraces.
We slowly drove past the little white country church with the red door, yep there it was, then kept driving. Pulling into the parking lot of the restaurant down the street I let out a heavy breath. I had to work up the nerve to go back. Turning the car around we pulled into the gravel parking lot of the church and sat silently for a few minutes before working up the nerve to get out. But here we were. Joy, Kaitlin, and I walked through the door to be met with stares and smiles. They had just been praying that the Lord would provide a pastor. Their current pastor was going to need surgery soon and wouldn’t be able to continue his duties.
We attended the church for about 6 months when I got the call. I remember vividly it was January 2007. We were walking the snowy roads of Gatlinburg when my phone rang. One of the elders in the church wanted to know if I could preach the upcoming Sunday. Nervously I said yes. But the reality was, no wasn’t an option. We knew this was God’s call on my life. We knew when we made that first drive to the church they were going to need a pastor. Yet until that time it was all potential. Now it was going to be a reality. It was time to get in the game.
Potential and calling are one thing, but they’re nothing if they’re never put into practice. To put it another way it means nothing if we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. It is crucial for the words to become flesh. So the real logical conclusion is there must be a practical, real life application of what we have learned and heard from God. There must be willing acceptance of what He is calling us to do. Anything less is disobedience.
This is really true in any area of life. Talking about it is one thing but it is totally irrelevant if we never actually do it. Additionally, something never done may lead to a lifetime of regret because of missed opportunity. That tentative walk through the red door has led to 14 years of ministry that I do not regret. (Most of the time) Don’t miss opportunities placed before you. Embracing opportunities, even if it is done with reluctance.
In 2014 the world was mesmerized by soccer’s World Cup. For the first time in my life I I sat down and actually watched some of the matches. Surprisingly, not being much of a soccer fan, I enjoyed it. The final match came down to Germany and Argentina with Germany prevailing. However if you lived in North Korea you would have been told a different story. There it was reported the brave North Korean team side crushed Japan 7-0, USA 4-0 and China 2-0 in the group stages, before going on to reach the final against Portugal. Of course North Korea beat them too. The reality is North Korea did not even qualify for the tournament. The leadership of North Korea knowingly suppressed and manufactured the truth.
In our internet age we’ve become quite good at manufacturing truth. With a simple tweak of a fact or elimination of a word we can take a truth and bend it to fit our need. In the process we’ve manufactured truth which isn’t really truth at all.
However, long before North Korea and the internet age became experts at manufacturing truth the god of this world, Satan, had perfected it. With a twist of a word he convinced Eve to take a bite. In the temptation story with a twist of meaning He tried to squeeze a half-truth out of scripture and lead our Lord astray. His goal has always been to suppress the truth that is evident all around us. Our call is to be the evidence of, and a witness to, the Truth that is Jesus Christ.
““For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20
Lord of the Harvest use us as a witness to the truth that we have come to know. Use us as a revelation of the Truth the enemy is trying to conceal so that those around us may have the scales removed from their eyes.
From the time I first became a follower of this Jesus guy I’ve heard the phrase, “Be in the world, but not of the world.” It’s a thought gained from some verses in the bible. Praying to the Father Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:15-16).
John notes, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (1John 2:15.)
Cool phrase and thought, but what does that look like? Do we completely tune out the things of this world and live in our own little Christian bubble? Absolutely not! That’d be impossible. For sure there are some things we know we need to let go of and avoid. For a quick hit list read Galatians 5:19. Paul mentions things like hatred, jealousy, drunkenness, and envy.
But what about things that aren’t necessarily sins? Is it okay to enjoy stuff like football, creating things with your hands, watching Netflix, or kids soccer games? Recently some friends went on a road trip to the races. I’ve recently learned it's something they are passionate about and have been for some time. However, now they have a child. When they posted pictures of the races I noticed there were more pictures of the child than of the races. Interestingly enough when there were pics of the cars it was less about the car and more about their child in the car!
For me this is a great illustration of "In, but not, of." They absolutely enjoyed the races but their primary focus was the child. You see, it is okay to enjoy the things of this world that aren’t sinful but the focus in all things we do must be Jesus. When I hike my focus from the beauty of creation to seeing His hand in the beauty of creation. It is a shift from time alone to time alone with Him.
We must measure our ‘in but not of’ life. It’s okay to be in the world but we must remember our first love.
Back in my BC days there were two things I liked to do. Find my way to the front row at a rock concert and gain access to off limits places to explore. At concerts it began with a study of the arena. Which seats are empty? Where is security stationed? Then after a few songs we’d begin to weave through the crowd. Scurrying through seats and jumping over the wall that separated the seats from the floor. Most of the times were met with success. Sometimes we would get caught and to rewind and try again. Another game Joy and I would play with our friends was to explore a city and try to make our way into off limits buildings or find doors that would give us access to the roof or upper levels. We find an old church and want to get in to admire its beauty and gain the view from the rooftop. Bottom line is we were trying to gain access to seats we didn’t pay for or locations only accessible to authorized personnel.
Growing up I said “God bless you’ when someone sneezed, prayed for the occasional meal, helped people when I could, and attended church on occasion. I knew who Jesus was and what He did. Even prayed to Him once in a while when I needed out of a jam. Surely when I surveyed my life I had done enough to satisfy entrance to heaven.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addresses guys like me. “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21) Jesus said one day people will tell him all the stuff they did in His name (7:22) and He say ‘Who are you?” (7:23).
You see, it’s not about the stuff we do, that’s easy. We can’t finagle our way by sneaking through a door of good works. The way is secure and accessible only through the work and person of Jesus Christ. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” He would tell His disciples “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
It’s about Him! He is the narrow gate (7:13) through which we gain access. It is His work, period!
In my younger days I spent some time living in an apartment complex just outside
Atlanta. At the center of the complex was a basketball court. When time permitted
and the court wasn’t being used I’d spend some time shooting hoops. Jump shots, foul
shots, three point shots, dribble shoot, baby hook, and fade away I did them all. Mostly
unsuccessfully, but I did them all. I wasn’t half bad, at least I thought to myself.
However, there was a group of guys who played there from time to time. THEY were
good. If I looked out the window and saw them on the court I didn’t venture that way. If I
was there and saw them coming, I was out of there.
One particular day I was on the court shooting away not paying attention to what was
going on around me. You can guess what happened, they guys showed up. And they were
a man short. I acquiesced to their request to participate. Man, those guys were good.
Conversely I learned how NOT good I was. But I stuck it out. I endured blocked shots
missed passes, steals, and losing my man. But I stuck it out. And I played with them
again and again. I learned playing with those guys improved my game significantly.
If you want to get better at whatever you are doing I’ve learned to find someone
better than you and work with them. I’ve learned don’t go it alone. It’s remarkable
how my stride count increases when someone is on the elliptical next to mine.
If you want to grow in relationship and knowledge of God, don’t go it alone. Show up
for church, connect with a small group, find someone to study with.
I think intimidation is ultimately fear of humility. It’s an unwillingness to want to put
ourselves out there and admit we don’t know what we don’t know or can’t do what we
want others think we can do. I’ve learned to surround myself with people with more
smarts and skill than I, even in my current profession. Doing so challenges me to up
my game and makes me better for it.
Bonus points if you know where the title originated.
This morning I began reading 1 Samuel as part of my devotions. I was struck by the
encounter Eli has with Hannah in chapter 1. Hannah is desperate for a child yet
remains barren. She is in the temple “praying in her heart, and her lips were moving
but her voice was not heard.” (1:13) Eli the priest misinterpreted what he saw. He she
said to her, ‘How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” (1:14). He
saw the headline and made a snap judgment. Fortunately for Eli, Hannah corrects him
and he is able to see the situation for what it really is. Through her correction he was
able to see beyond the headline.
It is easy to see someone and, based on outward appearance or behavior, make a snap
judgment. Unfortunately most of the time we do not put ourselves in a place to hear
the story behind the headline. There is always more to the story than the headline we
create; crackhead, idiot, punk, bum, etc. Our confirmation bias assesses, dismisses,
and walks away.
Before we dismiss based on the headline we create for someone perhaps it would be
good to see beyond the headline and realize that is a real person with real issues that
may need you to help rewrite the story of their lives.