"Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)
I've been detecting a cooling trend. Now it is true that this morning the house was cold and the shower of leaves in the backyard tells me that winter is on the way, but that is not what is on my heart and mind. It is a cooling of hearts that seems to have crept into the Body of Christ. I notice it very clearly on my Facebook feed and it concerns me. Cold hearts. I'm not talking about an increasingly sinful world or the blatant lawlessness of our culture. I'm talking about the response to that by Christians, Christ-followers, the ones of whom Christ himself said, ""By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35). and "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8). As seen in the opening verse, as lawlessness increases in the build up toward the return of Christ, many will abandon Agape Love.
I watch this many days on my Facebook feeds as people I know as leaders in their churches or other ministries rail against society, sinners, and political opponents. Don't believe in gun rights? Condemned. Supporter of Obama? Condemned. Welfare? Don't get them started. I watch the president spoken of in incredible disrespectful terms and open mockery. It doesn't matter that New Testament writers living under the depravity of Roman emperors told us to honor such leaders by virtue of their position, No Matter their qualifications. We don't obey leaders over God, we don't have to support unjust, unBiblical, unethical decisions, but none of that requires treating others with contempt.
"But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;" (James 3:8-9)
Often times this railing against things is defended by those doing it as fervancy for God and a hatred for sin. It is passion for God. The problem is that Paul stated clearly, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. " (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Ok, wait a minute Hall, you are talking about enemies. I see Obama as a fraud, those gay rights activists, those gun control people are trying to take away my rights. They are the enemy.
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)
I fear that the love of many has grown cold because of lawlessness. We are upset by the decay of the world, the rampant sin. It makes us upset, angry, and we abandon the agape love of God and condemn the world for its sin. We do this in the name of Christ, forgetting that Jesus said, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. " (John 3:17)
"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
Has your love grown cold? When you get on Facebook, when you are with your nice Christian friends, is it easy to be so disgusted by the very sinful world we live in that you forget the grace and mercy shown to all of us dirty rotten sinners? Is it easy to publicly (I consider Facebook public) condemn, insult, roast those with whom you disagree with politically and omit the loving offer of grace that is part of what it means to be Christ-like?
I know that we live in a pagan society, but I look at Daniel & his friends, Nehemiah, Esther, and Joseph who all served leaders who were throuroughly pagan. How did they conduct themselves? When Jesus was ministering, Israel was under the occupation and domination of Rome. Roman emperors weren't known for their faith, constitutionality, or godliness, yet Jesus told people to pay their taxes. Consider what Peter teaches us about Jesus and our own conduct.
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;" (1 Peter 2:13-23)
As I said at the outset, I am dismayed by the tone of my Facebook feed. I may have to hide some of my dear Christian brothers because I am tired of watching cursing, vitriol, sarcasm, anger, and impatience directed to enemies we are commanded to love. Tongues used to curse men created in the image of God. Voices raised not to proclaim the offer of grace, but to denounce and condemn sinfullness. I get it. The sin & lawlessness of this world gets to me too. I just don't want my love to grow cold. I don't want to give up on this sinful world before God does. "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. " (2 Peter 3:9)
Wow, these past three months represent the longest I have ever gone in not blogging since first starting the blog in 2008. I will tell you that I am frustrated and disgusted with myself for allowing so much time to pass without any entries. I can cite plenty of reasons for the drought, but none of them are sufficient to explain how I never found time to post ANYTHING. I just didn't get to it. One thing I have discovered is that once I fail to post for awhile, it actually gets harder to get back to it. I don't think I'm alone in that one. I've heard people say the same about going to church, or other good activities that you get out of habit of. You could but you just don't. So, I apologize for the terrible lapse. I am excited to get back to the blog this fall. I have been building a file of ideas that I want to blog about and I hope that they will be encouraging and challenging to you if you choose to read.
So, on this last day of September, I get an entry in for this month and look forward to a great fall. The Red Sox are in the playoffs, the Patriots are 4-0, Fall is off to a big start at church, and we're having great family times in the home. Here's to what I hope is a great October looking through the Pastor's Window.
"Wonderful, They called me "Wonderful"
So I said "Wonderful" - if you insist,
I will be "Wonderful" And they said "Wonderful",
Believe me, it's hard to resist 'Cause it feels wonderful,
They think I'm wonderful"
-The Wizard, "Wonderful" (Wicked the Musical)
I recently discovered (courtesy of Pandora) the musical "Wicked". I have always been a big fan of Broadway musicals, growing up listening to "Fiddler on the Roof", "Oliver", "Annie" and others. One of my dreams is to some day see a musical I like on Broadway. My daughter has seen her first musical, going with her grandparents to see "The Lion King."
The plot of "Wicked" is rather intriguing and full of good allegories. Today I want to talk about the Wonderful Wizard. We know his story from the original movie, "The Wizard of Oz". He blew into Oz and became the Wizard. In the musical he talks about how he became the Wizard, describing how the citizens of Oz called him wonderful and he fell in love with being popular and proclaimed wonderful. As you see in the quote above, he says it feels wonderful to be called wonderful.
This song made me think about one of the major perils of being a pastor. As I have talked about before on this blog (and in sermons), there is a real danger of ego and conceit in the position of pastor. This danger springs from two simultaneous sources. The normal ego of a person and the respect and love given by people. When you are looked up to, revered, respected and loved it feels good. It appeals to our natural sense of self and ego. The stronger the love and honor, the better it feels. It feels wonderful to be wonderful. And as the Wizard observes, it's hard to resist.
I long ago made the rather controversial decision to eschew going by my titles. To the adults at church I am not "Pastor Hall", "Pastor Ira", or "Pastor". I'm just Ira. Many have struggled with this and resisted it. They proclaim that I should be respected and therefore addressed with the title of respect. Now it is not inappropriate for me to receive respect. It is Biblical to respect those who are put in leadership. It is not Biblical, however to elevate leaders to an exalted position, nor for the leader to lord rather than serve.
I don't think it is a sin for Pastor to be called "Pastor" but I do know that for me, and, on observation, for others to have that title begins to feel very good and appeal to the ego in quiet and subtle ways. It makes you feel like you are on the top instead of where the chief of slaves should be, on the bottom.
It feels wonderful to be wonderful. The Wizard observes that its even part of his name (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). When being wonderful becomes part of your name, there is a peril lurking. For me, I choose to avoid the peril altogether because I know that being a pastor, standing before a group of people who assemble each week to listen to what I am sharing, who tend to look up to me and follow me is supposed to be humbling but can feel really good to this man's ego.
The only thing wonderful about me and the work I do is the work of God through the grace and mercy of Christ. Only God is truly wonderful. All of us Christians who find ourselves in a position of leadership or authority need to constantly be aware of the wonders of being called wonderful and get back to our knees, dying to self, serving, and making sure we don't fall in love with the love and respect of those we have been called to serve.
If you are interested, here is a clip from "Wicked" where the Wizard talks about feeling "Wonderful". Imagine how a pastor could find himself singing this song. The Wizard points out that the people wanted to believe in him. Sounds all too familiar. I enjoy this song and find it a great cautionary thought for myself. [video:youtube:_c4JuzT_X5E]
A young man with incredible physical abilities that give him great opportunities to lead and make a difference instead finds himself in the grips of his appetites and the influence of the wrong people. Finally these faults and flaws result in poor judgements and actions that bring his career to an end and sends him to life in prison.
Sounds like the news this week out of Massachusetts as Aaron Hernandez has been arrested on murder charges in what, at least initially, seems like a pretty strong case. Ironically, it is also the story that I will be preaching this Sunday at Bean's Corner. It is the story of Samson from the book of Judges. As I worked on finishing this week's message, I was struck by how much these two stories line up. Without giving away all of Sunday's sermon, let's look at these two stories.
Both of these young men were giften with physical strength and ability. Samson was a Nazarite, a special kind of vow/lifestyle, and had been gifted with amazing supernatural strength. Hernandez too, while not supernaturally gifted, possesses great physical ability that has made him an elite athlete with great success on the field. In fact, both men found themselves very successful in the field. Samson was undefeated, Hernandez a sought after and well paid player.
Unfortunately this great talent was matched by great personal appetites and poor impulse control. Samson, instead of channeling his gifts into carefully controlled, planned work to free his people, tends to be reactionary. Sure, he defeats a lot of Philistines, but only when he gets personally upset or offended by them. No righteous anger here. Similarly Hernandez has repeatedly been reported as a man of short temper and violent anger/outbursts. Rather than rule their passions, these two were ruled by them.
The Bible says "Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character.""(1 Corinthians 15:33). Hernandez has reported never been able to separate himself from the people he grew up around who are strongly suspected to be involved in gang and criminal activity. Samson had a bad company issue too. He tended to hang out with the very people who were enemies of his people. He dated, married, slept with the enemy. Many of the people he spent time with were violent people who eventually were the ones that betrayed him and resulted in him going to prison for life.
The saddest parallel of these two men is the potential abandoned. Samson had been gifted and raised up to deliver his people, but instead he lived only for himself and finally, in following his own heart, ended up not only failing to deliver his people, but found himself imprisoned and mocked by the very people he should have defeated. Hernandez, while not in a position to deliver a people from oppression, did have amazing potential. Not only did he still have much to offer his team on a road to victory, but he could have been a powerful positive role model to other young men who also grew up in a disadvantaged area and will need help to escape a cycle of violence and death. Instead of leading such people, he becomes a prisoner of that life.
Hernandez story isn't finished being written yet, and even if he is found guilty and imprisoned for life, he still has hope. He, like others before him, could surrender his life to Christ and allow Jesus to make a true transformation in him that would change his story into one of victory, even in prison. I pray that he allows Christ to free him from the parallels that right now exist between him and Samson. Samson himself, albeit briefly, did have a redemptive moment. At the end of his life, he finally cried out to God and was granted once again the ability to make a difference. Finally, he sacrificed himself and used his gift one more time.
I mourn for Aaron Hernandez and hope that someone is able to get through to him with the love and forgiveness of Christ. For all of us, we should look at the lives of these men and then take a hard look at ourselves and make sure that we are not finding ourselves caught up in our own pursuits to the destruction of what God would do through us.
I tend to have a lot of links open on my browser as I find stuff I like and want to remember. Sometimes they pile up. Here is a collection of links that I found interesting lately and you might enjoy.
This one looks like fun. I haven't tried it yet. Turn any site into a marble maze: http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-google-chrome-marble-maze-20130321,0,1726860.story
A Scientist is arguing that time exists! : http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/26/17932187-physicist-argues-controversially-that-time-is-real?lite
The Speed of Light may not be constant!: http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/28/17958218-speed-of-light-may-not-be-constant-physicists-say?lite
Political Candidate Endorsed by Jesus?: http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/Anna-Pierre-North-Miami-Mayoral-Candidate-Claims-She-Was-Endorsed-by-Jesus-Christ-207341981.html
Massive Glacier Collapse caught on video: http://science.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/15/18278167-massive-greenland-glacier-collapses-as-video-rolls?lite
You might not get to this one and get distracted. Technology and our attention span: http://redtape.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/17/18322435-students-cant-resist-distraction-for-two-minutes-and-neither-can-you?lite
Enjoy. Maybe some of these will become blog posts on their own in the future.