Climate Control

Climate Control
With the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and the escalation of racial division and rancor in our society, I couldn’t help but think of the civil rights struggles we had in Birmingham when I was a little kid. They were a little before my time, but I have seen plenty of video of marches and fire hoses and police dogs and church bombings, and four little girls who tragically lost their lives just trying to go to Sunday School.
I was reminded also of the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. more than a half century ago. I read it first in college, as a literary classic actually, and was struck by its power and poignancy as I read it again this week.
If you’ll remember, the “letter” was written to Birmingham area clergy, who Dr. King charged with being complicit to the racism and segregationist policies throughout the Birmingham area because of their silence. As he sat in jail after his arrest for his part in a civil rights protest, he charged those pastors with going with the flow instead of standing up for what was right, however unpopular it would have been.
One line in the letter stood out in particular: “In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”
The charge was clear. Instead of having an influence on society, the church merely reflected society. Instead of being salt and light, as Jesus called us–to be different to make a difference–the church was more comfortable in the background, trying not to make waves. Instead of being a thermostat that determined the temperature, the church was a thermometer that just showed you what the temperature already was.
In many ways, Dr. King’s words still ring true these fifty-four years later, whether on the subject of civil rights, or on issues of morality and societal ethics. Too often, we in the church–that is, us–are content with just trying to mind our own business, while the world goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket all around us.
To borrow from the King James, “brethren, this ought not so to be.”
God has called us to be agents of change for the positive good of our culture.  He has given us the truth (His word) and the power (His Spirit) to have an eternal influence on our surroundings.  That kind of “climate control” requires that we see ourselves as a thermostat, responsible to change the climate, instead of a thermometer that merely measures it.  We must choose to move out of our comfort zones to allow God to use us, just as Dr. King suggested a half century ago.
Now, this does not mean that we join the fray on social media, taking our shots at one side or the other, and adding to the vitriol of the day. It does mean, however, that we seek to impact our world with the one thing that will change it: the life-changing gospel of Jesus and the ministry of reconciliation that comes with it. He has changed us, and He can change our world. Share His love and His gospel, and your own story of the change He makes in your life. You just may be surprised at the difference He makes through you.
Let’s stand up for what’s right this week, with the compassion of Christ for our world. I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

On Oxymorons and Fishing

I don’t want to brag or anything, but when I was in college I got published.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly a literary journal or anything. There was a free magazine for students that was distributed on college campuses across the country inside our school newspaper. I was reading it one day, and came across a request for readers to send in their jokes, and so I wrote one down that I thought was funny and mailed it in. To my surprise, they published it, gave me credit, and sent me a check for $25.
What was the joke? Well, since you asked, here goes:  “What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?  A stick.”  (Get it? A stick?)
There’s nothing like a good joke to get your weekend started, and you are probably thinking, yes, and that is nothing like a good joke. But the one thing I do know about jokes and humor is that what makes them funny is there is usually some level of irony involved. Hence, a stick that you call a boomerang, if it doesn’t do what a boomerang does, which is come back when you throw it, well, in the end, it’s just a stick.
In this case, it is a contradiction to think of a boomerang that doesn’t do what a boomerang is supposed to do. Another word for it is anoxymoron, which is an expression that is internally inconsistent, a contradiction within itself. That is the ultimate in verbal irony.
Perhaps you have seen some of the lists people have put together of humorous oxymorons. Here are a few of my favorites:
Civil war
Jumbo shrimp
Found missing
Act naturally
Taped live
Virtual reality
Dodge Ram
Alone together
Rap music
I used to have a friend who pastored a church in Mississippi called Harmony Baptist Church, and he said that was a contradiction in terms. (And he said that even before they fired him!) Sadly, there is no shortage of ironic and oxymoronic behavior that goes on in church life. Which brings up another joke:  What do you call a Christian who is not sharing his faith?  A contradiction.
Okay, not all irony is funny. But you will remember that when Jesus called His first disciples, He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They were already fishermen, but he was going to give them a whole new purpose for their lives. I think Jesus offers that same invitation to those of us who would call ourselves Christians today, twenty centuries later. And, if we choose to follow, we are choosing to “fish.”
By Jesus’ definition, a disciple is someone who not only follows, but one who makes disciples. It comes with the territory of being a disciple. Likewise, if we are truly following, we will be fishing. Conversely, if we are not fishing, we’re not really following Jesus. To do otherwise is a contradiction in terms, as oxymoronic as “military intelligence.”
So let me challenge and encourage you to choose to fully follow Jesus this week, as you obediently share the gospel with our lost world and seek to make disciples in His name. He will be honored, you will be blessed, the lost will be saved, and more disciple-makers will be made. And that’s no joke.
May He bless your life as you serve Him this week. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

No Escape

You have probably heard the news from earlier this week about the dozen inmates who used peanut butter to escape a Walker County jail. The story made national news, not just because of the violent criminals who were on the loose for a few days in north-central Alabama, but also for the manner in which they escaped.
Evidently, the men used the peanut butter to switch lettering on cell and outside doors, then told a guard in a control booth to open the door leading to their freedom. The guard was a new employee with only a week on the job.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, except for the pride of the Walker County jail staff, and the final escapee was captured on Wednesday. And of course, Walker County enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame, with stories on the national news and jokes on the late night talk shows about the peanut butter bandits, much to their embarrassment.
Speaking of getting out of jail, a little more than a month ago, a Minnesota man tried to use a “Get Out of Jail Free” card from the Monopoly board game to avoid arrest. After being pulled over for a traffic violation, officer discovered the man had an outstanding warrant for a controlled substance. That’s when he sought to use the card, but he was arrested anyway. Apparently he could not pass “Go” either, nor did he collect his $200. (And, I assume, he had to wait three turns and pay a $50 fine before he could get out of jail, unless he rolled doubles.)
It’s amazing the lengths people will go to to avoid paying for their crimes. But then again, we have been dodging and deflecting, excusing and justifying, and blaming and denying since sin first entered the human race. I have realized that even more as we have been in our study of Genesis this summer. After the first act of rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid, then blamed the serpent, each other, and even God for their sin. Then a generation later, Cain lied and denied after he murdered his brother, and then audaciously asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, as if God didn’t know where Abel was. And we have all been following in t he footsteps of our forefathers (and foremothers) ever since.
But the reality is, you are not going to get away from the long arm of the law, or from God either. There’s no hiding, and no escaping, even if you are smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy. He knows where you are, what you did, and someone has to pay for your crimes.
The good news for all of us is, Someone has paid for our crimes. There is a “Get Out of HellFree” card, and we don’t have to trick a rookie guard to get it. We have a gracious God who loves us enough to pay for our crimes Himself, by sending His Son to take the punishment we all deserve. But we do have to own up to our sin, acknowledge and confess it, and receive by faith His gift of forgiveness and pardon. 
I hope you know the One who loves you that much, and that you live in the gratitude of His grace each day. You just can’t escape His love. I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.