Light and Darkness

If you have ever seen the excellent, old film – “The Mission” that tells the story of Jesuit priests in 1700’s South America you know it ends tragically. In the final moments, these lines are spoken:

Hontar: We must work in the world, your eminence. The world is thus.

Altamirano: No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world… thus have I made it.

One character settles that the world is how it is and the other rightly admits that the world is the way we have made it. We have made a violent and vicious world. A world where violence and bloodshed are mourned in our streets and celebrated in our music, movies and video games. We will lament violence in the morning and pay to enjoy it portrayed on a big screen in the evening.

This is not a hashtag issue. It is not a political issue. It is not a legislative issue. As a country we have seen how impossible it is to legislate morality.

This is a heart issue. We have created a violent world because we have created a God-less world. Before you go “amen-ing” and complaining of the legal attacks on faith and faith speech, I mean something much more personal. As followers of Christ we are called to be the light, not to fight for the light, not to demand the rights of the light and not to complain about the darkness while doing nothing. The world is dark because those who have the light have largely failed to carry it.

We as Christ followers gather one day a week and lift our baskets and shine our light together and then quickly recover our lights and do our best to look like the world until we come together once again. We are the lineage of the early church who openly proclaimed the good news of Jesus under threat, fear and eventual punishment of brutal death and persecution.

But today we who have the light are often more afraid of a harsh word or rejection than of not shining the light of Christ. Or, perhaps even worse than fear, we simply do not care. We refuse the commands of our Savior to carry the light and we hide it away.

I am not blaming us for the recent attacks or violence but we must look long and hard at ourselves as bearers of the light and ask if the world is darker because we refuse to shine the light of Jesus Christ. And we must remember this one great, prophetic promise.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

-Pastor Tom

Guard Your Heart (Guest Blog)

This week one of our church members is our “guest blogger”.

Proverbs 4:23

“Guard your heart above all else. For it is the source of life.”

By: Lizzie Humphrey

            This verse has quickly become one of my favorite verses because it compares so closely to the way our hearts actually work in the body.  Every person has the desire to improve their longevity, their health, and their lifespan. To do so, people refrain from harmful substances and try to consume healthy foods and vitamins.  In the same way that we refrain from harmful substances and unhealthy foods to protect our hearts, we must refrain from harmful substances that are hurting us spiritually. Movies, TV shows, music, and so much more are constantly flowing into our hearts and minds that mock everything we believe in. I’ve recently had to stop a TV series on Netflix because it made light of things that are so serious in the eyes of God. Besides refraining from bad things, we also endure hard activities to improve our hearts. We endure cardio activities to make our hearts stronger. We invest a little bit more money on organic foods just so that are hearts and bodies stay strong and healthy. In the same way, filling our hearts with spiritual truth is the only way we can grow and finish the race that God has placed before us. I know this is something we may have already heard, but then why is so hard to follow? Why can one song or movie draw us in and compromise what we know is true?

The other thing that our hearts do to keep us alive, is that it pumps blood throughout our entire body. The heart muscle is like a pump. The right side of your heart receives blood from the body and pumps it into the lungs and the left side receives blood from the lungs and pumps it throughout the entire body. Though this is just a simple explanation of the anatomy of the heart, it gives a beautiful picture of how we should live. Our physical hearts get rid of waste, receive good nutrients, and pump the entire body with oxygen and nutrients. In the same way, we must get rid of the toxic waste in our lives, receive God’s truth and most importantly give out so much love that it can’t help but positively affect those around us.

But what if our hearts are broken? What if the pain of our circumstances continues to knock us down and our faith becomes drowned out by the tears that seem to never stop.  The best way I can explain how to survive emotional and spiritual heart failure is by comparing it to literal heart failure. In writing this, I’ve done a lot of research on how the heart works and how the body responds to heart failure. The first thing I’ve learned is that when the heart is not pumping enough (a.k.a heart failure) our bodies try and make up for it, which is called compensation. It’s incredible how God designed our bodies to help our hearts out when they are not working properly. But though the body is able to compensate for our hearts for a short period of time, it will soon not be enough to sustain the failing heart. So what now? Another article made it clear that you MUST see a doctor immediately and regularly. The cardiologist knows what’s best for the child or adult suffering with heart failure or disease. The doctor might suggest heavy medications or even surgery, but you must trust him.  God is our doctor.  He knows what’s best for you, even when our hearts are breaking. God might take you down a path that seems dreadful, but it’s for our own good. And as the body of Christ, we can’t heal the broken hearts around us, only God can, but we can compensate for those hurting around us through prayer and encouragement.

The challenge for those who are in need of guidance is to take in the good and get rid of the lies. Give love to those around and compensate for the wounded hearts because they are everywhere, and for those whose hearts are failing remember that only God can fix you. You must turn to Him and nothing else. Talk to Him and find out what the best solution is to fix your heart, and don’t be discouraged if the doctor suggests a recovery that takes times and is not easy.  Lastly, “Guard your heart above all else. For it is the source of life.”

Graciously Offensive

As I’m writing this afternoon I’ve been listening to an interview with J.R.R Tolkien’s son, Christopher. Christopher Tolkien stated that his father wove into his works a warning about the evils of coercion. He said that his father clearly showed this when he said that whoever had the “one ring” whether they were good or evil would have ultimately caused destruction. He stressed the idea of “coercion for good”, the idea that by using power and strength such as in a government in order “to do good” a worse evil is done. I cannot help but think that he was prophetic of what we see now as we watch our government, businesses, and industry enforce standards of tolerance and acceptance of what we for centuries have known to be wrong under the banner of “doing right” or “doing good” or “being fair”. Make no mistake, there can be great evil and wrong done in the name of good, especially when power and strength are used to enforce them.

We live in days where offense is the greatest evil possible and to offend someone or to tell someone no to whatever they believe or want is seen as a form of cruelty. We are in a time in our world and society in which we are sacrificing truth for comfort and standards for convenience. And in the case of tolerance and accommodation, like any other convenience or comfort, there is a cost and one day there will come a pay day. We as followers of Christ must be willing to be, if I may term a phrase “graciously offensive” with the truth. We must be willing to speak lovingly and graciously but above all truthfully about what God and His word says. You see as Paul warned us, the cross and the Gospel it symbolizes is offensive and we as Christ followers must be willing to offend someone in this world with the truth if it means that they may hear the news of the Gospel and respond.

A Christian Response to Terror

For many years as a small boy I got my hair cut on an Army base. We lived nearby and when my dad would go to get his haircut he took my brother and I. I remember as a young 7 year old getting to experience the uniquely male environment of an Army barber shop. Manly decorations and reading materials abounded. So there I sat as a 7 year old boy flipping through copies of Soldier of Fortune. I do not advocate that as 7 year old reading material and no doubt if my mother is reading this she is a bit perturbed. I remember seeing the stories of wars and death and the ads for t-shirts with manly slogans. The phrase I remember best is “Kill ‘em All, Let God Sort ‘em Out”. This was available as a bumper sticker or T-shirt.

As I watch the news coverage of the latest wave of terror attacks, this time in Brussels, I am reminded of that phrase. Intertwined with this news coverage are many politicians and pundits telling us how we should respond and often those speaking claim a Christian authority to their chosen plan.  We hear from some that we must love our enemies and from others that we must torture them. The Bible is twisted into poses of logical yoga to justify each position. But what should the Christian response be to terrorism? Allow me to offer three responses.

First, pray. Pray for the victims and their families. Pray for those who must respond to such violence and tragedy. Pray for our leaders to seek the One who can truly guide how to respond. Pray for our enemies. Follow Christ’s words in Matthew 5:44 “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” . That does not mean to pray for their comfort but to pray for them to be stopped, to pray for them to see the light that ends such terror.

Second, remember. Remember that we live in a fallen world, a world where sin has corrupted everyone and everything. We are shocked by such violence and rightly so. But as we are shocked we must remember that violence on a national or international scale is a magnification of the violence and brokenness we experience in our daily lives. As you remember that the world is fallen, remember that Christ has promised a new and whole world beyond this fragile and broken one. Through Christ we have the promise that as the old hymn says “this world is not our home”.

Finally, respond. We as people and as a nation must respond. Pray for those affected and weep for those who are gone but remember that as Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time for every season under Heaven. When the time for weeping has past we must respond. Christians should be on the front lines of offering humanitarian aid to victims of terror. We should be living examples of the Gospel we preach. But beyond, the natural response of aiding the victims we must choose to respond to terror as a nation and we must be willing to fight evil. In the book, Perelandra, C.S. Lewis tells the tale of a college professor who is transported to another planet to battle an evil lurking there. Professor Ransom begins as any academic would, by arguing and attempting to use logic against his enemy. But there comes a point where Ransom sees how pervasive and destructive the evil is and realizes that logic will not work. Ransom reluctantly takes up arms to fight. I do not believe that Christians are ever right to proclaim the idea of “Kill ‘em All, Let God Sort ‘em Out” but I do believe that there comes a time when we,  like Lewis’ hero, must lay aside academic debates and be willing to fight against those evils that are so destructive and pervasive that they are indiscriminately destroying lives around the world.

We are travelers journeying through a broken landscape and we often differ in our views on politics but as we journey we are never permitted to look on suffering and terror and walk away. If we do we are no better than the Pharisee who was too busy heading to church to stop for a beaten and bloody man on the road to Jericho.  Pray. Remember. Respond.

-Pastor Tom Covington

Why Do You Come to Church?

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement and where everyone has a grievance.”
 
That is a frightening line since for many pastors the idea of everyone having a grievance is the reality of Sunday morning. Long before the pastor enters the pulpit he has had to wade through a sea of grievances. Temperature of the building, cleanliness of the parking lot, the presence or absence of some feature or item, or any other of a thousand items can be brought to his attention before he stands in the pulpit to deliver God’s Word. After that if the pastor engages people after the sermon he may hear more honesty than he would like. 
Certainly for many pastors in our day this is not a reality. In many contemporary and certainly larger churches this is a non-issue because the pastor waits in a green room to enter the stage at his appointed time and when done is quickly whisked away. None of the pesky annoyances of dealing with people. (This is not the point of this article but I will insert here that upon finishing the greatest sermon ever preached, Christ walked among the people and laid His hands on a leper.) But for most pastors, the green room is not reality. For most pastors they face the sea of grievances each Sunday morning. Certainly not everyone has a grievance and there are many wonderful people that greet and love the pastor. Unfortunately as in any area of work or service though, the grievances are the loudest.
This fact leads to the question of “Why do you come to church?” Is it primarily to worship God and celebrate the goodness and grace of the Gospel OR is it to come as an auditor of every issue you can find? I remember very clearly the first time I learned that people sometimes come to church because they are unhappy. I remember speaking with a gentleman who shared his displeasure with the church and pastor and other people at the church. He said he kept attending to “see what happened.” I imagined this as the same attitude of sucking air over a toothache – you know it will hurt but do it anyway. To this day I wondered why this man did not find somewhere he could worship with joy. It made me sad and a bit confused.
Let me offer some ideas for this situation. First, if you are absolutely miserable at a church and you are the minority of the church. Leave. Yes, I said that. Leave. Find a church where you can worship with joy. It is likely that your misery at your current church is hurting you more than anyone else. Second, each week prepare your heart for Sunday by being in prayer and in God’s Word so that when Sunday comes you are focused on worship not grievance. Third, some grievances are based on a legitimate issue that does need to be addressed. In these situations ask 2 questions. Number 1, what is the best way to express this issue and who should I express it to? Number 2, what is the best time to express this issue? Often the pastor is not the best person to come to with an issue. It may be better to take an issue to a deacon or trustee or person in your church who handles technical or building issues. If the issue does need to go to the pastor then determine the best time and way to address it. Let me speak for pastors everywhere when I say that Sunday morning is not the best time. Generally pastors are focused on greeting and meeting people and preparing to deliver the sermon. It is often difficult for a pastor to hear a complaint on Sunday. Also determine the best way to address your issue. Maybe a nice e-mail on Tuesday or an invitation to lunch or a scheduled appointment where you express the concern AND why you feel it is important. Very often the way something is delivered goes a long way to the way it is received.
Above all place Christ first and complaints last.
-Pastor Tom

The Ministry of Silence

“Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it.” – Thomas Merton

In our Sunday night meetings at the church we have been talking a lot about people’s stories and the power of sharing what God is doing and has done in our lives. The question was asked recently about how we relate to someone else’s story when it involves hurt and suffering and especially when those are the current status of that person’s life.

I have thought a lot about that question and the responses we discussed. I keep coming back to the idea of silence. I don’t mean a silence of indifference or uncaring but the kind of silence that communicates that we are present and listening to someone. As I have thought through times of struggle or trial in my own life I remember some of the things people said at those times. Certainly the speakers were attempting to be kind and comforting but at times it had the same affect that occurs when a  cashier says “thanks for shopping here” and we respond with “you too”. We mean to be polite but it makes no sense. I am certain that many times in ministry I have failed to provide comfort precisely because I did speak and not just remain silent.

In my father’s last days as he lay between this world and the next, I said many things to him. I told him I loved him. I read scripture. I recited stories he had shared. But very often the most powerful moments were silent. A father and son together and each contemplating how one of them was looking beyond the shores of this world to what Tolkien called “a swift sunrise on a far green country”. The silent moments are the ones I cherish.

I was taught in seminary that the one (and only thing) that Job’s friends got right was their initial silent presence with Job in his misery.

12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:12-13

I think we should grasp that as more than just a pastoral anecdote. There is a tremendous power in the silence of simply being present and listening to another. So let me encourage you to practice this ministry of silent presence. When someone who is hurting or wounded shares with you, do not be so quick to speak, let your presence and listening provide the strong comfort that they truly are. Then pray (silently) for God to direct your words. Perhaps we can all be better comforters when we use our presence before our words.

  • Pastor Tom Covington

Grace vs. Law

Law-vs-Grace

By: Pastor Tom Covington

Last year I finally finished climbing a mountain, or at least it felt like it. After a year of trying, I finished reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. And I am glad that I did. It is an incredible book especially when its central point is grasped at the end. For all its stories, characters and descriptions of ancient Paris, the book is truly the story of 2 men – Jean Valjean, a convict, and the law-abiding Inspector Javert that hunts him. Valjean begins the book as a paroled criminal and a man for who prison did nothing to change his heart. But early in the story he is treated to an incredible act of grace that changes his entire life. That grace becomes the North Star for the rest of his existence. But as Valjean seeks to live in the grace he received and show that grace to others, he is hunted by Javert – the figure of the law – who does not care about good and evil or grace, only about the law. It is a stunning picture of how the law hunts us when we are outside of God’s grace. The law hunts us and tells us “you must obey”, “you must work harder”, “you must do enough to earn your salvation”. All while Grace says “you can never do enough, but in Christ you don’t have to.” Law vs. grace. Valjean vs. Javert. Until the book’s climax, when finally the 2 men are face to face. Javert seems to be the victor until Valjean performs an act of Christ-like grace. Valjean agrees to surrender to Javert and spend the rest of his life in prison in order to save the life of another man. This act of sacrifice and grace overwhelms Javert. But Javert and his law based soul cannot comprehend this grace and it wrecks him. He proclaims to Valjean that he has tried his entire life to never break a rule. And in that moment the upright, rule-keeping Javert realizes he can never find salvation in rule-keeping while the criminal Valjean has been saved through grace. In a stunning final act, Javert is wrecked by grace.

When we encounter God’s grace it does wreck us. That is a good thing. Hopefully grace wrecks us like it did Valjean. We see the darkness of our sins and our soul and we receive God’s grace and are rebuilt from the wreckage. But there is a danger that grace will wreck us like Javert and we will see our inability to ever be good enough as a bad thing and we will try harder or we will simply give up trying. We will come to hate both grace and law and we will retreat farther from Christ.

I pray today that you have been wrecked by Grace and are being rebuilt by it. That you are being rebuilt in the image of Christ and are seeking to live your life as an expression of the grace you have received.