“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. –(Matthew 23:23-28 ESV)
Here’s a statement that nearly everybody can agree on. Fred Phelps and the folks behind him at “Westboro Baptist Church” are really despicable. In case you have somehow missed the upsetting amount of coverage this group has been rewarded with, let me summarize who I am talking about. WBC is a very small group which pickets, among other things, the funerals of soldiers and popular people with signs proclaiming that God hates “fags,” Elizabeth Edwards, America, and whatever else will get them media attention. They do all of this under the guise of being an actual church. They are a hate group like any other, but their vitriol carries an extra ingredient which makes them even more difficult to deal with. They attempt to associate themselves with Christianity. They claim to be acting under the guidance of the same Jesus I do and the same Bible I read. They aren’t alone in this frustrating practice. There is Pastor Terry Jones, the guy who wanted to burn Korans, Brian Mitchell, who kidnapped and repeatedly raped a young girl because, “Jesus told him to,” and there are, of course, countless politicians who claim to know Jesus while spreading a message of hate, violence, and selfishness that He never preached. It has been going on for years, too. Slavery was defended by using the Bible. The crusades took place because somebody thought God wanted the Church to focus on killing Muslims more than He wanted it to help the poor and sick. The list goes on. Terrible things have been done in Christ’s name. Freddie Phelps is just the latest in a long line of those who abuse the gospel.
Having said all of that, it still does not make it any easier to stomach what WBC does and says. Reading about their antics this past weekend made my blood boil, and I found myself hating them. At first, I adopted the policy of Emperor Palpatine and allowed that hatred to thrive, because I felt it was just. My hatred turned into a desire to see Freddie murdered and for nobody to show up at his funeral. This was the moment that the obvious hit me like a baseball bat to the gut. (The Holy Spirit swings like Ted Williams after a training session with Tom Emanski.) Hating somebody because they hate other people is not very well-thought-out.
Convicted, I asked God to help me know what else to do. I knew that I am supposed to pray for them, but I had no idea what to pray. I knew that I am supposed to love my enemies, but how do I show them love without associating myself with their evil? Most of all I knew my hatred towards their hypocrisy only shined a floodlight on my own. God has been dealing with these questions in my life, and I am compelled to share what He has been teaching and re-teaching me.
How should we pray for Fred Phelps and his followers? Before even getting to Freddie, I believe that more often than not, we must repent for the same sin he is guilty of. It is ridiculous to point out the protest sign in one person’s hand when you are holding a bucket full of whitewash with hands encased in foam fingers of hypocrisy (Did the metaphors land?).
Are we, as a church or as individual servants of Christ, focusing on declaring the evils of one specific sin while wallowing in another one that can more easily be kept to ourselves? It is tempting to list specifics here, but I think that if we ask God to make these known to us, He will reveal them much more skillfully than I ever could.
After dealing with our own sin, I think that the prayer follows naturally. It is one of sympathy or even empathy for Freddie. He is as helpless to his sins as we are. Just like him, we are despicable people except for where Jesus has taken over in our lives. We have no fingers to point unless God points them for us. Our prayer for Him and our other enemies should be the same as it is for ourselves – that the Lord of all would show Him mercy and bring Him into the fold of eternal love. Redemption is the transformation of one thing into another, far greater thing. God’s redemption is powerful enough to change the message of even WBC. I believe that the key to loving people who offend the most basic of Christian senses lies in repentance of our own offenses to God. God does not hate “fags” and he does not hate Fred Phelps. He loves them and desires their repentance. He died for them. When we move aside our own ideas through confession, then we can share God’s love in perfect communion and we can become strong enough to love even the most hateful of people.
As for the concern about our love of them being confused with loving their message, I will simply say that I believe God is powerful enough to overcome that. The gospel is not so fragile as to be destroyed or even tarnished by the efforts of man.
So pray for Fred Phelps’ hypocrisy. Pray for the hypocrisy of others, but never forget to pray for your own. Hypocrisy is a sneaky sin which can take many forms. It can follow the traditional definition; doing one thing while saying another. It can also be found wherever the big picture is ignored in favor of beating importunately on one point. Hypocrisy is an enemy of love. And like a burned out tail light, it is easy to notice everybody’s but our own. It takes a friend to point it out to us; hopefully before a cop does.
We need other Christians to be faithful to speak prophet-strength truth into our lives. We need somebody to tap us on the shoulder whenever we unknowingly drift into another lane while yelling at the car in front of us for neglecting to signal. We need to pray for that type of fearless accountability within the Church. We need to always be penitent in our relationship with God. We must ask Him to help us not become the thing we hate, to clear out the bones and uncleanness, and to fill us with His love to the point that it overflows and melts away even our pathetic whitewashing.
“…for the way I believe that I am living right by trading sins for others that are easier to hide, I am wrong and of these things I repent.” – Derek Webb
The following is brief excerpt of a sermon by George Whitefield entitled, “The Marriage of Cana.” It is a plea from the influential preacher for those who do not know Christ to come to Him and marry their lives to His truth. This small piece represents a beautiful, heartfelt example of the passion which I believe we should have to see the lives of the lost be changed – a passion which comes from Christ, Himself.
And now, sinners, what have you to object? I see you are all silent, and well you may. For if you will not be drawn by the cords of infinite and everlasting love, what will draw you? I could urge many terrors of the Lord to persuade you; but if the love of Jesus Christ will not constrain you, your case is desperate. Remember then this day I have invited all, even the worst of sinners, to be married to the Lord Jesus. If you perish, remember you do not perish for lack of invitation. You yourselves shall stand forth at the last day, and I here give you a summons to meet me at the judgment seat of Christ, and to clear both my master and me. Would weeping, would tears prevail on you, I could wish my head were waters, and my eyes fountains of tears, that I might weep out every argument, and melt you into love.
1. It is important to care about politics. It is more important to know some Bible verses that declare how unimportant politics are if your guy loses.
2. Asking a girl out on a date is offensive unless you have been going out with her for two months.
3. Getting into a life of crime and then having an awesome redemption experience is a viable way of breaking into the Christian public speaking circuit.
4. Wearing a collared shirt or hooded sweatshirt to class prepares you to dress for the business world.
5. Resident Assistants are liars (If they properly do their jobs).
6. Your roommate steals your food, don’t kid yourself.
7. Vests and skinny jeans are to guitar players as coffee and Apple products are to photographers.
8. It is necessary to complain and rebel against curfew, even if you are tired at 10:00 pm.
9. If you are planning to have three kids, at least one of them better be adopted from a foreign country.
10. Moist Astroturf, a ski slope does not make; no matter how white it may be.
11. A Calvinist and an Arminian cannot date. This also applies to premillenialists and amillenialists. (If you aren’t sure what those are, you are probably going to be okay.)
12. Be prepared to have your eternal assurance questioned if you aren’t sure about the death penalty.
13. Snow or even very cold rain is deadly in any amount.
14. An inside joke can outlast every one of the people who were originally involved.
15. “If it’s Christian, it should be better…” and/or more expensive.
If you are more interested in reading theological thought and the parsing of Scripture or if you simply are not a fan of metaphors taken from life (Awesome, though they may be), this post might not be for you. I feel the need to break from my usual fare of essays and share a more personal experience.
I was browsing the internet for articles of interest tonight when I came across a story about a meteor shower that was supposed to be visible. It was late and already dark enough to see it, so I went outside. It was a typical southern summer night; warm air, softened by stillness and humidity. As I went to lie down in the grass I couldn’t help thinking that it was one of those nights that might be nice to share with a lady friend. Nevertheless, it was just me, some quiet bluegrass music on Pandora, and my good friend, Dr. Bacco (aka Ol’ Pipey).
Why I got so excited about the possibility of seeing some meteors, I couldn’t really tell you. Yet there I was, on my back in the yard, eyes deep in the sky above. A few minutes passed, no meteors. I had to relight Ol’ Pipey. A few more moments passed, and still just the same little lights as when I went out there to begin with. I saw some vague blurs and lines that might have been the vestiges of meteors from long ago, but it is more likely that my glasses were fogged up and reflective. I started to get frustrated. The frustration turned into disappointment. Then my phone’s battery died and the bluegrass music was no more.
I considered admitting defeat and going inside. I’m glad I did not.
Here is the part of the story where you might expect that the heavens exploded with celestial fireworks. This is not that part of the story. In fact, that part is not in this story at all. I never saw any of the meteor shower. Thanks to some hazy cloud cover and all-too-close streetlight, my yard was exempted from the viewing area. However, what I saw was more remarkable to me.
While staring straight up into the night sky, I zeroed in on one particular star. I stared at it for a good minute or two. It was not the brightest star, nor the closest. I couldn’t make out any twinkling, but it kept my attention nonetheless. It was really beautiful. I tried to put myself in its place in the vastness of the universe; staring back at my yard. A powerful realization of the distance and time between me and this star began to change my understanding of the entire sky. My focus relaxed and began to slowly expand outwards. I saw star after star, each separated by billions of miles. I began to notice the subtle changes in color provided by the clouds and streetlight. The whole of the atmosphere began to show itself as a beautiful canvass of reality. It was so big, and I was so small, yet God put me in the right place in order to see all of it.
I closed my eyes for a moment and was taken back to another time in my life that I was held captive by the beauty of a star. A little over a year ago I was driving to Denver, CO. I was passing through the long, flat prairies of Kansas when the sun began to set. I noticed that it was very pretty right away. The colors were magnificent, and I had never seen the horizon so clearly. After about thirty minutes, I started to realize that the sun was really taking a long time to set. It occurred to me that by travelling west at the right speed, I was literally chasing the sunset down, and that I could make it last a lot longer. It became a race. I sped up trying to catch up to that great sunset. I wouldn’t let it go. It started to get darker, though. The same initial disappointment and frustration came over me as did tonight. Then, the same realization of just how beautiful the whole experience was washed over me. I rolled down my windows, slowed down and took it all in. The sun eventually did set when I crossed into Colorado. It was the greatest road trip of my young life.
A valid question for those who have read this far would be, “What’s your point?” Here it is. In my lifetime, there have been goals that I have badly wanted to achieve. There are many of them right now that keep me up at night. There are lessons I want to learn and teach, jobs I want to have, people I want to love. These are my meteors; my sunsets. I want them so badly that if I don’t get them when I expect them, I get frustrated or I get disappointed. It is in these times that I easily lose sight of the beauty of life in its immensity and its beauty. God made all of life to be experienced, not just the meteor showers. I need to widen my vision and take every moment in. I need to let God decide when the fireworks explode, and enjoy the sky during the times they don’t. Instead of worrying about trying to rush down the sunset, I need to let go, and just enjoy the beauty around me.
I have an amazing family. I have friendships more loving than I could ever have hoped for. I have a mind full of thoughts to keep me going. And above all these things, I have Jesus who made them all happen. There is no need to rush life, and there is no need to be disappointed when things don’t work out just as I planned. I am not saying that I should forget my goals or disregard the great things God has to offer, but that I should not become so transfixed upon those things that I am rendered ignorant of all the goodness God puts into my life each and every day.
Look for meteors and chase the sunsets. Be mindful that there are still vast wonders to behold when those things are not happening as hoped.
I was reading from the book of Matthew today. Upon going through some of Jesus’ parables, I found entire passages that leapt off the page at me as if I had never seen them. I have read this book so many times that I really didn’t expect any surprises from it. I have been acquainted with it since I was in the womb. Yet here in this book so familiar, I found word after word of encouragement that spoke directly to my current situation.
That is how it works, though. I am not the kind of person who reads a book more than once. After I finish a book it turns into shelf decor, reference material, or a loaner. Because of this, I have to admit, I regularly find myself unwilling to pick up my Bible. I already know what is in there, give me something else to read. This is an honest and frankly stupid thought. The really amazing thing about God’s Word is that it was written to speak to us based on what is going on in our lives. Ever turn to a random passage and it magically seems like just the right words? The reason is because we are taking our burdens with us and instinctively, sometimes subconsciously, finding them in what we read. When I need encouragement to have faith, every single passage seems like it is about trusting God. When I need a kick in the pants, the rebukes abound all over.
Here is my point. While God’s Word does not change. Our life circumstances constantly do. Every time we read the Bible in a new situation, we are blessed with new perspectives on its truth. Let God use it to speak to you in whatever you are experiencing. Rejoice with it during exciting times and submit to its consolation in the dark times. Let it guide you in your confusion and bless you in seasons of change. Simply put; keep reading.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. –Hebrews 4:12
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. –1 Peter 1:24-25
One of my favorite authors, Cliff Graham (Lion of War series) just put this blog post up today. Here is an excerpt from it.
“In the military, one of the worst things you can do is frag your buddy, aka wound one of your own troops. Fragging also involves the deliberate killing of a superior officer or a fellow soldier that you hate. A terrible, terrible tragedy when it is accidental, a vicious crime when it is done purposefully.
We Christians are fragging each other way too much. It’s necessary to do as Christ modeled and approach the world around us in love, but it is important to remember that there really is no excuse to kill our own teammates. We are all in this together. We have a common purpose and a common enemy.”
For the full article, go to Cliff’s blog at http://knowthecovering.blogspot.com/2010/07/stop-fragging-your-buddies.html