Monsters Are Real

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Children are afraid of the dark; adults are afraid of the darkness. No longer do we tremble beneath the sheets, scared of the imaginary monster under the bed. We have matured, and so have our fears. Now we understand that monsters are real.

They have names, these monsters. They are called Unethical Boss, Pressuring Peer, Impossible Husband, Dissatisfied Wife, Ungodly Government, Angry Neighbor, Abusive Uncle. “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Our monsters are many, and scary. They are people whose favor we wish to have but don’t; they are people whose displeasure toward us is painful; they are people who pose a threat to our well-being; they are people who seek to harm us. They are people. We are afraid of people. “My name is Fear of Man, for we are many.”

King David understood the fear of man. Saul had raged against him, twice seeking to pin his body to the wall with a spear. Absalom, his own son, would betray him. Shimei cursed him. Sheba stirred up the northern tribes against him. Entire armies sought his destruction—the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Ammonites—just how many enemy encampments did David see?

How did David battle his fear? Did he do some yoga? Did he stress-eat? Did he go play golf? No. David looked at the Lord. He looked long and hard. He gazed. He sought. And what David saw dispelled the darkness of his fear and invigorated his faith.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
– Psalm 27:1-3

The Lord is my light! Remember the times you have been helped by light—a nightlight as a child, a campfire in the woods, a flashlight in a cave, a candle when the electricity goes out. How relieved you felt once you could see! David felt that relief as he looked at the light of the Lord. His fear vanished. Your fear will vanish too, even more so since you stand in greater brightness than David. The light of the world has shone on you. You could not be safer than you are in Jesus.

The Lord is my refuge! God is the stronghold of your life, a place of safety. In him you are secure, no matter what monstrous thing your foe may do. Even should you be killed, not a hair of your head will perish.

The Lord is my defender! Those seeking to trip you up will stumble and fall. True, they may harm you before they’re on the ground. But God will see to it that justice is done. You can be as confident as an Easter morning that evil will not have the last word in your life.

As adults we understand that our childhood fear of monsters was unnecessary. The good news in Jesus is that our grown-up fear of monsters is equally unnecessary. Not because monsters aren’t real, but because God is. You don’t have to be afraid of the darkness. Look at the Lord. Look at him.

 

 

One of the Best Looks

One of my favorite performances of this song. Sy Smith is great. But the band! Are you kidding me? These guys are off-the-charts talented and super-fun to watch.

Trumpet – Chris Botti
Vocals – Sy Smith
Piano – Billy Childs
Guitar – Mark Whitfield
Bass – Robert Hurst
Drums – Billy Kilson
Orchestra – Boston Pops

Compassed About

Most evangelical Christians don’t need to be talked into the Trinitarian theory; they need to be shown that they are immersed in the Trinitarian reality. We need to see and feel that we are surrounded by the Trinity, compassed about on all sides by the presence and the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God

Why You Should Support Your Church Financially

In light of Barna Group’s latest research on Generations and Generosity, it seems like a good time to make a case for giving through the local church. What many older Christians have merely assumed needs to be clarified for younger Christians. And, for the record, I’m not picking on Millennials. Millennials appear to have a more expansive view of generosity than the older generations. But none of us, young or old, needs to be ignorant of Scripture’s encouragement to prioritize giving through the local church.

Full disclosure: I’m a pastor. What a surprise that I would tell you to support your church financially! You need to hear the reasons, though, before clicking on to something else. You shouldn’t give to your local church so that your pastor can live his best life now, or so that you can gain some sort of favor from God. Nor should you give to the church “just because.” These are bad reasons for giving. The biblical reasons are more compelling, and every Christian needs to know them.

1. You should give to support the church’s pastors.

Not every church can afford to pay their pastor(s) to serve in a full-time capacity, though aiming to do so would be a worthy goal. Regardless, a church should be eager to provide their pastor some level of financial support (1 Tim. 5:17-18). We understand this to be true not merely by inference or example but by command of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:14).

2. You should give to support the church’s ministry.

In the New Testament, we see Christians giving in order to support the ministry of the church. The practice began with the first church in Jerusalem, as offerings were brought to the apostles for distribution within the church among those who were in need (Acts 4:34-35). The practice eventually became a pattern, with some churches collecting weekly offerings on Sunday that would be used for various benevolence needs (1 Cor. 16:1-2; cf. 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15:25-27).

3. You should give to support the church’s mission.

The gospel is free, but taking the gospel to all nations isn’t. Missionaries must travel, and find a place to sleep, and have food to eat. There are costs involved in fulfilling the Great Commission, and New Testament believers gave through their local church to cover the costs. They sent gospel preachers out not only with prayer and encouragement but with money that was needed to continue the work (3 John 1:7-8; cf. 2 Cor. 11:8-9).

4. You should give to support the church’s priority.

The church is the priority of God in the world. Its creation and growth and triumph is why Jesus shed his blood (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28). As worthy as other causes may be, none shares the same level of significance as the church.

To be clear, the New Testament doesn’t teach that you should give exclusively through your local church. The tax-collector Zacchaeus, for example, pledged to make restitution to people he had defrauded; presumably, he would have paid them directly and not through the synagogue. Or consider the parable of the Good Samaritan, whose generosity Jesus highlights, among other ways, in that the Samaritan pays for a wounded man’s medical care and lodging out of his own pocket. So, no, your giving doesn’t have to be restricted to the local church. There are many good causes to which you might contribute in the name of Christ, such as your local crisis pregnancy center, child sponsorship, an after-school program, a parachurch ministry, disaster relief efforts, a roadside beggar (Matt. 6:2), and more.

That being said, while not teaching that you should give only through your local church, the New Testament suggests that you should give mainly through your local church. The local church is the priority of God in the world, and its pastors, ministry, and mission are worthy of your generous and cheerful support.

The Flag of the World

*Image result for miami dolphins take a knee

In light of the recent and growing controversy over pro athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, G. K. Chesterton’s essay entitled “The Flag of the World” is worth revisiting.

True patriots, GKC says, aren’t those who turn a blind eye to a problem. Rather, they love their world enough to seek its improvement. They are like a woman who stands ready to defend her man before enemies but, at home, is “almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head.” Genuine love is like that: it says the hard thing not in spite of loyalty but because of loyalty.

One thing that has struck me about these athletes who #takeaknee is that most of them have managed to do so respectfully. Imagine the difference in their message if they were to turn their backs on the flag or spit on the playing field at the end of the anthem. I haven’t seen anything like that. I’ve seen helmets removed, a humble demeanor, and in some cases hands over hearts while kneeling. It suggests to me that these men do not hate our country but love it. Their desire to see our faults acknowledged and addressed doesn’t appear to be motivated by wholesale hatred but genuine care.

I could be wrong in my evaluation. However, it appears that these men, in taking a knee, aren’t concerned with demolition but construction. They want to remodel, to build, to improve the American experience. To quote GKC again, they’re storming the castle in order to make it a better home:

For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralise each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

Chesterton’s perspective is worth pondering. True patriotism loves a thing enough to think it’s worth improving.


* “The Flag of the World” can be found in GKC’s book Orthodoxy.

* For Tony Dungy’s behind-the-scenes interview with Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins (pictured above), click here.

* UPDATE: Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to protest, didn’t begin by kneeling during the anthem but by sitting on the bench. After discussing the matter with Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in order to show respect. See Boyer’s initial open letter to Kaepernick here, and the article recounting their personal meeting here.

Beware, Beowulf

O flower of warriors, beware of that trap,
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away.

(Beowulf, trans. by Seamus Heaney, lines 1758-1768)

The valiant warrior Beowulf is admonished to beware. A trap has been set, though not by the beast Grendel or his grim mother. The trap is within—inside the heart of every person in the prime of life. Arrogant shortsightedness has bested many a great man, and Beowulf is urged to choose otherwise.

Of course this is a lesson for us all. There’s a funeral in everyone’s future. A final heartbeat. A last breath. We will all be swept away, whether through illness or tragedy or the inexorable decline of aging. Don’t think of this as a morbid meditation but an ennobling one. To ignore death and what follows is not only foolish but perilous.

The way around the trap is to live today with an eternal eye and a humble heart. Christ the King has conquered sin and death. A far green country awaits. He bids us come, all who believe that what he offers is better than anything to be gained in this world. “Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part.”

Or, as another poet once said, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).