Judgment for Injustice

On Wednesday afternoon, I wept. Rarely do I cry when by myself – much less often than I probably should, particularly over my own sin. Yeah, I get emotional and shed tears sometimes when I preach and get passionate about God’s grace and forgiveness. When alone, though, I rarely get that way because, for whatever reason, the tears seem to come more when I am talking (or trying to talk) about something emotional.

On Wednesday, however, reality overwhelmed me. I have no idea what it feels like to be discriminated against. More importantly, I have no idea what it feels like to be choked to death. It sounds horrifying, though. It looks horrifying, as so many people learned like I did after the recent video of George Floyd’s murder. I saw the video Wednesday.

In February, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, and the men known to be responsible were not charged with anything for weeks, until the video of the shooting was released. How is that possible?

How is it possible that George Floyd was allowed to be murdered by one police officer while other officers stood by?

THE BLAME

Please realize – I cannot imagine how difficult it is to be a law enforcement officer. I know several law enforcement officers and know them to be great people and great officers. I am grateful for what they do to serve and protect our community. They have a job that is beyond difficult. What certainly should not be difficult, though, is getting your knee off a person’s neck when the person is hand-cuffed and no longer struggling, and you have back-up. Surely, of all the difficulties that come with being a police officer, that should not be one of them.

What brought me to tears (and continues to bring me to tears even as I write this), however, is not the blame I place on law enforcement. What about me? How much of what is wrong with this country and the continued racial divide is my fault? My sinful pride is just as disgusting and just as damning as that of a racist or a criminal or a murderer.

What is wrong with this country? What is wrong with this world? I am. Pride like my pride is what divides. Sin like my sin is what destroys.

I really want to point my finger at those who are at fault in our country and in our world. I want to yell and scream and cry out, “Injustice!” First, I must point that finger at myself.

Sure, I have had black friends for as long as I can remember. My wife and I have an Ethiopian daughter and a Chinese son, and while I have never seen myself as a racist, my prideful sin that has harbored bitterness and resentment against others is no less appalling.

I, too, am guilty, and until I come to grips with that and realize the horror of my own sin before God and before others and repent, then I can never help those around me make our community better.

THE SOLUTION

Change needs to happen. Things need to get better. Injustice needs to be addressed.

Our country has to be better than it was decades ago when it comes to racial equality, right? I do not know. Some things are obviously better, but then again, it does not seem to be any better than when I was a kid during the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles.

I wish I had the brilliant solution that would fix the racial divide and allow for conversations and actions that would facilitate good change. Although I am really not that smart, I hope I can at least play a role in that process, even if just among my own community.

Here is what I do know about the solution, though… The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that will solve our problems. The gospel is the only thing that will cleanse me of the guilt within and allow me to stop pointing the finger at myself and others. You see, the gospel allows me to point my finger at the cross because Jesus Christ took the judgment that I deserve. He died in my place for my sins. Then, He rose from the dead to win the victory over sin and death, so that everyone who turns to Him to forgiveness and eternal life will be made new. The gospel is a solution like no other because the gospel is the only solution that is eternal.

Whether you think you struggle with racism or not, would you look at yourself before looking at others? Whether you have contributed to injustice or not, would you recognize that you, too, are guilty? Whether you have experienced injustice or not, would you realize that no sin anyone commits against you is as bad as your sin (and my sin) that put Jesus on the cross?

Yes, black lives matter, and that is okay to say because it is true. Yes, blue lives matter, and that is okay to say because it is true. Yes, all lives matter, and that is okay to say because it is true. Remember, too, however, that we are all sinners, and the solution to our sin and brokenness is only found in and through Jesus Christ. Only He can change me, change you, and change our community for good.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series through the Old Testament book of Micah – Walk Humbly. How ironic (or not) that the first message, from Micah 1, will be on our need to “Recognize God’s Judgment.” Will we recognize the judgment we deserve? Will we recognize the judgment our nation deserves? Will I recognize the judgment I deserve? Will we recognize that the only solution to that judgment is Jesus?

Let’s trust God to change the world by changing us first. Check out The Story.

Spring Picture Highlights

Well, this has certainly been a unique spring season. While we obviously pray for a quick end to this pandemic, we praise God for the time we have been able to spend together as a family. He has been gracious to us, so we are grateful for His love and provision, our health, our family, our church family, and much more.

Here are some picture highlights from the past couple of months, followed by a video the kids did in reflecting on our adoption of Micah three years ago…

Covering the Smoke Doesn’t Save You from the Fire

My family loves bonfires, and we have really enjoyed them in recent days. Few things are more satisfying than sitting around a fire with people you love. I even love the smell of a good fire.

Interestingly, though, one thing I do not like is the smell of my clothes after I leave the fire. While the smell does not affect me during the fire, apart from a face full of smoke when the wind changes directions, the smell is less than pleasing afterward. In fact, the clothes you wore must be washed, or they will continue to stink.

Likewise, if you do not shower and wash your hair, you will continue to stink. Simply changing clothes only does so much. The smoke gets into your hair and skin, and while a clean set of clothes and some cologne will mask the smell for a while, that smoke smell eventually reappears.

In preparing for my Sunday morning message – “Living Difference” (Romans 13), I noticed a spiritual correlation with this idea of fire and smoke.

OFF AND ON

In the same way that simply ridding yourself of a smoke-absorbed coat will not permanently change your smell, simply ridding yourself of sinful habits will not permanently change your life. You must both put off and put on. “Discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). If you continue reading the passage, you will see what is to be discarded in verse 13 and what is to be put on in verse 14.

Put off sin and put on Christ. Flee from sin and follow Jesus. Run from evil and cling to what is good.

If I am somehow able to rid myself of a sinful habit but do not surrender myself to Jesus, then I will simply return to said-habit or replace it with another sinful habit. And, even if I do not return or replace it with another sinful habit, the smell of smoke is still there. The stain of sin is not yet washed away. The evidence of fire still exists.

ONLY ONE ANSWER

The only One who can rescue us from sin and deliver us from the eternal fire of death in hell is Jesus Christ our Lord. He died on the cross in our place for our sins, taking all the smoke of sin upon Himself. The wrath of God that we all deserve was poured out on Jesus. On the third day, though, Jesus rose from the dead to win the victory over sin and death. Now, everyone who turns away from sin and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness and new life receives both. The smoke is washed away, and the stain of sin is gone. Even though we are still sinners, it is as if we were perfect because we are counted righteous in Jesus Christ.

This only happens, though, when we are cleansed from our sins by trusting in Jesus. Then, He takes off the old and covers us with the new.

If I try to cover the smell of smoke on my own, I cannot save myself from the fire. But, if I ask Jesus to take away the smoke and make me clean, He does so in a way that is eternal.

Have you put off the old and put on the new? As we will discuss Sunday morning, Lord willing, the evidence will be not only in how you relate to God but also in how you relate to others, including the church and the government. Again, see Romans 13.

If you have not yet made the decision to surrender your life to Jesus, will you do so today? You can learn more HERE. Let us flee from immorality and follow Jesus with all our hearts!

Back-to-back fires (right above this past Saturday, followed by the top picture on Mother’s Day)

No Silly Barking

When my kids drive their remote-controlled car, our dog, Lottie, goes crazy. She chases and barks at the harmless toy as long as it moves. Never does she tired from such activity, even if it goes on for several minutes. These are just 24 seconds of evidence…

If we fail to have a gospel-centered perspective in our response to evil against us, we will be just like Lottie. We will bark and bark, and while the barking might make sense to those of us barking, it is ultimately ridiculous. Only the right perspective will allow us to see that, though.

GOSPEL PERSPECTIVE REQUIRED

When we only think about ourselves and our situation and our frustration, we will not respond to evil in a God-honoring way. On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Good” (Romans 12:17-21). In that message, I hope to communicate two gospel-centered responses to evil, challenging you to respond to evil based on God’s response to you.

The gospel does that for us, changing our perspective so that we do not respond to evil like barking dogs. Sure, there are times when barking is necessary, but how often do we bark when simply surrendering our cares to the Lord is required?

If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). If you surrender your life to Jesus Christ and ask Him to give you a new heart, He not only saves you for eternity; He changes you now. He begins a work in your heart that affects everything about you, including your response to evil. Living at peace with others because of the peace God has given you becomes a desire, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

BARKING OR PEACE?

How about you? Do you find yourself constantly barking, whether outwardly or inwardly, or are you experiencing a growing sense of peace – peace with God and peace with others? If you are struggling and really just want to bark, would you consider crying out to God for help instead? Only He can give you the peace that passes all understanding, and that peace will only come when you embrace the gospel and follow after Him.

Some day, if not sooner than later, we will see our barking for what it is – fruitless futility. Yes, we should pursue justice but not apart from the perspective that justice ultimately and perfectly belongs to the Lord. In that truth, we must have peace. Praise be to God!

Heartbroken but Hopeful

When considering what 12-year-old Wyatt Salmons and his family went through this past year, with Wyatt having lost his physical life last Friday, how can we understand such tragedies? How do I make sense of one of my son’s friends and classmates suffering and dying from a rare form of cancer?

To some extent, we simply cannot wrap our minds around things like this. We cannot fully comprehend or sufficiently explain tragedies. Rather, we are heartbroken and reminded of the brokenness of this world. Still, I believe we can experience hope in the midst of heartbreak. Specifically, I believe there are two ways that provide hope above all else.

1. HOPE FROM THE GOSPEL

Firstly and most importantly, we find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot fathom how people get through any sort of tragedy and suffering apart from the hope of the gospel. Before I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, I experienced far less tragic suffering in my life (as a child and young adult) than I have since then, and yet in the midst of those losses, I was far more discouraged.

I remember moments when I felt complete hopelessness and despair, and those moments were nothing compared to losing my young dad to cancer, for example. When my dad passed away in 2014, my heart was broken, and yet I never felt hopeless. I never felt despair. While I was grief-stricken and missed my dad (and still do), I had (and still do) a sense of hope and peace that I never understood before placing my saving faith in Jesus.

Please realize, this hopefulness is not because I figured things out and mastered some method of finding purpose and meaning. Rather, God changed my heart and life. My purpose and meaning are in Him, and because of the promise of what is to come, loss in this life cannot rob me of that hope. This is the reality for those who know and follow Jesus, as long as we keep our eyes on Him.

2. HOPE FROM ONE ANOTHER

One of the greatest blessings of coming to know and follow Jesus is being a part of His family. We say all the time with Richland, “Our church is our family.” God knows, of course, that we not only need Him; we need one another. For that reason, most of the commands in the New Testament are corporate commands – commands for the body of believers and not just for individual believers.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Unity” (Romans 12:15-16). Church family unity that is centered on the gospel is a unity that endures. And, part of that unity is our need to love and care for one another in the midst of suffering. We are not strong enough to endure tragedy on our own. We need God, and we need His church. The temptation for many when tragedy strikes is to withdraw, but withdrawal is the very thing we do not need. Instead, we need to comfort and/or be comforted. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). This is a corporate command for us because God knows best what we need.

If you have a personal relationship with Jesus, are you prioritizing your relationship with Him and your relationship with your local church? Are you prioritizing unity, not just for your sake but also for the sake of God’s glory and the good of others?

If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, I plead with you to turn to Him for the hope, peace, and salvation only He can give.

If you want to experience the hope and peace that endure forever, please check out The Story.

Your Principles Aren’t for You

Before I became a Christian, I can remember trying my best to be a “good person.” My primary motivation, though, was always how being “good” might benefit me. What could I get out of doing the right thing? Who might I impress? What might I receive in return?

Thanks to the way my parents raised me, I have always been a pretty “moral” person. Yes, I made (and continue to make) plenty of mistakes, sinning against God and against others. My morality has, for the most part, though, been good.

MORALITY IS INSUFFICIENT

Good morality is not enough, though. The first-century Jewish leaders were also seemingly moral people, but Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Their outward morality was not enough, and neither is ours. I was the epitome of hypocrisy as a teenager and as a young adult, usually saying the right things and trying to do the right things. My heart was not right with God, though. I was a “whitewashed tomb.”

PURPOSE AND MEANING

Praise God that He rescued me from my sins when I was 20 years old! He delivered me from slavery to sin and changed my heart. He delivered me from myself. While I am still far from perfect and need God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness every single day, I now see the purpose and meaning God has for my life. I recognize that the principles I live by are not for myself but for Him and for His kingdom.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “Living Ethics” from Romans 12:9-14. I hope to challenge those who attend our drive-in worship service (or watch online later) to be guided by biblical principles in such a way that others cannot deny the work of God in their hearts. How might we impact the world around us if this is the case?

As Romans 12 makes clear, the way we live our lives is not primarily for our own selves but rather for God’s glory and for the good of others.

Of course, that kind of purpose and perspective is not possible apart from a changed heart and a changed life. I know because I tried so hard to gain or earn or obtain that purpose as a young man. I tried so hard to be religious enough and moral enough to earn God’s favor. Again and again, I failed, though, because I am a sinner. God is perfect and none of us is. Yet, God loved us so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. Then, Jesus rose from the dead to win the victory over sin and death. Now, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Turn to Him if you have yet to do so, and you will experience the hope only He can offer.

If you already know and follow Jesus, though, how can you better depend on Him to guide your life in such a way that He gets the glory and others are blessed?

If you want purpose and meaning that will guide you now and forever, turn to the Lord today.

The Gospel Gives Perspective

One thing I never really understood when I played sports (like basketball) in high school, was when people would say something like, “Yeah, I quit because there was too much running.” In fact, not only did I not really understand such a statement, frankly, it annoyed me. What do you expect when you play sports?

Please understand – I am not saying that I necessarily enjoy running. For the most part, I do not. A proper perspective, though, helps me realize that running is necessary to be prepared. Running now will help me be better later. Running a lot in practice will make it more likely that we can win the game. Exercising during the week will help ensure that I can still beat my kids in basketball on the weekend (like in the above picture). 😉

More importantly, the gospel provides a proper perspective. In fact, if we trust and embrace the gospel, then we have the ultimate purpose for living and a continuous reason for enduring. The gospel changes things. Apart from the gospel, our religious efforts are dead and meaningless. Without the gospel, our supposed sacrifices are a stench to God.

Because of the gospel, though, we have perspective and purpose. God gave the ultimate sacrifice in and through His One and Only Son so that we can have not only eternal life, but also so that we can be a living sacrifice.

You see, when we are changed by God through the good news of the gospel, our very lives are changed. No longer are we content to go through the motions of religious exercise or do things our way. Instead, because of the Holy Spirit transforming our hearts, we desire to live our lives every day in a way that will honor and glorify God. This is not because we are better than anyone else but rather because we are made new.

Have you been made new? Do you have a perspective which, even in the midst of difficulty, allows you to experience hope, joy, and peace? If not, ask God for help. Ask Him to change your heart and change your life, as only He can. Furthermore, make sure you have people who are walking alongside you in this journey. We need God, and we need one another.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, our church will be hosting a drive-in worship service in our east parking lot. If you live in the area and do not have a church family, I hope you will join us. I plan to begin a new sermon series from Romans 12-13 on remembering the cross (and how the gospel changes our daily lives). Looking first at Romans 12:1-2, I want to challenge you – challenge us – to be a “Living Sacrifice.” We were made new for this.

If you long for the proper perspective and hope that only God can give, would you consider surrendering your life to Him? You can learn more by clicking the picture above.