My Prayer on Inauguration Day

I pray that Christian Democrats will give Trump the same mercy they gave Obama in the areas where his politics violate God’s righteous standard. And I pray that Christian Republicans will give Trump the same prophetic scrutiny they gave Obama.

I pray for another spiritual awakening in our day. God, You oppose the proud, but give grace to the humble. Help us to humble ourselves, seek Your face, repent of our sins, and turn from our wicked ways.

I pray that Christians will unite under the banner of Jesus and be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Reunite hearts that were divided during the election.

I pray that Christians will hold fast to truth, while speaking it with love and meekness.

I pray that those with power will use it to do justice. May all branches of government seek justice and correct oppression.

I pray for the criminal justice system to be fair, just, and redemptive.

Use our President’s influence to help our nation to defend the foreigner, the refugee, and all of those in danger.

Specifically, I intercede on behalf of women on the streets, unarmed black men, and unwanted children in the womb. Preserve their lives.

I pray that our leaders will not call what is evil good and good evil. May we not put darkness for light and light for darkness. May we not be wise in our own eyes.

I ask God to deliver us from our greed. Surround the President with godly counselors who are not ruled by materialism and lust and pride, but by humility and a desire to serve.

I pray that our President and Congress will not feel the need to lead from fear.

Give our leaders wisdom and understanding, especially in appointing key positions.

Grant our leaders self-control with their words.

I pray for the salvation of our leaders. Provide conversations, divine appointments, dreams, and influencers that will capture their attention and turn their hearts in repentant faith toward Jesus. Amaze our culture with key people bearing fruits worthy of repentance.

…..

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just. (Blaise Pascal)

 

Smart people can be really stupid

I’ve been troubled by King Solomon this morning. He was basically the wisest man who ever lived. And yet.

Solomon loved many foreign women … and his wives turned away his heart. For when he was old… (it takes a while) …his wives turned away his heart after other gods. 1 Kings 11:1-4.

This is the man who had multiple face-to-face encounters with the living God. Yet an experience, no matter how authentic, is never enough. Encounters with God must be maintained. Relationships demand loyalty and endurance, which is why it is entirely possible to have legitimate experiences, true encounters, to hear God’s voice – and still fall hard. The brother had 700 wives and few hundred concubines on the side. No wonder he died young.

The human heart is more sensitive than we imagine. It must be guarded. Left unguarded, our souls attach themselves to subtly toxic relationships that dull the heart. We are moved by relationship far more than information, which is why nothing predicts your future like your friends. Good thing there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother, if you’ll let Him.

Perhaps a relationship inventory is in order. Some relationships are life-giving, even eternal. Water those gardens. Don’t take them for granted. Carve out space in your life to maintain them. Connect over the holidays. Send the text, write the note, make the call. But some relationships are polluted and you know it. They dull your heart and delay your destiny. Be wise, Solomon.

How do smart people become stupid? Relationships.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

I hate envy

 

If you ever realized who God made you to be, you’d want to be you so badly you wouldn’t know what to do.

Which is why I hate envy; it’s soul-sabotage.

Because what if the gifts of God really are stunning? Including yours.

What if He really doesn’t make mistakes? Including you.

What if He is so infinite that every single one of His children is fashioned uniquely significant beyond our capacity to describe? Regardless of their age. Regardless of their qualifications. Regardless of their past.

What if He is so potent that His resources never become exhausted, and your potential is more weighty than you’ve realized? Perhaps His economy is not like ours. What if He doesn’t run out of money, or food … or talent?

What if His grace is so amazing that His mercy and kindness are able to swallow up your failures and darkness? What if this tree we call the Cross and this savior we call the Christ really have removed the only thing standing between you and the real you. Between life and real life.

If only you realized who God made you to be.

You’d stop this whole envy thing.

And you’d step out and be you.

 

brutality

Brutalized by police, arrested by authorities, hounded by hypocrites, abandoned by students, forsaken by followers, flogged by officials, abused by interrogators.

The guilty accusing the innocent, peasants mocking the king, criminals judging the judge, the impotent waving the sword of fleeting power, the almighty staying the hand of eternal power, the vile clothed in honor, the blameless clothed with shame.

Hell on earth.

The darkest of Fridays, a crown of thorns, a robe of mockery, a tree of cruelty, beaten without mercy, nailed without pity, positioned between criminals, numbered with transgressors.

Miserably thirsty, shamefully uncovered, publicly exposed, mocked by the bouncers, disgraced before his mother, forsaken by the father.

Absolutely alone.

Bearing grief, carrying sorrow, stricken and smitten, wounded and bruised, absorbing wrath, paying debt, deflecting destruction, bearing the scars of treachery, the hell of humanity.

Freedom is coming, hope is alive, redemption is paid.

Say his name.

Bloody cross, empty tomb

I recently found myself in the middle of a very strange conversation with a very educated doctor when the conversation moved to our faith. Of course the most common approach is to assert the viability of every belief, as long as it’s sincere. But after many months of walking with a loved one through illness and the possibility of death, the stakes felt higher. “Everybody believes in something,” he said. “But what is the basis of that belief?” was my question. And then I said it.

My faith is rooted in a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

It was a strong moment. Months later I’m still chewing on the implications of this truth. As we move into resurrection weekend, I’m asking the question afresh: what does this mean?

It means the Judge has judged.

It means sickness is judged by the cross. Bigotry is judged by the cross. War is judged by the cross. Child slavery is judged by the cross. Rape is judged by the cross. Fear is judged by the cross. Oppression is judged by the cross. Sin is judged by the cross. My sin, my pride, my hypocrisy, my deceit, my selfishness are judged on a bloody cross.

It means the King has risen.

It means light beats darkness. It means life beats death. It means justice beats evil. It means cancer is going to bow. It means molestations will be no more. It means poverty is losing its grip. It means racism’s days are numbered.

It means all things will become new.

It means the stories your believing mama told you have to be taken seriously. It means God hears prayers. It means you can break addictions. It means you can be free. It means your family can be restored. It means you are going to make it.

Because if He can beat death, He can beat anything.

It means you’re not defined by your worst mistake. It means you really can be forgiven. It means God’s grace is stronger than your sin. It means God’s goodness trumps your badness. It means God’s capacity to fix you up is infinitely greater than your capacity to screw you up.

It means your story may have horrible chapters, but you have to read it to the end, because when God is the Author, the story always ends well.

It means there is more hope for you than you thought possible, because the very worst this world can throw at you is death. And Jesus beat it. Which means death may take you from this world, but Jesus will take you from death.

Which means you don’t have to be afraid of anything. Ever. Again.

So turn in your pen, stop trying to force your own script, and let Jesus be your Author, resurrection, and life.

Arise.

Finish well.

Finish well.

In an age of so little perseverance I find these words ringing in my ears like the background music on an elevator. Fight the good fight; keep the faith; finish the race.

I can’t count how many times I heard Pastor Arnold Lastinger speak these words of challenge into my life. As a young man with no experience I probably rolled my eyes, but as time has passed this holy background music has become more like the soundtrack of a timeless movie. (Yes, I downloaded the Star Wars movie score in anticipation of Episode VII. Thank you, John Williams.)

On December 8th, Pastor Lastinger went absent from the body and present with the Lord. What a soul-marking moment it was for me, as I watched him worship until the end, using his dying breath and waning strength to lift his hands to the God he longed for.

Several days later I flew to Mississippi where I spent time with another one of my heroes, John Perkins. Due to his age and health concerns his daughter makes clear that he needs boundaries on his schedule. Yet when he starts talking about Jesus and justice and the greatness of God, he just won’t stop. I’m serious. One night, after hours of conversation, I had to plead with him to go home and go to bed, as it was approaching 10:00. As we finished, he invited me to be a part of the Bible study he was leading the next day. At 5:30 the next morning. I’ve never heard of a Bible study at 5:30 in the morning. But sure enough, there he was, long before the sun would rise, leading a room full of men through Romans 9. It was like watching a child opening a present on Christmas morning. Joy. Energy. Wonder. 85 years of age and he is still burning.

A week earlier, I listened as Pastor Lastinger described his peace and contentment and anticipation of heaven. “It’s all true,” he told me. “When I preached funerals in my 20’s I thought I believed it. But 50 years later I realize, it’s all true. And it works,” he explained with a peace I can’t explain. But then I heard something else: his longing for his Savior. The closest comparison I have is like a bridegroom getting ready for his honeymoon. He was longing for Jesus. On his deathbed he was still burning.

I want to burn till the end.

In an age of so little perseverance these two men stand tall. Their voices have weight. And their entire life has become their message. Neither has tried to stay relevant, and that is part of what makes them so. Their transcendence is their relevance. Oh how it has fed my soul to be exposed to men whose lives carry such a rare grace. Some things can only be said after years. Or decades. Or a lifetime. And the only way you get this kind of gravitas is to persevere. To endure. To finish your race.

What a lesson for young leaders.

I’ve heard it said that it takes 20 years to make a man or woman of God. But I’m starting to think it takes a lifetime. In a culture that bows before the shrine of youth and worships to the tune of the latest one hit wonder, it becomes difficult to discern when timeless words are being written and the truest lives are being lived. But I long for this.

Did these men give me clues about how to persevere? Sure. Both would tell me stay curious. Keep learning. Figure out how to handle your pain. Set up accountability relationships to deal with temptation. But at the end of the day both of these men most fed me because of their obsession with Jesus. I would meet with Pastor Lastinger seeking wisdom, and it was there. But in the middle of a lunch meeting he would break down in tears when he began to speak of Jesus. I flew to Mississippi seeking justice, and it was there. But what I found most was a man dripping with the Author of justice.

Finish well, my friend.

Finish - road

Passion Week Wednesday

I’m fascinated with the way Jesus spends His final Wednesday before the cross. The week begins with him pouring himself out in ministry and teaching. The week will end as he pours out his very life and redeems the world. It’s hard to imagine a heavier load or a busier week.

And yet Wednesday is unique. For as many details as we have about every other day of the Passion week, Scripture is strangely silent about the happenings of this day.

He spent the day in Bethany.

Surely there were a million things that could be done, a thousand people who demanded attention, a score of sermons that could have been preached. And yet during these precious final hours leading up to a Passover supper and the ultimate Passover act, Jesus retires to Bethany. What is he doing? While I can’t be sure what he’s doing, I can certainly guess with whom he’s doing it, because whenever he made his way into that town Jesus seems to find time for one beloved family in particular. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5)

What a powerful thought. In his final moments of preparation before the injustice and intensity of the Passion, Jesus seems to spend the day in community. With the people he loves, and the people who love him. Lone rangers never work out, because we were made in the image of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We come alive in community because we are formed in the image of the God of community.

We have eight children, which means my offspring were not simply born in general, but into a family. The new birth that Jesus provides does not just create a new person, but a new family made up of people who have all had the same experience. And the same Daddy. Which is why we thrive in community and we wither in isolation.

Jesus is about to know loneliness like no human ever has. He is going to taste the isolation that no man or woman was ever meant to taste as he will pay the highest price. But not on Wednesday. Today he encounters community.

As we approach the explosive power of resurrection Sunday, I remind us to draw near to God and to draw near to each other. There is a world to reach and neighbors to invite and mission to accomplish. But amazing grace does more than save a wretch like me; it makes it’s sweetest sound through the harmonies of our community, not just the melody of my individuality.

Let’s go teach the world to sing.

[General view, Bethany, Holy Land, (i.e., West Bank)]