Hope Story: Convicts and Lesbians

Last Thursday was a great reminder for me of what the gospel is supposed to be about. It’s not just for the well-manicured families we typically think of when we think of church. It’s for everyone (at least it’s supposed to be). It’s for the high and mighty and the down and out. Last Thursday I was reminded of that.

The day started with a text from one of our church members saying she recently had a conversation with a member of another church about a new co-worker who happens to be lesbian. Our church member said she was planning on inviting her to church, to which the member of the other church replied, “Yeah, she would probably be comfortable there.” I took that conversation as a compliment, meaning we’ve created a welcoming environment where our members feel comfortable inviting those with lifestyles that you typically wouldn’t see inside a church in the South.

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Later on that morning I wrote a letter to a convict who had written me the previous week. He grew up in our community and has a reputation for wild living. He attended church as a kid but it never stuck. His second trip to the pen got his attention and he gave his life to Christ a few months ago. He’s 2-3 months from being released and is looking for a church home once he gets home. He heard that Mt Vernon might be a place where he would be accepted. I wrote him back and assured him that he has a family waiting here for him, with some great guys ready to mentor him and disciple him.

That was my Thursday. Convicts and lesbians. I was reminded of the truth from Scripture, “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) I guess ‘everyone’ means everyone, not just the ones we’re comfortable with.

Or as Jesus famously recounted in his parable: we’re to go to the highways and hedges to invite people to the Great Banquet.

21 ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. Luke 14:21-23

I think convicts and lesbians count as ‘highways and hedges.’ I’m so glad they have a place here at Mt Vernon!

Why Brian Williams Has to Be Suspended at Least Six Months (if not more)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

2.11.15

It’s been a surreal few days to see how quickly the face of NBC News has fallen from his pedestal atop the news world. Much more than a newscaster, Williams was a quasi-entertainer with his comedic timing and constant presence on the talk show scene. He was about as mainstream and beloved as a newscaster can get.

And it all came tumbling down with an admission that he misrepresented a war story that happened during the Iraq War. And maybe something he saw during Hurricane Katrina. And maybe something else. And maybe something else. Some are speculating that the six month suspension is merely an audition for the next anchor. Either way, Williams probably isn’t coming back.

The knives were quick to come out in the cutthroat world of journalism (interestingly enough, I checked several news media sites, and Williams’ suspension was the lead story on all but one. Yep you guessed it, NBC News). But a greater question might be asked: why such a harsh punishment for a seemingly small crime? So he embellished a few stories. Every person who’s ever gone fishing has done that. He was the face of NBC News for twenty years. How can that all be discarded in a matter of days? No laws were broken. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Until you realize what Williams represents: truth, transparency, integrity, trust, facts. When he embellished stories, stretched the truth, colored in the gray areas, he undermined the very foundation from which he built his entire career.

That’s why Jesus said that to whom much is given, much is required. That’s why Williams needs to be suspended (and probably fired) even though he broke no laws, even though he did what every other person does when trying to enhance their mediocre weekend to sound like a great one Monday at work. He’s not just any other person. He’s the face of a franchise. He doesn’t get free passes. Much much more is expected of him. And that trust is now irrevocably broken.

For the church world, that’s why ministers are (and ought to be) held to such a higher standard. That’s why a moral failure which may seem pedestrian to most is devastating to a minister or ministry. When the moral trust is broken, it is difficult if not impossible to regain. May Williams’ fall from grace be a warning to us all.

 

The Worst Thing About the Seahawks Superbowl Loss

I still can’t believe the Seahawks lost the game last night. I’ll always be a die-hard Saints fan (Who Dat!), but last night I was pulling for Seattle. If you’re any type of football fan you couldn’t help but get pulled into this game as it literally went down to the wire.

2.2.15

Two minutes left, Seahawks need a drive down the field and touchdown to win. The football gods seem to line up the stars for the Seahawks on that ridiculous grab by Kearse after he had fallen to the ground. Marshawn Lynch pounds it to the 1 yard line, the game is won. They just have to gain one more yard. The Patriots can’t stop Marshawn Lynch. Give the ball to him and let him punch it in. Instead, in a play call that will forever live in infamy, Seattle executes a pass play and throws an interception, giving the ball and the Superbowl to the Patriots.

I was only mildly pulling for Seattle but I was sick to my stomach. Here’s the worst thing about Seattle’s Superbowl loss to me: the regret.It would have been less painful if they had gotten blown out. It would have been easier if they had gotten beaten soundly. But the game was theirs. They beat themselves. They outsmarted themselves, made the game too complicated, and let it slip through their fingers.

If you’re a Seattle fan, I honestly don’t know how long it takes you to get over this loss. This one hurt. I hurt for you, and I’m just a Saints fan in Mississippi. As most things do for me, my thoughts eventually turned spiritual, and not to ‘Jesus juke’ this post, but it pained me to think that people can be burdened with this level of regret in life, not about a football game, but about a life choice, a failed marriage, a wayward child. How crippling that regret can be!

It made me that much more thankful for my relationship with Jesus. That’s the reason the hope of the gospel is so powerful. Only Jesus can truly take away that level of regret and replace it with hope. When this world disappoints it’s natural to look for a world beyond ours. I’m so thankful that I have a hope in Jesus that will never fade! (Okay, so I pretty much ‘Jesus juked’ this post. Sorry!)

“Jesus Can Do Anything!” (The Pivotal Difference When Teaching Children the Bible)

Jesus can do anything!” Those absolutely precious words were the sum total of what my 5-year-old told me he learned in church Sunday. And I loved it!

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Walking out to the car Sunday after church, I asked my son Shepherd the typical questions a parent asks, “How was church?” “What did you learn?” “Did you play with your friends?” As most parents know, some weeks you’ll only elicit monosyllabic responses. But this past Sunday, Shepherd was a motor mouth. He went on and on about how Jesus healed a blind man (John 9:1-12). In true 5-year-old-boy fashion, his favorite part was the part where Jesus spit in the ground and made mud to put in the man’s eyes. Mud? Spit? You just told the coolest story ever to a 5-year-old boy.

I was happy when Shepherd told me the story. But I was ecstatic with what he told me next, “Jesus can do anything!” That was the takeaway. That was the one phrase I know that the DiscoveryZone leaders drilled into my son so that he would remember after the lesson was over. It was the one big idea they wanted him to walk away with. And he did.

Here’s the pivotal difference when teaching children the Bible: It’s one thing to teach children a Bible story. It’s good. It’s positive. It’s truth. But it’s quite another thing to teach children what those Bible stories mean. That’s the pivotal difference. I don’t just want Shepherd to know a collection of true stories. I want him to know what they mean, the biblical principles, the timeless truths, the practical application. We don’t do our children the greatest service possible when we simply tell them Bible stories but not what they mean.

The anchor that I want planted deep inside my son from his earliest memories is not just mud and spit, not just a collection of stories. I want him to know timeless truths. I want him to know that “Jesus can do anything!” Don’t just teach children Bible stories. Teach them what those stories mean.

 

3 Bad Ways to Face the Problems of the World

As we start out 2015, we can look around us and quickly see that our world is full of problems:

  • Some of you have been keeping up with that airline that crashed into the sea in Asia.
  • There’s a cyberwar going on with North Korea that’s a bit surreal.
  • Our military is in harm’s way in global hotspots such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • If you go back a few months everyone was freaked out by the Ebola virus possibly spreading in America.
  • Here in America, you watch the news and see people being shot by police officers, people rioting and now killing police officers. Racial tensions are on a knife’s edge.

Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.

But the problems are much more than just issues out there. They’re problems affecting us personally: Sickness and health for your family. The tough economy and trying to get by month to month. Some of you had a tough Christmas with the holidays reminding you of what you don’t have or who you’ve lost. We all have family members and friends that are going through hard times, far from God, making a mess of their lives.

So life is tough. The world is full of problems. Our lives are full of problems. The question for us to wrestle with is: How do we respond? How will we respond? As you encounter problems, here are three bad ways we can face them:

  1. Condone: Will we throw our hands up and give up? Life’s too tough? Or maybe we just don’t fight back? We go along to get along?
  2. Condemn: Do we look at all the problems and get angry and condemn all the sin and sinners in the world?
  3. Run Away: Or do we run away and huddle inside our home or a church building and pretend like the world and its problems don’t exist?

Those are three options that many have taken. Many that we know have taken one of those options. Maybe you’ve taken one of those options in the past. When we look at how Jesus addressed the problems in first century Israel, he chose a fourth option. He chose to be part of the solution. Here’s the Old Testament prophecy Jesus used to announce to the world that he was the promised Messiah:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

Jesus chose to be part of the solution. As his followers, will we do the same?

Creating Contagious Communities of Hope

Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today. If you have hope, you can endure the greatest trial, walk through the deepest valley, hold on in the depths of despair. If you take away hope you’re finished, doomed to wander aimlessly through the arid wasteland that life can sometimes be. Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today.

CCCOH

The driving vision of Mt Vernon is creating contagious communities of hope. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His work on the cross, and more importantly his resurrection from the dead, gives us hope. Through Jesus we have hope for a home. We can belong. We are not orphaned in this universe. Our Heavenly Father calls us his own and adopts us into his family through the sacrifice of his son Jesus. We belong.

Through Jesus we have hope to overcome. We can change. We don’t have to remain mired in our current circumstances. We have the power of Almighty God living inside of us, breathing new life and new power into us. We are transformed. We can overcome. We can change. Through Jesus we have hope for a purpose. We matter. We were created on purpose for a purpose. Our lives are infused with meaning simply because we exist. In the eyes of our Creator, we are beautiful, purpose-filled, majestic souls worth the sacrifice of his only Son. We matter.

And through Jesus we have hope for eternity. This world is not the end. This life is not all that there is. By conquering death and the grave, Jesus ransomed us from death and secured for us a future glory that will make this world pale in comparison. In Jesus our future is bright. In Jesus our eternity is secured. Because of Jesus we have hope, therefore we do not lose heart.

If you strip everything else away, it’s the hope we have in Jesus that drives everything we do. And that’s why our unifying vision is creating contagious communities of hope.