Weeping for Dictators

Weeping for Dictators

weeping for dictatorsIt was one of those memorable conversations…

I was sitting in my whale-size 15 passenger van in a busy parking lot having a phone conversation with a pastor about a host of thorny issues. At one point we waxed political. (I told you it was thorny!) He asked, “Did you watch when they hung Saddam Hussein?” Before I could answer he said, “I was sitting in front of the T.V. watching the last moments of his life—weeping…”

A torrent of emotion swept over him as he retold the experience. I didn’t need to see him; his tears and stuttering voice were vivid evidence of his sincerity. Not knowing this brother as an emotional type I was a little shocked that he was weeping but far more that he was weeping for a man whose dastardly deeds were well-known to the world. A man about whom reasonable people would say without reservation, “he’s getting what he deserves!” But this brother’s heart was deeply concerned for Hussein’s soul as he watched him transition into what he feared was a Christ-less eternity.

This brief clip in our marathon conversation impacted me greatly. In these politically perverted times, it is easy to comment with contempt and derision on our politicians, dubious leaders of other nations, reporters, and the CEOs of well-known companies. As I watch, the darkness; the blindness is stark.

My brother’s surprising response served as a reminder.

First, I am no better.

We are all debtors to grace. Jesus had to die for the “little” sins as well as the “big” ones. In a sense, little or big are of no consequence because each required the death of Jesus. When we see ourselves and our sin that way, we are cut down to size. We are humbled. We are given the wonderful opportunity to be reminded of our own debt to grace that we easily forget when indignantly focused on the “larger” misdeeds of others.

Second, I need to pray for the salvation of my enemies.

It is good to weep for dictators and those whose actions are clearly criminal and/or a complete mystery to us. It is hard to hate someone you are sincerely praying for. Our weeping can take the form of fervent prayers with our families around the dinner table. These people desperately need the grace of God (just like us). They need grace for the sake of their own souls and for the sake of the many, many people who suffer under their rule or influence.

Third, I need to remember where my real citizenship lies.

We are citizens of heaven. Everything of lasting value is there. Clearly, we in the West have lived through an unprecedented season of freedom and prosperity. A mind focused on this world, would look at my pastor friend and not understand the weeping. But his weeping shows a heart properly aligned with the values of his true citizenship.

Optimism in Depressing Times

I am optimistic about the times ahead. Not because I think life is going to get easier. I wish it would, but it will likely get harder and many of us will probably suffer. But God is no stranger to dispensing unmeasured grace and mercy in the harshest of circumstances.

My optimism is instead based upon my confidence that our Sovereign God is working through every detail to build his Church. He is making us more like who we already are in Jesus and he is using us to do eternally rewarding work—dispensing true hope and joy to those who are being swallowed up by the darkness of our times.

God has a plan that will not be thwarted by any human or principality. His plan operates on a different set of rules. And we who are in Christ have already benefitted beyond measure. We are ambassadors of hope and joy to people who need it, including ourselves. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to share this good news, see righteousness pierce darkness and witness an abundant harvest for King Jesus.

Four Ways to Make your Home a Refuge from Fear

Four Ways to Make your Home a Refuge from Fear

Refuge from fearIf I were a fly on the wall in your kitchen, or if I scrolled through your texts, what would I learn about how you’re handling the news these days? Banter over the news might sound less like afternoon tea with the Queen and more like a barroom brawl.

It is easy for frustration over what we cannot control (namely, most news) to degenerate into fear. Fear is a powerful tool of the enemy of our souls. As parents, we are concerned for our children that disturbing news not lead to fear.

In these contentious and uncertain days, how do we keep from allowing fear to rule us? Following are four ideas.

First, restrain “conversation” about fearful news.

Note that I did not say to not talk about the news. These days our children often know the news before we do, and we must talk about it with them. Isn’t it hard at times to find the line between righteous indignation and angry outbursts? At times, it feels justified to just vent. Afterall, I should be able to say exactly what I think in my own home. Right?

Overwhelmingly negative emotions are often a warning about where our confidence really is. I am not suggesting that a right response is easy. It is a struggle as we all know. By being mindful and restraining discussion when needed, we model the godly leadership our children need and set up the second way we can stop fear from gripping our homes.

Remind your family where our confidence is.

In writing to persecuted Christians, the writer of Hebrews says in 10:23. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” These believers were enduring far, far worse things than any bad news we have heard. The encouragement is to hold fast to Christ! We are not alone. God is with us. He is our confidence through to the end.

As the temperature rises, stop, and say something that breaks the emotional vortex and turns our attention back to God. “Wow, I am really struggling here. I/we need to remember that God is in control of all this.” Or “God is our refuge and strength.”

This morning as the conversation turned again to the news, I reminded my myself and my teenage son, that we are sojourners here on this earth. This is not our home. In the moment, it can be hard to say these things. My failure to say these things usually comes when I fear that saying them will sound preachy or out of touch. I have to be honest with myself and realize I also need to hear what I’m about to say. I will tell my kids, “I need to hear this too. I need you to help me remember what is true.” These are things we should be saying anyway! It is part of speaking the truth to one another in love.

Read the Word of God together.

The Word of God endures forever. It is unchanging Truth. It equips us for every good work. It is powerful. In it we find the accounts of many who have gone before us and overcome fearful challenges by faith in its promises.

Perfect love casts out fear. The word testifies to the perfect love of God. When we read it together out loud it brings calm to distressing situations. Developing a pattern of reading the word as a family prepares us for obedient living—especially in the next news cycle.

There are many Psalms that talk about God being our refuge. Over the next week, consider reading the following: Psalms 34, 62, 71, 91, 118, 142, 144 to your family. Each of these Psalms provide mental rest and emotional peace in the face of fear.

Pray for the salvation of our enemies.

It helps reorient our thinking away from people we don’t like by praying for them. This requires us to first remember our own place. We are sinners saved by grace. We need grace as much as the people we would otherwise hate in our hearts. Our sin is no less odious in God’s eyes and we have done nothing to earn anything but his judgement. Yet, we are undeserving recipients of his mercy and grace. This realization humbles us and fills us with compassion.

Last week there was a news article about a state law that would make it legal to deny care to babies that survived abortion. As I scrolled down and read the comments one particularly stood out to me:

…BABY KILLERS, DEMONIC, GOVERNMENT WORSHIPPING MARXISTS, AT LEAST WE WILL BE FREE OF THESE SOUL-LESS MONSTERS WHEN WE ARE ACCEPTED BY GOD’S GRACE INTO HEAVEN (All caps in the original post).

Certainly, a law like this is wrong and stirs righteous anger! But it’s hard to find anything redemptive in that comment. Its bitter and self-righteous. No grace there. Only judgement. God commands us to pray for our enemies. When we are humbled by our own debt and the mercy we have received, we see them differently and then we pray. Isn’t it harder to disparage someone we are praying for?

In many cases, they are afraid although that fear is masked by hostility. They act the way they do because they have no hope or feel that what their hope is in is being threatened.

This more than any other thing has helped me when I’ve wanted to stew or vent my frustrations about others. Would that I always remembered this. Pray for our enemies to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I doubt that’s a newsflash. But are we doing it?

Remember who we are.

Because we are objects of mercy, we can be messengers of the hope we have in Christ. We will lose opportunities to bring that message of hope if we allow our conversations at home to be driven by frustration and fear. Hope is needed everywhere, beginning in our homes! Speaking hopefully in our home equips our children to be ambassadors of hope to their friends.

Bad news will continue. But praise be to God that we have an eternal hope in Christ! Do we really believe that? Does it impact how we discuss bad news? It must so our homes will be refuges from fear.

Four Encouragements to Read the Bible Together as a Family

Four Encouragements to Read the Bible Together as a Family

family worshipIf I asked you to list the five most important activities that a family could do together, what would you say?

A few highly rated articles about activities families should do together reveal some interesting answers—and non-answers. For example, one article said to visit museums, take a hot air balloon ride, have a picnic, go treasure hunting, or start a YouTube channel for its top ideas.

Another article, this one published by a popular Christian ministry, listed 30 ideas but did not include reading the Bible as a family. One idea was to read books together but didn’t mention the Bible as one of those books.

While the ideas presented in both articles were useful, the reading of God’s word was highly conspicuous by its absence. Was it just an oversight? Or was it representative of how families value the place of God’s Word in the home?

For me, this is a concern and not just because reading the Bible as a family is the right thing to do. It is a concern because reading the Word is such a joyful time together as a family to meet God and see his infinite greatness and unconditional love for his people. It saddens me to think that any family could miss out on such a blessed experience!

The Irreplaceable Value of God’s Word

Jesus said in Matthew 4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Paul says in II Timothy 3:16, 17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

What can be a more valuable family activity than reading the Word of God together? On the plains of Moab before entering the Promised Land God commanded Israelite parents to teach the Word of God to their children… day and night. In Psalm 78, the second-longest Psalm, God commands fathers to teach their children and their children’s children the works of God.

God’s Word, not our word, is powerful. God’s Word, used by God’s Holy Spirit, is able to accomplish what we need and want the most: our families to know Jesus personally and to walk with him in a way that others come to know him, too.

Many families know they should read the Bible together, but struggle to make it a reality. Therefore, it is the first pattern of four that I write about in my book, Real Hope for Your Home.

Following are four encouragements to help you establish or re-establish family worship as a pattern in your home. (I use the term “family worship” to represent the activity when the family gathers to read the Bible and pray together.)

  1. The goal is to see God’s love for his people

The goal of spending time in God’s Word as a family is simply to learn about how much God loves us. In other words, it is about developing a relationship with God. When this is our guiding principle, we will read Genesis to Revelation in a whole new light. The Bible becomes intensely interesting void of the boredom that comes from looking at God’s word as an encyclopedia, a theological textbook, or onerous list of dos and don’ts. When we see God’s love for us, it compels us to live obediently to him and all that entails, confession and repentance.

  1. Take a long-term view

There will be bad days. You will not want to read. Your children will complain. The discussions will be very dry and forced. You will get stuck in a place in the Bible and become bored. You might even just hit a bad patch in the family calendar when you will miss meeting days or even weeks. Guess what? God knows this! Because you are in Christ, he still rejoices over you and your family. If you are faithful, the pattern will prevail and consume all the bad days and weeks. But you can’t allow the bad days or no days to stop you.

  1. Vary what you do

Be wide-open to trying new ways of doing family worship. Read a book of the Bible, then read a devotional or other Christian book. Have different people read the passage of the day or pray. Share what you learn in your personal devotions. Or, have a family member share what they learned. Meet in a different room in the house. Meet at a different time of the day. There is no right or wrong way to do this.

Family Worship Podcast Season

To build on those three points, we offer a four-part podcast season on how families can establish time together around God’s word. Topics include: “The How and Why of Family Worship”. “How to Read the Bible with Young Children”, “How to Read the Bible with Older Children”, “Your Family in Worship at the Church”. Each podcast is only about 25 minutes long.

We are excited to provide this encouragement and equipping to families especially today as biblical foundations are under relentless attack. We need the solid foundation of God’s word in our homes now more than ever.

  1. Don’t give up!

The final point of encouragement is this: if you fail, remember that your righteousness is complete in Christ! His love for you has not changed. You have no reason to give up! Stay on the path! Believe what is true about you in Christ and let that compel you to keep seeking to be faithful.