Just Say No!

…or why we shouldn’t get in bed with the government.

During his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast President Trump stated that he was going to end the Johnson Amendment. An aspect of this amendment, in a nut shell, prohibits pastors from campaigning from the pulpit and funneling campaign contributions from churches (a term inclusive of houses of worship) to politicians. These prohibitions allow for churches to be tax exempt and allows for religious leaders other tax benefits (minister’s housing allowance, etc…).

As a pastor, I am deeply concerned by talk of over-turning this amendment.

From the founding of this country, Christians have been deeply concerned for the separation of Church and State. It was the Christians who demanded that this be part of the who we are as a nation. Why? Because the memories of the Crown seeking to control the Church were still all too fresh in the minds of many. The Establishment Clause is critically important to life and well-being of the Church in the United States.

The over-turning of the Johnson Amendment would not increase freedom of religion but would move us down a path of eroding the religious freedom that we deeply cherish in our country. It opens the door for the fox to enter the hen house. More than ever the Church needs to be able to stand as an independent voice speaking truth to power.

Repealing the Johnson Amendment would open the door for the Church to be bought by the powerful. The ability for the Church to be the prophetic voice challenging the power of our nation could be swayed by promises of power or financial gain.

Throughout history the people of God have had the greatest influence when their power has not come from the State but from the masses. The erosion of influence and of faithful integrity has followed closely behind the Church receiving “official” power.

The separation of Church and State must remain strong. Perhaps more now than at any other time in the history of our country.

I turn as I often do when these kinds of matters come before us to 1 Samuel 8. In my mind this is one of the most significant turning points in the history of the people of God. We must be reminded again that there are consequences for looking to the State for power and influence. God’s words to Samuel are instructive to us today. May we never forget…

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.” (1 Samuel 8:4–22, ESV)

Just Say No! was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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It’s Just Too Easy

Photo by Jimi Filipovski

Sometimes we think we live a new and unique in human history. It turns out that just isn’t the case. People, it turns out, are people. You, me, and the guy down the street, we are just like the people who have come before us. I know that might be a surprise but it is what it is. Truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

In Psalm 73 we run across an amazing confession. One that hit home with me. Check this out…

A Psalm of Asaph.

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73, ESV)

I know that I can identify with the psalmist, can you? “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

There is so much painful truth in those lines. They expose so many our hearts. The sin that is knocking on the door. We look around at the world and see the “prosperity of the wicked” and wonder why am I seeking to do what is right? They get it all. There is no consequence for their actions. The big house, the fancy cars, the money, the fame, it’s all theirs for the taking.

Yet, here am I, trying to honor God with my life. Seeking to do what is right and I have none of those things. The thought has run through my mind more than once, “if only…” As the psalmist says, “my steps had nearly slipped.”

Our culture loves the anti-hero. We have embraced the bad guy and made him into the hero. Why? Because we look around and see that the bad guys seem to have it all. They have what we want. The desires for wealth and fame can be overwhelming at times.

The thing is, they start with something simple. I want a new computer. I want new car. I want the newest TV. I want the next tier of entertainment service. I want a seat at the table of power. The wants become unmet desires and then we begin to lust for them. Desperation builds and then we have a choice.

Thus far, by God’s grace, my response has been,

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

I pray it will be yours as well and the God would continue to grant grace to us to be people of integrity.

It’s Just Too Easy was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Freedom, Law, Grace, and Love

Photo by Axel Antas-Bergkvist

There are few words that I love more in the Scriptures than “freedom.” I think it is one of those words that really sets Christianity apart from other religions. Many people say that all religion is the same, it’s all about the golden rule, “Do unto others as you’d have them do to you.” But that’s not really the case. The religions of the world are all very different from one another. Each has their beauty, but they are not simply the same.

Consider Galatians 5 for a moment,

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:1–6, ESV)

Whenever I read this passage I am blown away. I am left in wide eyed wonder at the gospel. To follow Jesus is to be freed from seeking a self-justification.

First, Paul has jokes. He plays on the issue of circumcision by saying that a Gentile convert who get circumcised is, “Severed from Christ.” Paul’s being funny. He’s dropping one liners like Kevin Hart.

He’s also very serious though.

Those who seek to follow Christ cannot do so by following rules or traditions or law. To follow Christ all that matters all that counts is “faith working through love.”

When we seek to justify ourselves by the law we have “fallen away from grace.” We are no long free but we are submitting ourselves again to “slavery.” The way of Jesus is the way of freedom by grace through faith.

This is the beauty of the Christian life. Grace and faith re-shape us and free us to live lives of integrity and goodness. Elsewhere, Paul talks about the importance of the law and that its demands lead us to repentance. Yet, in that we are freed from the condemnation of the same law because in Christ there is grace. Justification comes as a result of Christ’s faithfulness to the law.

Grace, faith, and freedom must shape all of who we are. I think that David Fitch says it well in regards to the issue of abortion consider what he says and how it applies to living in freedom:

We cannot be redeemed by the law. We are redeemed by grace through faith. This reality must play out in our personal lives and also how we seek to engage the world around us.

The beauty of Christianity is the radical call to freedom because all that counts is “faith working through love.”

Freedom, Law, Grace, and Love was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

If Only…

Photo by Robert Crawford

I don’t know how many conversations I have had with folks about Jesus. Too many to count, after all, I am a pastor. Many of them with people who don’t follow Jesus say, “If God is real he would just do something miraculous and prove himself. Why doesn’t he just do that?”

Even Jesus had to answer this question. In Mark 8 we find this little interaction with the religious leaders of his day:

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. (Mark 8:11–13, ESV)

Can’t you almost picture it? I think Jesus probably does something like this:

Now, I know that might feel a little sacrilegious, but can’t you almost hear Jesus’ eyes rolling? This interaction came following the feeding of four thousand men (probably triple that number in reality when you count women and children). He had seven loaves of bread and fed the crowd and had a leftovers enough to fill seven baskets. That’s a heck of a sign. He had already performed many healings too. At what point would they be satisfied?

The question for us is, “At what point will I be satisfied?” We have the Scriptures and the accounts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. We have the history of the Church. It has been marked by people experiencing encounters with Jesus.

What more do we want?

I am reminded of a joke that is often told. A man living in a particular town sees rain coming down at a tremendous clip. There is news of serious flooding in his area. His neighbor stops by and says, “Grab some stuff, throw it in my truck, and you can ride with me to safety.”

The man replies, “No thanks, God will save me.”

As the waters rise the man moves upstairs. He looks out the window and one in a boat yells out, “Come, get in the boat, and I will take you to safety.”

The man responds, “No thanks, God will save me.”

As the waters rise and he retreats to his roof. A helicopter hovers over head and the crew drops a rope ladder, “Climb up, we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks, God will save me!”

The man dies and stands before God and asks, “Why didn’t you save me Father?”

God replies, “I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

What more do you want? What are the trucks, boats, and helicopters in your life? Have you recognized that they are God’s good provision for you?

If Only… was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How Do We Change?

Photo by Nicole Mason

My brother shared a video with me a few weeks ago. It has since disappeared off the internet. But, the gist of it was focused on this one question, “How do people change?”

In the video, a police officer told the story of how a man approached him at a restaurant after observing the officer during his meal. The officer, as most officers do, was on high alert while he ate, completely on. The man who observed him shared that he had not always been on the “right side of the law” but that if anything were to have happened in that place he would have had the officer’s back.

Both men were changed.

I am learning that there is a fundamental way that we as people change. We change through our interactions with other people. This sounds obvious. This seems to be a “duh” kind of concept. Yet, it seems to be a foreign reality to most people. I’m not speaking of social media interactions. No, I’m speaking of real life, flesh and blood, face to face interactions with other people.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

— Proverbs 27:17

We don’t think of this reality enough. Too many of us believe people are fundamentally changed through information. We think if folks would just get the right information and understand the right arguments then they will change.

This just isn’t how it works.

People do not fundamentally change as a result of information. They fundamentally through interacting with other people.

One of my favorite movies is Remember The Titans. This movie tells the story of a football team that is created as the result of forced desegregation. In it you see people change. You see them change at a fundamental level because they get to know people who they had never known before.

There is a moment that turns the tide of the film,

We can not change apart from knowing the “other.”

If you find that you hate black people or white people or conservative people or liberal people or gay people or straight people, then those are the people that you need to get to know. Do you have a general mistrust of those folks? Get to know them. Do you argue with them online? Stop it and find them out and get to know them personally.

There is simply nothing that changes us more than a cup of coffee with someone and a little time. We find out they are people. Real people. They are just folks like us.

They have heartache and sadness.

They have real fears.

They have real hurts.

They have real ideas about how to fix things.

They have a view of the world colored by their experience that is nuanced and special.

They love.

They laugh.

They care.

Do you want to change? Get face to face in real life with a real person, especially someone who is different than you.

For God Alone My Soul Waits

…or how to subvert the empire.

Photo by Tim Marshall

We so often find ourselves looking for a savior. We want our own personal Jesus Christ. We want someone who will fight for us. We want someone who will stand for us and protect us from all those people who we perceive to be our enemies. This mindset is not something new, we have seen it throughout history. The desire for a strong man drove the people of God to reject God and embrace a king, it has driven countless societies to embrace tyrants.

Psalm 62 challenges us to not walk down that path.

To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

How long will all of you attack a man
to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse. Selah

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath;
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no trust in extortion;
set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
according to his work. (Psalm 62, ESV)

That opening stanza! Oh that opening stanza! That speaks sweet relief to my soul. How would we be different if we would but embrace this truth? “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

I see so many people in my life who are being “greatly shaken” right now. They are shaken by the state of the world for one reason or another. If you are feeling shaken remember this sweet truth from Psalm 62, God alone is your rock and salvation, your fortress, therefore, do not be greatly shaken!

The world around us is driven by fear. The power players of the empire leverage fear to consolidate their power and take more from those around them. We can subvert the power structures by living a transcendent faith knowing that they will not save us. They are not our protectors. No, when we embrace the reality that God is our deliverer and redeemer we take the power from the empire.


For God Alone My Soul Waits was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

God is For Me

Photo by Alessandro Viaro

Some mornings as I read the Psalms one hits home and speaks to my soul. This is one of those times. As I meditate on these words, I am grateful to be able to say with David, “This I know, that God is for me.”

We want to have people in our lives that we can know without question are for us. I love spending time with those people. They encourage me and make me want to be the best version I can. I am able to hear from them rebuke and challenge. Why? Because I know they are for me.

As we walk through this life and these days as followers of Jesus we can know one thing for certain, “that God is for [us].”

What are marvelously gracious reality.

Psalm 56

To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life. (ESV)


God is For Me was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.