Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Justice Called, Mercy Answered

It seems like the media has had it out for law enforcement officers this past year. We have heard the hyped-up accounts of police brutality—from the Michael Brown crisis in Ferguson, MO, to race riots in Baltimore, MD over the Freddie Gray incident, to the uproar caused by an SC resource officer who used force to deal with a belligerent student. We all know that our police officers face intense situations which most citizens don’t fully understand. Are there crooked cops? Yes, just like there are bad apples in every profession. But, why all the negative press for our public servants? When was the last time you heard the media present law enforcement in a positive light?

Not long ago, I was encouraged when I came across the story involving officer Justin Roby of London, KY. He was on-duty at a local Kroger grocery store when he caught a man shoplifting. However, he quickly discovered the alleged thief needed a helping hand, not handcuffs. The man was caught trying to take-off with a can of infant formula.

After some questioning, Roby discovered that the thief was going through financial hardship and was having difficulty providing for his infant son. This led both Roby and the store to decide not to press charges against the man.

“Me citing him for court wouldn’t have done any good for him,” Roby said. “He’s already short on money, can’t afford formula, so me making him appear in court, he’s still not going to have any food for that baby.” Rather than arrest the man, Roby decided to help him instead by buying the baby formula himself.

“You put yourself in the situations,” Roby said. “I think, ‘Well, what if that was me?” Officer Roby continued, “I think when some people look at us, they see just the uniform and the car, and the tools that we have on our belt. But, I’m a person out in this community just like any of them. I have a little boy. I’m a father just like that gentleman was. We’re not robots. There’s a human behind the badge.”[1]

What Roby did for that man is a clear illustration of the Gospel. Before Chris we were like that criminal without hope and help. We have broken God’s law. Standing before a perfect, holy Judge we have no case to argue. “Guilty, your Honor” is our only plea. However, in God’s courtroom we do not get the justice we deserve, instead we get the grace we don’t deserve and can’t earn. That’s because Jesus steps forward as our representative and pays the fine for us. With his own blood, Christ has settled our case. Justice called, but mercy answered.  

1 Peter 3:18 says it like this, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” Paul added in Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (2:4-5).

I am reminded of an old Gospel hymn, “When Justice Called, Mercy Answered.”

Once I was lost; down deep in sin
But Christ my Lord; then took me in
My soul was on destruction's road
Then Christ came in and took my load

For justice called and mercy answered
Jesus heard my feeble plea
Tho' I've been there ten thousand years
I will be there because of love
For justice called and mercy answered

Is this your song today? If so, then let’s give praise to God for that He laid our guilt, shame and judgment upon Christ, while offering us forgiveness, mercy and grace. Let’s not stop there though. Let’s extend mercy to those who have wronged us, in the same manner in which God has given mercy to us. As James said, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13). -DM

[1] Ben Marquis, “Officer Sees the 1 Item Man Is Trying to Shoplift, Decides Not to Arrest Him,” Conservative Tribune, 1 February 2015 <http://conservativetribune.com/officer-shoplift-no-arrest/>

The Attitude of Gratitude

Recently, I came across an interesting and hilarious article entitled, “Dog vs. Cat: War of the Dairies.” First, let’s take a peek at the dog’s diary. 8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite! 9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite! 10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite! 12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite! 5:00 pm - Dinner! My favorite!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite! 8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite! 10:00 pm – Sleeping at the foot of my master’s bed! My favorite!  

And now an excerpt from dairy of a cat: “Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs.”

Two totally different perspectives of living under the roof of the same master. One grateful, the other grumpy; one contented, the other conniving. Which attitude best describes your heart today? What was the main difference? I would submit to you that it was the elusive trait of thanksgiving. Yet, when we examine God’s family, we too can see the same dichotomy. Believers under the rule of the same benevolent Master, and some are thankful while others are perpetually negative.

Jesus witnessed the same thing one day on the road between Samaria and Galilee, when he was approached by ten lepers. Imagine this huddle of half-draped faces and broken bodies before Him. Their gruesome appearance and gnarled digitals repulsed everyone. Society quarantined them. Yet, Jesus had compassion on them. He spoke the word and healed all ten of them. Then Luke records what happened next:

“And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:14-18)

Don’t miss the headline of the story. Jesus notices and delights in a grateful heart. In fact, He was stunned by the ingratitude of the other nine. We also learn that thankfulness in a choice. It’s a decision that we make each day to either focus on what we don’t have or acknowledge that great blessings we have already been given.

As Max Lucado has written, “The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over the day, collecting reasons for gratitude. A zillion diamonds sparkle against the velvet of your sky every night. Thank you, God. A miracle of muscles enables your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them. Thank you, God. Your lungs inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day. Your heart will beat about three billion times in your lifetime. Your brain is a veritable electric generator of power. Thank you, God. For the jam on our toast and the milk on our cereal. For the blanket that calms us and the joke that delights us and the warm sun that reminds us of God’s love. For the thousands of planes that did not crash today. Thank you, God.”[1]    
To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to turn your gaze heaven-ward and off the trifles of this world. Gratitude is a choice.  A hard-fought, grace-infused, biblical lifestyle.  And though there’s a sense in which anyone can be thankful for God has extended His common grace to all, and his abundant sin-forgiving grace to His children. -DM  

[1] Max Lucado, “An Attitude of Gratitude,” 8 October 2013 <http://www.faithgateway.com/attitude-gratitude/#.VkIN5PmrSM8> 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Red Cup Rage

In case you've had your head in the sand the last few days, there has been a huge controversy brewing, and blowing up all over social media. It's all related to this year's Christmas cups at Starbucks. If you're not a Starbucks regular, let me explain: Every year during the holidays, Starbucks uses special cups, which have always been red and adorned with some type of theme, such as snowflakes, ornaments, or trees. This year, their cups are plain red without such ornamentation. Why is this causing such a stir?

Some Christians are claiming that the plain red cups are part of the “War on Christmas” and that Starbucks is denying Christ by not putting snowflakes on their cups. In fact, videos have been made by some outraged Christians demanding everything from boycotting Starbucks, to “pranking” them by telling them your name is “Merry Christmas” so when your order is ready they will be forced to say “Christmas.”

Ugh! When I first heard this story I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach again. Sometimes I am stunned by the pettiness and foolishness of those in the Body of Christ. As I shook my head in disbelief, here are few things that came through my mind.  

1) Its frivolous drivel like this which makes Christians look so foolish. Freaking out about plain red cups does nothing to bring people to Jesus, instead it repels them. I wonder what our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are being persecuted by ISIS think when they see that the church in America is all tore up about a red cup?  

2) To be honest with you, I’d be willing to wager a fruit cake that Starbucks doesn’t have any idea who the reason for the season is in the first place. Should we really expect a secular institution to embrace Christian truth? Why are we in the church stunned when unbelievers don’t think or act like we do? Moreover, they are a business not a religious organization. If you don’t like their core principles, just don’t buy their products.

3) We have way larger problems to worry about in the world: hunger, terrorism, human trafficking, abortion, and oh yeah, fulfilling the Great Commission. Let’s focus our time, energy, and anger on something that matters; not a cranberry-colored, environmentally-friendly paper cup.

This reminds me of a story that Pastor Ray Stedman told in one of his books. He knew of a church that got into an argument over whether they ought to have a Christmas tree at their Christmas programs. Some thought a tree was fine and they understood it in a Christian sense. Others thought no, Christmas trees are of pagan origin and you should not have any Christmas trees. And so when the time came for the party, one group brought in a Christmas tree. The other group dragged the tree out. The first group dragged it back in again. They got into a squabble and finally actually some fist fights broke out at the Christmas party over the Christmas tree. Eventually, the whole thing was in the newspapers because they ended up suing each other. Ray said, “What else could non-Christians conclude but that the gospel consists in whether you have a Christmas tree or not?”[1]

We in the church are just like the Pharisees in that we can forget to keep the main thing, the main thing and instead focus on secondary issues. Recall, Jesus scathing words to Pharisees in Matt. 23:23-24, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” The red cup rage of recent days definitely fits Jesus’ description of forgetting what really matters to God. Remember it’s our job to tell people about Christ, not a coffee company. -DM  

[1] Ray Stedman, “What Matters,” Authentic Christianity <http://www.raystedman.org/daily-devotions/romans-9to16/what-matters> 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Power of Influence

In 1949 Louis Zamperini was adrift and struggling with alcoholism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following savage abuse as a prisoner of war in Japan during WWII. Cynthia his wife was ready to saddle him with divorce papers. It was around this time that neighbors convinced the young woman to listen to the bold evangelist, a very young Billy Graham, preaching in a big tent outside downtown Los Angeles.

Cynthia accepted Christ first, and she told her husband that because of her conversion, she wouldn’t file for divorce. She asked Louis if he would accompany her to the crusade. After a week of arguing, she finally persuaded him to go. When Dr. Graham gave the invitation, Zamperini gave his life to Christ that night in 1949 and his life was radically changed.
Some years later, Zamperini’s testimony reached the ears of Billy Graham and Zamperni was invited to give his testimony at a San Francisco crusade in 1958. Eventually, Zamperini’s harrowing survival story and conversion to Christ was put into a book entitled Unbroken, which was turned into a major Hollywood film in 2014. Billy Graham read the book and before Zamperini went to be with the Lord in 2014 at the age of 96, he wrote him a letter which said:

“Dear Louis, My associate read me parts of the new book about you yesterday. What a life you have lived. What a description you have in the book of your conversion to Christ in 1949, and the great part that [your wife] Cynthia played in it, which I was aware of, but not in such detail. I had tears in my eyes and praise in my heart for what God has done through you.”[1]

As I read this story I thought of the power of influence. Billy Graham didn’t know who was sitting in that crowd the night Mr. Zamperini came to hear him preach. Billy was just being obedient to his calling and letting God do the rest. There is no way Billy could have envisioned what God had in store—that one day Mr. Zamperini would share the stage with Rev. Graham in fulfilling the Great Commission. Nor did Billy know that one day as a retired minister that Mr. Zamperini’s testimony would encourage him, even to the point of tears.  

Such is the power of influence. Like a pebble thrown into a glassy pond, so our lives ripple outward and touch others for good or ill. The truth is everyone has influence, no matter how big or small we perceive ourselves. We all influence someone and God expects us to be good stewards of that influence for His kingdom’s sake.

Christ called us to be influencers; in His Sermon on the Mount he made these analogies, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:13-14).  

Salt preserves, flavors and creates thirst. Light illuminates offering guidance and hope. God has given us incredible stewardship of our personal influence. J.R. Miller has said it well, “There have been meetings of only a moment which have left impressions for life, for eternity. No one can understand that mysterious thing called influence. Yet every one of us continually exerts influence, either to heal or hurt, to bless or curse, to build-up or to break-down.”[2]   

[1] Janet Chismar, “LOUIS ZAMPERINI REMAINS ‘UNBROKEN,’” The Billy Graham Library <http://www.billygrahamlibrary.org/pgview.aspx?pid=16&eid=35>
[2] J.R. Miller, The Building of Character (New Jersey: AMG Publishers, 1975).