I was raised in a loving Christian home where my parents taught me the grace and love of Christ at an early age. However, that did not keep me from being surrounded by the trappings of fundamentalism in the Bible-belt. While my parents and pastors taught me that we are all sinners (“bad guys”) in need of the death and resurrection of Jesus to save us and forgive us of our sins, I was surrounded by those who adhered to a form of Christianity that seemed to say Christians are the “good guys” and non-Christians are the “bad guys.” There were those who seemed to think God was impressed with them because of what they did and didn’t do, and God was mad at anyone who was different than them. Regrettably, I would find myself from time-to-time adopting this way of thinking. I would be harsh and judgmental towards those who didn’t “act like Christians.”
One of my favorite short stories that I read in school was “The Lottery.” It tells the fictional story of a festival on June 27th in what seems to be a small, Middle America farming town. The story describes the townspeople gathering in the square while children play, women gossip, and the men talk about farming and the weather. Then, as is the annual custom, a lottery is performed where the heads of the families draw a slip of paper out of a black box. One husband draws a slip with a black spot on it. Then, slips are put back into the box for him and all of his family to draw one more time. On this occasion, Mrs. Hutchinson is the one who finally draws the slip with the mark on it. This story ends with a dreadful twist as the townspeople pick up stones and begin pelting Mrs. Hutchinson in the head until she dies.
This story kept my attention in school because of the striking end to it. The serene picture of a town festival in 20th century Middle America is shattered by a brutal and barbaric tradition. It is a shocking piece of fiction because the end reveals a fertility cult that practices human sacrifice in 20th century Middle America. Old Man Warner tells why they do this annually, “Lottery comes in June; corn will be heavy soon.” They do this to ensure the harvest will happen. They do this to ensure economic stability.
This barbaric practice is actually deep in human history. Ancient pagan fertility cults would sacrifice their children to the gods because they thought that would guarantee the harvest. In Leviticus 20, the Lord spoke through Moses to prohibit the Israelites from doing this sort of thing. They are forbidden to sacrifice their children to Molech the way that the peoples around them did. These people would plant the blood (seed) of their children in the ground to appease the gods so that rain would come and the crops would grow.
What is striking is that ancient, pagan fertility practices aren’t ancient at all. Miles from where I write this there are babies being brutally slaughtered so people can ensure economic stability (and a host of other stabilities). We in America are sacrificing our children by the millions to false gods like Molech (money, sex, comfort, career status, etc.). And, what is more shocking is that those who are pro-abortion are finally admitting that child sacrifice is taking place. In a scandalous article by Mary Elizabeth Williams entitled, “So What if Abortion Ends Life?” she says at the conclusion of her article, “She understands that [abortion] saves lives not just in the most medically literal way, but in the roads that women who have choice then get to go down, in the possibilities for them and for their families. And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing” (emphasis mine).
A friend of mine, Dean Inserra, who is the Pastor of City Church Tallahassee, tweeted the Williams article and called abortion the #1 social justice issue of our day, and I think he is right. Fighting the cause of social justice is all the rage among young people, especially young evangelicals. But, I fear that some young evangelicals love social justice issues that are seen as hip and cool in the mainstream and shy away from the social justice issue of abortion because it is so controversial. By the thousands we will raise our voice and wear a T-shirt for the 27 million slaves worldwide, and we should, but where are the T-shirts for the 42 million babies aborted every year worldwide?
The church needs to engage in this social justice issue, and that means more than voting records and bumper stickers. It means teaching our people that parenting is more important than self-fulfillment. It means sacrificing our time to volunteer in the nurseries and children’s ministries of our churches. It means Christians investing their time in tutoring programs and after school care. It means championing adoption and foster care. It means the community of faith adjusting our lifestyles even if we don’t have kids to help others adopt or to provide for single moms. It means fighting against poverty. It means recognizing that abortion is not just a women’s issue, but it is also a men’s issue. Many women would raise a child if they weren’t abandoned by the biological father. Churches need to train young men in how to man up. It means this and much more.
The Church also needs to minister to those who have had abortions. Fertility cults and child sacrifice may seem barbaric and distant, but they are not. According to Williams’ article, one in three women will have an abortion. That means this issue and the people affected by it are everywhere around us. They are in our homes, in our schools, in our workplace, and in our churches. Yes, we need to take up the cause of the most helpless of our society, but we also need to minister to the women who have chosen to abort (and the men who encouraged it). We don’t need to ostracize or demonize them. Instead, we need to share with them the story of a Father who sacrificed His Son on the cross to end death, end sin, end oppression, and end all that curses this world. We need to share that for those who believe in His sacrifice there is NO condemnation!
Recently, I observed a young father worshipping Christ during a chapel service. He had one raised and the other holding his crippled 18mo old daughter; she was enjoying a few minutes out of her wheelchair.
One of my dearest friends waits daily for his hospital-issued beeper to go off so he can rush his four year old daughter, “Leah,” to the hospital for a heart transplant—Leah’s heart will not last much longer.
Several years ago, a close family member was kidnapped, beaten, molested, and left unconscious in the edge of the woods; a few high school boys thought this was a good idea for gang initiation.
What emotions manifest when you hear these stories? Fury, for me! But, furious at who? Or what? Psalm 97:10—“O you who love the Lord, hate evil!”
Rarely are we reminded of Scripture’s instruction to hate sin. I do not have in mind the theological dilemma about whether or not God hates sin and sinners, but simply the fact that when Christians grow deeper in their love for God, their hatred for sin should deepen also.
Rape, incest, abortion, fathers who abandon their families, theft, sex trafficking, greed, million dollar mansions built next to tents and trailer parks, genocide, homicide, infanticide, suicide, sex trafficking—all man-initiated realities in God’s good world, but not what God intended.
Cancer, hunger, still-born babies, tornadoes that destroy towns, hurricanes that sink cities, tsunamis that devastate districts and earthquakes that cripple countries—all the effects of sin in creation that have taken the lives of countless millions.
How can these things be??? They are both the effects and outworking of sin.
And here’s the kicker, we are participants.
Men, every time you gratify yourself with a glance at a short skirt, a gorging at the buffet, or yet another draw-attention-to-yourself comment about who you know or what you’ve done, you fight for sin’s team. Ladies, each time you cover your mouth to whisper gossip, starve yourself so you’re more relationally marketable, or enjoy the thought that your kids are better dressed and better behaved than so and so’s kids, you fuel sin’s fire. As the redeemed of God, we certainly still struggle with sin, but it is not enough to “try harder to stop”; while resting in the sin-destroying work of Christ in our lives, we must increasingly hate sin and its effects. We must recognize that when we sin, we participate in the very evil that rapes women, kills children, starves families, and ravishes every ounce of order in creation. Hate sin!
But, love righteousness. God’s mission is to destroy this sin and evil that He too hates. By way of Christ’s finished work, and His Kingdom come, God will destroy death, sin and evil and restore all things to Himself where His people will reign with Him forever with righteousness and equity. What a privilege to share this great news with those who are slaves to sin, but can become slaves to righteousness.
As your love for God deepens, so should your hatred of sin. Don’t counsel porn addicts simply to “stop.” Help them understand that they’re contributing to the very thing that causes chaos and suffering in our world. Hate sin, but love, evermore, the One who has crushed it and will destroy it.
He bids us come and fight for His team. And, Christ, the team captain, “loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed [Him]…” Heb 1:9
Delight to Serve:
Have you ever experienced a waiter who each time you asked for a refill or extra napkins, he responded as though you were interrupting his evening? As though you were bothering him? We’ve all experienced some version of this, and can all agree that it is gut-wrenchingly annoying. Why is it so frustrating? Because, the waiter clearly doesn’t recognize his role as a servant. Somewhere along the way, he began to think that serving was someone else’s job.
Christians are called to serve. Yet, I notice far more Christians finding ways not to serve rather than delighting in the opportunity. This takes various forms like the secretary who always finds a way to transfer the call to someone else because she doesn’t want to deal with it. Or, the yard maintenance man who cuts corners every chance he gets. What is the mindset of this secretary and landscaper? It is to do what’s best for “me” instead of asking “how do I best serve?” It is delighting in one’s self rather than delighting in loving God and His world.
This kind of thinking is fundamentally upside-down and antithetical to the Christian command to consider the interest of others above your own. The attitude of one who delights to serve echoes the Psalmist who writes, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2) It is with this attitude that we should approach all of life. If you take orders at Burger King, recognize the opportunity you have to serve customers and delight in fulfilling your task with excellence.
If you are in management, see your role less as an order giver, and more as a servant leader. Serve your employees, and make every effort to demonstrate that you are not above any task.
Pastors, be reminded that you are called to model service to your people, and this service goes beyond the pulpit. Do not be found complaining that too few people serve in your church when your example is that of passionately pontificating on Sunday morning, yet nowhere to be found, and not to be disturbed the rest of the week. Is this really the shepherding of souls?
Seminaries, IMB, NAMB, State and Local Conventions, recognize your role as servants to the churches of the convention and delight in the task you’ve been given. Beware of making dictatorial decisions that are handed down to the churches you are called to serve. Make every effort to thank the churches of the convention for their ministry and support, and ask “how can we better serve you?”
Chick-Fil-A has modeled this well over the years, and for that I’m quite proud; but I’m embarrassed that they put most Christians and Christian leaders to shame as persons who delight to serve. When was the last time you meaningfully asked “How can I serve you?” and finished with, “It’s my pleasure”?
Approach every person and every task with this in mind, “How do I best serve?” Sometimes, the best expression of service is a loving confrontation of sin, sometimes it is volunteering to keep the kids so your wife can take a break, sometimes it is missing the newest Office episode because a friend needs a sympathetic ear, sometimes it is spending more time at home so you can get to know your neighbors.
“Lord, remind us to wrap a towel around our waist and delight to wash the feet of saints and sinners. For your Gospel rings more loud and true when proclaimed from the lips of those whose lives demonstrate a love for and service to God’s world.”
As a north Mississippi native, I’ve long been burdened about the need for healthy, Christ-centered churches in my home town of Corinth, and the surrounding region. Indeed, there is a “church on every corner,” but though USA Today named MS the most religious state in the Union, it also boasts the highest teen pregnancies, highest illiteracy rate, greatest obesity, and is the poorest state in the US. AND…most Southern Baptists per capita.
Thankfully, however, God is at work in Mississippi as evidenced by the One8 Network.
Based out of Senatobia, MS “ONE8 is a cooperating network of churches in partnership with the MS Baptist Convention, focused on developing pastors and multiplying congregations. It is our firm conviction that we must embrace the call to plant churches in order to fulfill the Great Commission, and no one else is given that stewardship more than the local church. We seek to do this through shared financial resources, intentional relationships, accessible church-planting churches, and an approved system of planter assessment, training, and coaching.”
Learn more about One8 and how to get involved at their website, http://one8.org/. If you are serving in a church or thinking of church planting in MS, we encourage you to connect with One8.
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