Keyboard or Christ-Centered Courage?

Social media and the internet have given us a newfound courage: keyboard courage. It’s the kind of courage it takes to write a strongly worded social-media post that invites debate and incites emotion. We can say things through our tablets and smartphones that we would never say to a person face to face.

The Judgment of the SanhedrinNikolai Ge

Keyboard courage allows us to draw hard lines, take a stand for our beliefs, turn people off, create barriers, all from the comfort of our homes. We type without thinking through the consequences of those words. 

Keyboard courage requires no indwelling of the spirit – it doesn’t require Christ’s lordship. Keyboard courage is counterfeit courage. Jesus calls His disciples to real courage: 

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. – Luke 12:11-12

“When you are brought…

Christ centered courage requires vulnerability. Disagreement is easier when can close an app. When listening and learning get hard, we can exit the web browser. Does our courage lead us to listen to and learn from others? Or will we stick to online truth-telling?

“…do not worry about how you will defend yourselves…”

Christ centered courage does not put joy at the mercy of an editorial. Reacting to a talk show host or press conference often leads to turbulent comments.  Anger and defensiveness are signs of anxiety, not of peace. Christ centered courage allows us to speak the truth with confidence and love (Ephesians 4:15).

“…the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time…”

Finally, Christ centered courage is discerning. Jesus’s promise is that the Spirit will teach us “at that time” what to say. God gives us words that fit the occasion (Proverbs 15:23). It takes compassionate listening to discern whether courage requires affirmation of God’s love, a gentle or strong rebuke, a gospel summary, or silence. 

As more and more of our communication takes place online, we face a growing danger of possessing bold keyboards while lacking the courage for face to face listening, learning and prayer. And the world is watching:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

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Online Arsony

The tongue has the power of life and deathProverbs 18:21

Firefighters are describing conditions out west as a hectic situation on a scale they have not seen before. People are losing their lives, homes and businesses to forest fires.

Our speech, according to James, can be destructive like an uncontrolled fire. Scroll down a social media page and you can easily find the latest fire: emotionally charged political debates, the newest uproars and the biggest controversies. Online debates are becoming increasingly hostile, and we have to take this seriously. The metaphor of arsony is not an exaggeration, as we see in James’ letter:

“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).

Nastya Nudnik has inserted a social media symbol into Edward Hopper’s oil painting “Conference at Night.”

James’ teaching is not just a warning, it is also a description of the wounds we experience on social media. How many wounds come from words that “pierce like swords” (Proverbs 12:18)? How many regrets come from words we have said?  Rather than be contentious and harsh, through our speech (spoken and typed) we can clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12-13). 

This does not mean we never confront error and contend for God’s truth.  It does mean that our online conversations must “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

To use a different metaphor, social media gives everyone a platform, and it’s hard to resist the opportunity. What will we do with our microphone (or keyboard)? 

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Does God Go to Church?

“My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” – Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46

Whenever people gather (in person or online) in Jesus’ name, God is present among them. But in the Bible God reveals his power and glory in god-forsaken places more than he does houses of worship.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_My_God_My_God_why_hast_thou_forsaken_me_(Eli_Eli_lama_sabactani)_-_James_Tissot

My God, my God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? – James Tissot 

A group of gypsies living in the desert become pathetic brick makers for an empire. Their first born males are being killed as a form of population control. God hears their cries, claims them as His people and delivers them from slavery.

Centuries later their offspring are defeated by another mighty empire and held in captivity in Babylon. In Bible times Babylon represents a world alienated from God. In this god-forsaken country God again delivers them from their captors and brings them home.

Centuries later a young teenager becomes pregnant before her marriage ceremony. She is likely shamed by her neighborhood, but she carries the life of God inside of her.

God takes on human flesh and becomes a carpenter in a town so insignificant that it barely makes the history books. This simple peasant travels around the country healing the sick, freeing the demon possessed and preaching good news to the hopeless.

The Romans execute him on cross, crushing the hopes of His followers. After 3 dark days He is raised from the dead.

These are more than stories to be told on Sunday morning. They are the key to understanding where God is to be found – in god forsaken places where there is little or no expectation.

 

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Can We Trust Our Anger?

Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…Ephesians 4:26

Anger is an overwhelming part of our cultural, political, and personal rhetoric. Should we be concerned, or is anger an appropriate response to injustices?

God demonstrates the purpose of anger: to reveal an injustice or sin. God detests people who become rich at the expense of the poor (Deuteronomy 25:13-16), declare the innocent to be guilty (Proverbs 17:15), and murder the innocent (Proverbs 6:17).  Holy anger is an appropriate response to something broken that needs fixing.

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Lovis Corinth’s Cain and Abel

Cain is an example of anger that has been distorted by jealousy and self centeredness. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices to the Lord. Abel’s sacrifice is found pleasing; Cain’s is not:

So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:5-7)

God encourages Cain to act rightly and not to trust his anger. However, Cain ignores God, embraces his anger, and kills Abel.  Ungodly anger impairs our judgement (Psalms 37:8) and leads to unhealthy conflict  (Ecclesiastes 7:9).

God’s anger is directed at sin and injustice, and can be trusted. Our anger can be selfish and distorted by sin, so it cannot be trusted. Our anger can cripple our minds, so it can be hard to take on the mind of Christ. Anger is can be a poor motivator to action. It’s better to suspend our decision making until anger is no longer clouding our judgment.

Only when we master our anger can we search for the wrong which ignited it—starting with ourselves.

 

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Will Things Ever Return to Normal?

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? – Psalm 137:4

If we consider how God worked in biblical history,  probably not.

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Psalm 137 was written during the Babylonian exile. Jerusalem has been destroyed. Israel’s monarchy has ended and God’s people have been deported. As Israel’s musicians grieved, their Babylonian neighbors made song requests:  “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” (v.3) The Israelite musicians refused: “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” (v.4) It’s hard to sing when we are so far away from our house of worship.

God’s people eventually did return to their homeland and began rebuilding their place of worship. When the foundations of the temple were laid, the band played and the choir sang (Ezra 3:10-11). But not everyone celebrated:

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.  No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. (Ezra 3:12-14)

The older generation grew up seeing Solomon’s splendid temple. By comparison, the newer temple is much more modest, and therefore the older people weep as they recall what Israel had in the past. They have returned to their place of worship, but things will never be the same.  The younger generation, who did not remember the good old days, rejoices because they now have a temple where they can worship God. They are excited that God is doing a new thing.

By the Waters of Babylon, James Tissot

Church consultants are telling us that across the nation churches who have resumed some form of indoor worship are seeing only 20 to 30% of their congregations are coming. The doors to the sanctuary have reopened, but things are not the same. Church consultants are also telling us that this could continue to be the situation for a year, perhaps even longer. If this is true, what will we do now?  Will we reminisce and long for the past? Or will we dream, and expect great things from God in the future?

Large worship gatherings will always be a part of church life. But to be faithful in our task of making disciples, we also need to be thinking smaller: Groups of all kinds (prayer, deeper study, spiritual accountability) meeting in all kinds of places (neighborhoods, parks and other public spaces), producing all kinds of fruit (spiritual growth, engaging our neighbors, forming new ministries).

When we reenter the building for worship, will we put our time and energy into making things the way they used to be? That will likely be frustrating, if only 20% of our people are ready to resume indoor in person worship. Or will we celebrate that God is doing something new in our midst – and that he has been doing it outside of the building?

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Me, Black Lives Matter and the NAACP?

Revelation 7:9 – “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”

Never did I think I would do what I’m doing this Friday: attending a peaceful protest and a prayer vigil for George Floyd in Patuxtent UMC’s parking lot. This has been organized by the Calvert County NAACP. I’ve attended a prayer vigil before, but never a protest.

The Samaritan Woman - John 4:1-42

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Jesus Mafa Project

Here were my thoughts as I decided to attend:

I don’t have to understand everything. I would hope that everyone can see the hostility towards racial minorities, but I can’t fully wrap my head around the concept of “systemic racism.” I’ve read the numbers about unemployment, incarceration and drug arrests, but how are these direct a result of racism?  I don’t know, but I need to be willing to listen, learn and pray.

I don’t have to feel comfortable. Some things I’ve read on Black Lives Matter’s website trouble me. I don’t see anything about the importance of fathers, and how fatherless children are more likely to suffer poverty and commit crime. I see no stated goal of reconciliation. Talking about the sins of the past with no intention of forgiveness runs contrary to the Gospel. There might be people wearing BLM shirts Friday night, so I must be willing to listen, learn and pray.

I need to practice what I’ve been preaching these past few weeks. The book of Acts tells the story of Jewish apostles taking the Gospel to the Samaritans and Gentiles. They went outside their property to people who were different from them. Christ was proclaimed, and everyone – Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles – was transformed.  The Scriptures are clear that following Jesus includes crossing social barriers.

This Friday at 5pm I’ll be in the parking lot at Patuxtent UMC, and I’m not sure what to expect. This prayer vigil might give me an opportunity to listen to and learn from the black community, many of whom are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I may not encounter such possibilities at a single event.  Crossing social barriers might mean going to more events like this.

Even if I don’t have the opportunity to listen and learn this Friday, I will have the opportunity to pray.

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Is Christianity a Foolish Religion?

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

Christianity has never been without its skeptics. For those who believe wisdom is acquired only through science and reason, Christianity is foolish.

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Paul in Athens, Raphael

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church (1:18-25) he sees 2 groups that are skeptical of the Gospel: cultured Greeks and devout Jews.

The Jewish leaders demanded a sign (1:22; John 6:30). They expected God to meet their criteria for wisdom by providing irrefutable and tangible proof. They envisioned the Messiah as one who would demonstrate power and majesty, so a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms.

They pointed to their own law which said, “anyone hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Cultured Greeks sought wisdom through reasoning and argument. They were enthralled with sophisticated words. In an unsuccessful mission trip to Athens, the author of Acts observed that those “who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). To them a Christian preacher with a blunt message was a crude and uncultured person. He was to be ridiculed, rather than to be listened to and respected (Acts 17:32).

The Christian message has always disappointed those requiring tangible evidence or airtight logic. To them, Christianity is foolish. However rational and meaningful the message of the cross is to us, we cannot respond to the arguments of worldly wisdom only with words.

God has made himself unknowable by human wisdom. He has made himself known in a crucified Messiah, which is offensive to some and irrational to others. God’s answer to the wisdom of the world is to act in power: His power to save and to change men and women is the most persuasive response to skeptics (1 Corinthians 1:18).

This wisdom may seem both foolish and weak, but it is far wiser and stronger than anything worldly wisdom can offer (1 Corinthians 1:25).

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Did I Skip Bible Verses Yesterday?

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16)

A few months ago I opened the sports section of the Washington Post and they did not supply the final score of the National’s game. The caption on the picture read something like, “the game was incomplete at the time of printing.” I knew that wasn’t end of the game.

In yesterday’s sermon, I read Mark 16:8 and commented that this was the last verse in Mark’s Gospel. Yet if you look at Mark 16 in your Bible, there are 12 more verses. Did I leave out some verses for the sake of the sermon?

biblical-manuscripts

Old and New Testament Greek manuscript from the mid 4th century

Yes, verses 9-20 describes Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, his rebuke of this disciples and some final instructions. In verses 17-18 there are strange references to picking up snakes and drinking poison. And yet near the beginning of yesterday’s sermon, I insisted that verse 8 was the last verse in Mark.

Unless you have the King James Version, you will see a footnote after verse 8 that says something like this:

Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.

Bible translators have the hard job of deciding what words best reflect the original writings. This means examining hand written documents. When 2 or more manuscripts are different, they must choose which one is the most reliable. When translating Mark’s Gospel into English, the translators noticed that earlier manuscripts did not include Mark 16:9-20. Which means the verses were probably added years later and by a different author.

That doesn’t mean these events didn’t happen or that God can’t speak through Mark 16:9-20. It does mean that when Mark finished his Gospel, he wrote the only ending he could: the women saw the empty tomb, and were afraid to tell anyone about it. The story was incomplete at the time of printing.

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Pontius Pilate: Ruthless or Indecisive Governor?

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a [c]tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this [d]just Person. You see to it.” Matthew 27:24

The Gospel writers give their account of Christ’s passion, they were not trying to give a biography of Pontius Pilate. Without historical context, It is easy for us to see Pilate as a weak and indecisive governor. He is afraid of an angry mob, so he gives in to the Jewish aristocracy and has Jesus crucified.

But history and other New Testament passages describe a Pontius Pilate who could be ruthless and willing to keep the peace at all costs.

According to the Jewish historian Josephus, when Pilate brought images of Caesar on Roman shields and standards into Jerusalem, protesters gathered. He threatened to ”cut them in pieces, and gave intimation to the soldiers to draw their swords.” The Jewish protestors refused to budge, and Pilate eventually relented.

Josephus also tells us that Pilate built an aqueduct using temple treasury money. When protestors gathered, he had soldiers dress like common men, “gave the signal from his tribunal, and many of the Jews were so sadly beaten, that many of them perished by the stripes they received.”

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Behold the Man (Ecce Homo) – James Tissot

Philo, a Jewish philosopher, described Pilate’s “…corruption, his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned.”

Luke mentions the “Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices” (13:1).

According to John, a detachment (speira) of soldiers accompanied Judas and temple officials at Jesus’ arrest  (18:12). The Greek word speira is a cohort of 600 Roman soldiers, who would have been under Pilate’s command.

Pilate normally would not hesitate to crucify a political threat or slaughter an angry mob. Why does he hesitate on Good Friday?

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Binge Watching While Sheltering

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13

The shelter in place has forced us to entered our Holy Weekend in an unprecedented way. We practice social distancing, while we learn new ways to connect with one another.

As we continue in our much-needed social distancing, I challenge us all to practice distancing from distractions. With so many postponed sporting events, movie releases and concerts, it’s easy to seek other forms of entertainment. We turn to television, computers, social media, tablets and phones to pass the time. A shelter in place provides opportunities to lose ourselves in front of a screen.

By the Waters of Babylon, Gebhard Fugel

After a long day of telecommuting or making sure our kids are doing their distance learning, we feel mentally stretched out. After another day of isolation from our friends, children and parents we feel depressed. After another day of economic uncertainty, we feel anxious. Electronic media can become an outlet.

Let’s resist these temptations, dwell in God’s Word and pray for things that are far better:

We need to experience God’s Love (Isaiah 54:10; Jeremiah 31:3; 1 John 4:9).

We need God to increase our knowledge of God and His kingdom (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 2:6).

We need God to give us strength when we are at our weakest (Psalm 46:1-3; Isaiah 41:10).

We need God to give us hope and endurance (James 1:12; Romans 12:21). 

This Holy Weekend let’s turn away from our distractions and look at the cross where God demonstrated His love. Power down the devices and experience the power that raised Christ from the dead.

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