As we approach Christmas, I'd like to remind you of the articles I have written about all twelve days of Christmas. I have also written an article or two about holy – or holi – days, and other special days. I want to throw out a question for all of us to ponder: what makes special days special?
Leigh Taylor has the esteemed privilege of working closely with me! As our Pianist, she is stuck working with the music minister, whether or not the fog of a pandemic is thick around us. As we bump heads each week to plan and discuss music, we periodically have longer conversations about worship services more broadly. I have a minimalist view of "special services", and my preference is to down play patriotic days. Ms. Leigh represents many others in our church family that don't necessarily share my personal opinions on these third-tier and fourth-tier issues. I'd like to think we strike a nice balance of recognizing the people and things that deserve recognition, while not allowing the "tail to wag the dog" and distract us from the essence of our worship to the one true God.
I mention this because I have said before "what we do in the Sanctuary isn't what makes Mothers' Day special to me." Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, nor Memorial Day are made special by what we do on the nearest Sunday either, in my opinion. However, the way I view, and celebrate, the two high holi days of the year are directly affected by the way we celebrate them as a church family. Easter was a bitter-sweet one in 2020, because we didn't get to sing "Christ the Lord is risen today" together. Christmas will be bitter-sweet for me too.
I am secretly excited that many of the stressors I experience annually are off the table this time around. My Jeep will have music beyond the Choir's cantata for the first time in over a decade! My biggest concern might be that Christmas might not come if Doug Duggins doesn't get a Mr. Goodbar! Not only will I forego a Candle-light Service and Treat Night this year, I am also not looking forward to the prospect of a less-than-normal family gathering at Gramaw's house for breakfast on Christmas morning. I want to give myself some advice that you can also read: regardless of what does or doesn't happen in our Sanctuary, make Christmas special while safe at home.
I caught a member of our church red handed a few weeks ago. This is one of our many members that hasn't yet felt comfortable gathering in our Sanctuary. This dear saint was out dropping off cake for a [pre-CoViD-19] shut-in. I think I want to follow in this example; I intend to do a few small things for and with others to make Christmas special. I thoroughly enjoy creating new traditions, and I cannot afford to neglect Who we celebrate on Christmas. God loved us so much, that His only begotten Son became one of us, lived a sinless life, took our sin upon Himself, giving us eternal live in its place. He is what makes this holi day special. He is the one we gather to worship corporately. He is the one we worship privately. He is the one we honor when we celebrate this season in Spirit and Truth!
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this;
He has opened heaven’s door, and man is blessed forevermore!
This month, I am responsible to put together this newsletter. For this reason [ask Pastor Jim about the General Sickles mind-set], I am taking the cheap way out of writing a real article. Below, you’ll find an article that has resonated with me for several years now. In an increasingly divided world, let’s treat our neighbor with grace. Passed along to me by Dr. Robert D. Jones, my biblical counseling professor in seminary, it was written in 2012. Written by Tim Sellers, President of PeacePoint <www.peacepoint.com>, this article nicely calls attention to the outcome of the “hope and change” election. May God use us as agents of grace whether “our” candidates win or lose. Let’s always view socio-political issues by maintaining a proper gospel-centered perspective.
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
Hope and Change that Last! (Tuesday, November 6, 2012)
Today, we elect those who will lead us. It is a very big deal. The opportunity to choose our leaders is one of the most precious freedoms we enjoy in America. Men and women have put their lives on the line to protect and preserve it. It is a gift from God, and we have a responsibility to exercise the privilege carefully and prayerfully.
Also today, many people woke up anxious. They are worried about whether "their" person will win because they believe all hope for the future hangs in the balance. Tomorrow, many will wake up angry and discouraged because their person lost. They believe with that defeat went any chance for prosperity or peace.
That should not be so for those of us who belong to God through the Lord Jesus. Our hope should never be based on the outcome of an election but on God alone. What King Nebuchadnezzar had to be taught, we should know: that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes (Daniel 4:25, N.I.V.). God is sovereign over this election as He is over all of the affairs of men. Regardless of the outcome, we have the promise that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28, E.S.V.). Because our God is in total control, we have no reason to share in the anxiety, anger, or disappointment that may be around us.
Others will be watching how we Christians react to the vote. Today, tomorrow, and in the days ahead, we have an opportunity to show them, by our words and our actions, that our trust is in God, not in laws or leaders. Because He is who He says He is, our future is secure. With our country so divided, it is critical for Christians to unite, no matter who we may have supported for office. That will get attention and provide us with openings to share the really Good News...that Jesus is alive and offers hope and change that lasts!
Let's all vote. Then, let's live like the outcome doesn't matter. For believers, it doesn't. Regardless of the final tally, we win! Praise God!
Happy New Year friends!
As we begin a new fiscal year, we ought to be voting upon new nominated officers, new Deacons, and a new budget. Alas, in the era of the “socially distant” Church, we’ll have to await safer days when we can hold a church-wide meeting. We will, however, as citizens of this temporal, lesser kingdom – well, constitutional republic – vote in the days ahead. As a public policy analyst [class of 2009; go Tar Heels!], I am always fairly closely tuned to the political goings on during seasons like this. As someone with an ideological bent more closely aligned with libertarianism than anything, I laugh at, and sharply critique, the ridiculous actions and words of many partisans. As a follower of Jesus, it breaks my heart to see folks treat their neighbors so poorly. It also breaks my heart to see millions of fellow countrymen genuinely place their hope in a political party – or even an individual – as a source of salvation.
I love to analyze fiscal and monetary policies, foreign policies, immigration issues, domestic social policies, legislation, and court rulings. After all, our systems are extremely complex, our elections are multi-faceted, and our opinions should be thoughtful and nuanced. I would, humbly, ask you to consider two issues as more important than others in our political decision-making. First, always consider the issue of religious liberty. We live in an increasingly anti-Christian culture, where the freedom to practice our faith continues to be targeted for attack. Second, and much more importantly, I ask you to consider the issue of abortion. I have said from our pulpit, and will continue to declare that whether or not abortion is made illegal “our goal should be to make abortion obsolete.” That being said, I will always advocate for laws and policies aimed to hem-in this scourge. How anyone can genuinely advocate for these heinous procedures at any time, through any method, and claim to be a follower of Jesus is beyond me. I would rather support a pro-life communist than someone who thinks partial-birth abortion could ever be excused as “ethical”.
Let me also say that the “God-is-a-Republican” crowd is alive and well in our denomination and beyond, and let me caution you against this alignment. Folks that used to be evangelical leaders have ceded their role in advancing the Kingdom of God, making charlatans of themselves, and instead taken up a role in advancing a political party’s agenda. As a pastor, I am infuriated by men who stand in the Lord’s pulpits and throw away their credibility by devolving themselves into partisan mouth-pieces. True children of the Most High ought never be defenders of foul speech and apologists for ungodly leadership, making excuses for wicked behavior. May God have mercy on me if I ever go on television and so poorly tarnish my witness.
As citizens of God’s Kingdom, we ought to be the best citizens this kingdom – constitutional republic – has. Let me remind you that in North Carolina, the dead line to register to vote is October 9. We ought to educate ourselves. I have a very helpful non-partisan, Christian voter guide; this is particularly helpful for “down ballet” races. Please contact me, and I’ll be happy to get it to you. I am convinced that only about 20% of Americans are voting FOR anyone, and though I would like nothing more than to forego voting altogether in several of these races, I would regret even more to discard this precious right. In addition to being responsible and informed, let me encourage you with this: our hope it not in an individual – or even a party – in this world. Our hope rests in an eternal King of kings, who is uniquely capable of saving souls, transforming individuals, societies, cultures, and nations. I have taken great pride in the fact that Democrats and Republicans can sit on the same pew and worship together in our church every Sunday. May we all remember that God honors our witness, when we keep second-, third-, and fourth-level issues in their proper perspective and remain unified around the main thing. My hope is that our witness will be even stronger across our community in the days ahead, showing a divided society that our focus is on things above!
Our fathers’ God, to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee we sing;
long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light,
protect us by Thy might, great God our King!
Many of you know that my father is a Crime Scene Investigator for the Greensboro Police Department. He no longer goes to the scenes of burglaries, assaults, drug raids, property crimes, or even armed robberies. He – and five others – almost exclusively investigate the scenes of homicides. He was “on call” from June 8 to June 22, during which he was called to four scenes. Of the four dead, three were black people. In his line of work, over half of the scenes have black persons as both the victim(s) and suspected perpetrator(s). Time and time again he tells me what he can about the current case, and time and time again I can muster little beyond “it’s so sad.”
I am not 100% sure why the Lord laid on my heart to write that, but it may be to further emphasize my next illustration. If a cluster of houses were in a particular locale, and one of them were ablaze, does anyone really believe that fire fighters would argue among themselves whether or not “all houses matter”? Certainly not! They would all agree that the house on fire matters very much...and they would rush – willing to sacrifice their own life and limb – to improve the condition of that house. Perhaps the image of fire is a bit “on the nose,” but anyone that has watched the news in June would acknowledge that these United States are in turmoil. It would be difficult for anyone to claim that any neighborhood is in turmoil more so than those in which black people live.
I don't believe that any disciple of the Lord Jesus would argue against the sentiment: black lives matter. In fact, I believe that all of you would join me in rebuking anyone that would argue the contrary! Before we distract ourselves, dismiss the sentiment, and assume black lives matter just as much to the next person as they matter to us Christians, let's also acknowledge that people exist [however few] who genuinely believe that black lives matter less than other lives. Furthermore, let’s acknowledge that we have black neighbors – including brothers and sisters in Christ – who genuinely believe that their lives have mattered less than others’ to some people. This should grieve us, because it grieves God. It is not only reasonable, but good, for us to full-throatedly agree with the sentiments of this phrase. We can do so comfortably while not endorsing the Black Lives Matter organization. Some of the proposals within this socio-political movement undermine the fabric of our country and stand in direct opposition to the principles of the Word of God (to learn more, a great resource is the Thursday, June 18 episode of The Briefing podcast, hosted by Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).
It should be obvious that we soundly condemn riots, the destruction of public or private property, and other criminal behavior. Unfortunately lost in the noise of the mob, I heard an excellent point on the news last week. It was made by a fellow pastor and nearly made me weep. He said ‘much of this country values material things more than the black life.’ The fact that he, or anyone else, feel that way breaks my heart. The more I thought about it, the more I found it a difficult statement with which to argue. I know that you agree with me: I hope he’s wrong; I really do. The more I think about it though, the more I agree with him. I think we live in a world where “stuff” matters just as much or more than people – people made in the image of our God! May God have mercy upon us – individuals, as a country, the Church – for not rightly valuing human life: disabled, black, elderly, unborn!
Two months ago, I had a great conversation with a non-Christian about the Church’s role in public discourse. In it, I said “as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we should be the best citizens this republic has.” Many of you have probably heard me say something similar in the past. This biblical truth does not necessarily equate with us being the most compliant citizens. I believe strongly that we can speak clearly and passionately on issues where religious liberty and biblical morality are infringed or jeopardized. I also believe that when it comes to improving the condition of our neighbor, we can affect change. In rare circumstances, I believe that civil disobedience is a reasonable recourse.
What, then, shall we do? Is this one of those circumstances? Honestly, I do not know, but it very well may be. As a public policy analyst [class of 2009; go Tar Heels!], I am not sure that the most effective and efficient tactics are currently being used to affect systemic changes in our society. I’m not even sure what changes need to be made. Five things I do know for sure. First, substance is more important to me than symbolism. If I am ever in the street locking arms [after this corona virus goes away] with a black brother, it would only come after hours of prayer on our knees and private dialogue over coffee. I am committed to doing just this in the months ahead, because I believe personal relationships to be more important than the attention of others. Second, James 1:19 is a guide. May the Lord forgive me for the many times I fail to first listen, empathize, love a neighbor, and think before opening my fat mouth.
Third, the Christian should reject injustice, rebuke the unjust, and cry out for justice. As I said in my five-minute video on June 5, we would all do well to clarify a scriptural definition of justice, and re-align ourselves with God as the source of justice. As we join Him in His hatred of sin and disobedience, it will also make us first cry out for mercy. Fourth, woe to the believer that does harm to the Kingdom. In public discourse, what we say can endanger our Christian witness. How we say it can endanger our witness even more. Let us take much care to appreciate nuance and specificity, apply biblical principles faithfully, police our own “team”, season our speech with respect, and saturate others with love when we engage in political debate and type things on social media. Convenient or not, we are the Christ’s ambassadors, and this pagan world will not be so gracious as to distinguish our biblically rooted convictions from our political opinions or our musings on cultural matters. Fifth, I know who can fix this. Jesus of Nazareth shed sinless blood to redeem our sorry souls from the pit of hell to which we condemned ourselves. This precious Messiah alone can restore our broken world and all its subsequent parts. By the grace of God we heard this good message of salvation. He gave us the gift of faith, invited us into His Kingdom, and sent us out as messengers of this same truth. As heralds of this message, if we cry out “no justice, no peace”, we know what it really means, and we should be clear about that. We must all cry out “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” May we be faithful stewards of this good news of salvation. May we never dillute it, may we never keep it to ourselves, and may we rest in the assurance that God alone can fix, fix all of it.
red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight;
Jesus loves the little children of the world!