Top Cover

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Near the close of my last post, I said I was going to talk a little more about this idea that God has our back.

Or, in military parlance, He provides top cover (a term used for combat airplanes flying at high altitude to protect a military force from air attack).

When a military force knows they have top cover, they are free to focus on their objective without worrying about unexpected attacks from above.

By the same token, when we know God is providing top cover, we are free to focus on our goals and objectives without worrying about how unexpected zingers could leave us in a pile of rubble.

I first came across the following quote at a time in my life when I was under some heavy fire – the combination of some embarrassing truths and more-embarrassing rumors were posing a threat to me, my loved ones, and my ministry.

I don’t know why I chose to pick up Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline then. The book had been on my shelf for a long time, among the ranks of the I’ll-get-to-it-someday titles (on my bookshelf, there is never a shortage in the I’ll-get-to-it-someday ranks).

I say “I don’t know why” meaning I don’t know what thought processes prompted me. But I do know why I picked it up. There was something in that book that God wanted me to see, at that specific point in my journey.

Buried in that hardcover edition, midway through the chapter “The Discipline of Solitude”, about halfway down page 101, was this priceless gem:

“One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier. We don’t need to straighten others out. There is a story of a medieval monk who was being unjustly accused of certain offenses. One day he looked out his window and saw a dog biting and tearing on a rug that had been hung out to dry. As he watched, the Lord spoke to him saying, ‘That is what is happening to your reputation. But if you will trust Me, I will care for you – reputation and all.’ Perhaps more than anything else, silence brings us to believe that God can care for us – ‘reputation and all’”

Read that again. Let it sink in a minute. It’s solid advice.

God doesn’t require us to defend ourselves. He only asks that we trust Him. Think about these examples from scripture:

When Moses was accused in so many words of being a cold-blooded killer who would murder indiscriminately, he didn’t rally supporters and build a case to defend his reputation. He fled to Midian where he spent 40 years in solitude while God looked after his reputation, and prepared Moses for the work He had lined up for him.

When David was jealously painted as a political insurgent, he didn’t form an ‘occupy’ protest and shout his innocence from the town square. He escaped the royal city to hide in caves, and waited on God…who preserved his reputation and put him on the throne in due time.

After Saul of Tarsus was converted, he didn’t immediately go to Jerusalem to set every rumor aright and prove that Paul was a changed man, no longer the murderous Saul. He went into the wilderness of Arabia for three years and allowed God to be his justifier. And when he did go to Jerusalem, God had begun to prepare hearts to accept him for who he was.

So rest assured that God is perfectly capable and absolutely willing to provide top cover for His children.

We don’t have to defend ourselves.

And because of that, we have freedom to live courageously!

Hate Properly Placed

Signs 51That title caught your attention, didn’t it?

Yes, it’s what I meant to type.

It wasn’t auto-correct changing a misspelling to the wrong word…though I have certainly cursed the auto-correct feature many times for doing just that.

It isn’t some private rant mistakenly posted to my blog…I keep my private rants in pen-and-ink so that they’re easier to control (how’s that for transparency?).

And nobody hacked my website and posted it in an attempt to embarrass me…I am perfectly capable of embarrassing myself without any help.

No, the intended topic today really is Hate Properly Placed.

First, there are circumstances where hate is proper. But before running with that statement, let’s go a little deeper.

Humans – and particularly Christian humans – can be very adept at displaying hate, anger and other negative emotions. We justify it in various ways. We tag the word ‘righteous’ onto it as if that word will somehow make whatever we are thinking, saying or doing pure and holy. We enumerate why the target of our judgment deserves it and why everyone else should hate them as well. We defend our actions and reactions by claiming we are defending our loved ones, or innocents, or baby seals, or even God.

But here’s what I know: any time our hatred, anger or other negative emotion is aimed at a person, it is wrong.

It doesn’t matter how good the reason is.  It doesn’t matter how justified I feel. It doesn’t matter how many people agree with me or cheer for me or stand on their desks and recite Walt Whitman poetry (who can name that movie reference?).

It is never okay in God’s eyes to hate a human being. We can be upset, irate, or angry about what they are doing. We can hate the things they stand for or the activities they support. But when the hate is directed toward the person, it has crossed the line.

Many of us have heard the term “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It’s become something of a cliché in the church, but it’s the best rule of thumb by which to check our emotions. It’s what God teaches us. It’s what Jesus modeled for us.

Think about it. When people see a need to justify their anger or hate, what is their go-to bible story? Jesus chasing out the money changers (Matt 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:14-16). “Even Jesus got angry,” they will say, as they flip pages to one of those passages in a huff.

But notice one thing about this story…Jesus does not get angry with the people, but with what they are doing! He overturns the furniture, He dumps their wares and upends their cash boxes, He even makes a whip and runs them out of the courtyard. But all the while His criticism is directed at what they are doing, not who they are.

Or look at all the places where He contends with the religious leaders (which incidentally are the only ones that He ever really gets harsh with – if Jesus were in some of our churches today, He wouldn’t get nearly as upset with the abortion doctors or the gay rights activists or the drug addicts as He would with the people so arrogantly condemning them).

Anyway, back to Jesus and the religious leaders: He calls them hypocrites, blind leaders of the blind, etc. But He always specifically tells them what the issue is…because His indignation is leveled against their actions and their attitudes, not their persons.

When we aim the hate at the person, we are shackling ourselves in chains that will hold us much tighter than they will ever hold the subject of our hatred. Because, in that case, what if that person changes? Answer: Our hate will remain – in fact, we’ll probably look for other reasons to hate them. Essentially, we develop the attitude portrayed in the sign pictured above – shoot the trespassers, and if they survive (i.e., try to make positive change), shoot them again!

Jesus could love and accept Pharisees like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and Saul of Tarsus because he didn’t hate them for being Pharisees, He hated the religiosity and the judgmental attitudes that Pharisaism represented.

Does that make sense?  I hope so.  Because I have one more thing to cover. I know I’m already running longer than normal, but bear with me as I work out this last very important piece.

Our hate should never be directed toward a person.

You are a person (profound, I know).

So guess what that means?

It means that no matter how ugly you think you are inside, no matter what mistakes you’ve made or how you’ve blown it, no matter who has broken your boundaries or how much you are convinced you are somehow responsible for them doing so, no matter what broken overgrown pothole-covered trail you have traveled to get where you stand today – you have no right to hate or be angry at you!

You can hate the bad things you have done (that’s part of repentance). You can be angry about the poor choices you’ve made (and honestly, you should). You can be upset about the fact you hurt people (again, as you should).

But never, never, never, ever turn that hatred and anger on yourself personally. It’s counter-productive, it’s self-defeating, and it’s a ploy of the Enemy to keep you in chains!

So the next time you feel that hate welling up inside of you, check it.  First, of course, make sure it’s proper. Then, make sure your sights are directed down-range at the offense, and not at the guy standing next to you on the firing line or at yourself.

When you get that right, you’ll realize you’re in a much better position to experience – and show – the love of God.

Unashamed!

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“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”   – Hebrews 2:11

I don’t know about anyone else, but this is a precious promise to me.

The perfect God of the universe, in the form of Jesus Christ, came to earth and died a brutal death so that I could be made holy (sanctified) in God’s sight.

And now, seated in Heaven, He is not only willing to extend grace and forgiveness to me, not only willing to declare “holy” one that is furthest from holiness. But on top of all of that, He is completely unashamed to call me His brother!

This is especially precious to someone like me, whose mistakes have brought shame and brokenness into some of his relationships – one who has experienced both blood relatives and spiritual brothers and sisters turning away in shame.

Those who have been there know all too well the pain of carrying the guilt of bad choices, the agony of realizing there’s nothing we can do to undo them, and the torment of knowing that loved ones are literally (and rightfully) ashamed of him.

There’s a song called ‘Your Beloved’ by Brent Helming, the chorus of which says:

‘Cause I’m Your beloved,
Your creation,
And You love me as I am.
You’ve called me, chosen
For Your kingdom.
Unashamed to call me Your own-
I’m Your beloved.

Unashamed to call me your own!

As I let those lyrics sink in recently, that one phrase hit me like a freight train. Then, just days ago, I came across Hebrews 2:11, and I was knocked to the ground again by the very same train!

That the God of the universe would be unashamed to be associated with me is astonishing.

You see, here’s what really makes this amazing: Jesus doesn’t love me because He has to. He doesn’t love me because He feels obligated to stand by a promise or commitment (actually, His commitment was made because He loved me, not the other way around). He doesn’t love me because someone might think differently of Him if He didn’t. And He certainly doesn’t love me because I deserve it.

He loves me because He loves – it’s what He is, and what He does (1 John 4:8, John 15:9).

And out of that love, because I have entered into a relationship with Him, He is unashamed to call me His brother!

If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I urge you to make that move right now. He loves you, just as you are. No matter how ugly, or how undeserving, or how ‘far gone’ you think you are…He loves you and wants a relationship with you. And He will be unashamed to call you His brother or sister.

If you do have a relationship, take a moment today and bask in the knowledge that He is unashamed to call you part of His family. It’s definitely a truth worth meditating on!

One. More. Step.

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“But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13-14

Many of us have been there. That place where we don’t think we can take another step, what feels like the very literal end of our rope.

Maybe you’re there today.

Maybe your own bad decisions have caught up with you. Maybe you’ve finally realized that that habit or addiction has control of you instead of the other way around like you always claimed. Maybe your latest burst of anger has resulted in serious injury to someone. Or maybe your secret sin has been exposed, or that past which you hoped above all hope you could carry to your grave.

Perhaps someone else’s decisions have caught up with you. Maybe a loved one’s secret sin or hidden past or covert addiction has surfaced and tore your world apart. Or a friend’s rush to judgment or outright betrayal has completely knocked the emotional wind out of you. Or possibly you feel as though you’re being crushed under the weight of the rumor mill, unsure if your reputation will ever recover from the roaring and fast-moving wildfires started by a loose tongue.

In writing to the church at Philippi, Paul made it clear that he was always reaching to obtain greater fullness in his relationship with Christ. And in so doing, both the achievements and mistakes of the past were of no use to him.

“Forgetting those things which are behind…”

That meant every bit of knowledge he’d acquired to make himself acceptable to God, every good deed he’d done to achieve a godly appearance, every shred of righteousness that he’d accumulated.

That also meant every bit of misapplied knowledge that made him unacceptable to God, every bad deed he had done that gave him an ungodly image, and every shred of unrighteousness or fake piety he had donned in his striving after self-made righteousness.

Our past deeds, and others’ past deeds, are just that – past. They have no bearing on our forward walk with Christ. They won’t get us any closer to Him, nor keep us any further from Him. Those things form the definition of self that relies on lies and labels and false identity.

“…I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.”

Pressing toward the goal involves looking forward, defining ourselves by God’s call and who He says we are. It means constantly, moment by moment, putting all those things which want to define us behind, and stepping forward with the knowledge of what truly defines us.

Particularly if you’re in the midst of the storm, this can be a step-to-step exercise. Possibly all you can do right now is pick up your foot and take one more step. That’s okay. Paul didn’t say that forgetting those things that are behind is an easy endeavor. It takes work, practice, resolve. But that one more step will get you that much further along in your journey.

So wherever you are this moment: take heart, know that God is there, remember what defines you (it’s what’s ahead, not what’s behind), and step out.

The walk will get easier. Your strength will build. The resistance will fade. And one day you’ll look around to find God did bring you through it after all.