Category: Christ & Culture (page 1 of 31)

Courtroom Compassion

CNN’s Ed Lavandera has conducted an interview with Judge Tammy Kemp, the Dallas County judge who presided over the recent murder trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Kemp has come under fire and is facing formal ethics complaints for allowing Brandt Jean, the younger brother of the victim in this case, Botham Jean, to hug his brother’s killer during the sentencing phase. Judge Kemp also hugged the defendant in the courtroom and gave Guyger her personal Bible to take with her to prison. The judge’s controversial actions clearly are against courtroom protocol and have generated lots of discussion nationally.

This interview is fascinating. It depicts so vividly the struggle Judge Kemp faced in deciding to allow Brandt to hug Guyger. The judge herself says she had to decide that, in addition to being a judge, she is a human being first. She knew that both Brandt and Guyger needed the hug in order to heal and to be liberated from anger and bitterness and to retain a sense of purpose for their lives. She speaks candidly about the power of forgiveness and compassion. She quotes from Micah 6:8 as a weighty passage of Scripture that guides her thoughts and actions. And she comes across as a very impressive follower of Christ as Lord.

Click here for the video.

Here’s to more forgiveness and more compassion.

Peace,

Allan

She Ran to Him

I’ve watched the video a dozen times and I’m moved to the verge of tears and inspired to the point of my heart bursting each time. You’ve probably seen the video: Botham Jean’s little brother, Brandt, speaking directly to Amber Guyger in the Dallas courtroom where she was convicted of murdering Botham and sentenced to ten years in prison. Brandt forgave her, told her he loved her, and then, in an unprecedented display of that forgiveness and grace, hugged his brother’s killer.

It’s remarkable. It’s beyond description. It’s Jesus. It’s the Kingdom of God. And it’s the only thing that can fix what’s wrong with us and with our world.

We can’t fix what’s really wrong. We try, but we can’t — not with education or technology or ingenuity or force. It takes forgiveness. It takes grace. It takes love.

It takes the words 18-year-old Brandt Jean spoke to Amber Guyger yesterday:

“I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I love you just like anyone else. I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did. I personally want the best for you… I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you. Because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want. And the best would be to give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you.”

Brandt then looked back at Judge Tammy Kemp and asked, “I don’t know if this is possible, but, can I give her a hug, please?”

When Judge Kemp hesitated, Brandt pleaded, “Please?”

When the judge said, “Yes,” Brandt stepped down from the witness stand and he and Guyger hugged.

But here’s what strikes me. Everything I’ve written to this point is only leading to this. This is what I really want you to read and seriously consider today. Pay attention to this.

When Brandt gets down from the stand and approaches Guyger she RUNS to him. She runs. She almost leaps into his arms to hug Brandt. And at the point when a normal hug would be over and the two huggers would typically separate, she re-hugged him. She wouldn’t let him go. His arms were open, he initiated the hug, but Amber Guyger ran to him and wouldn’t let go.

That moves me to the core of my soul.

I don’t know Amber Guyger. I don’t know anything about her other than what’s been written in the news and testified to in court. I don’t know much about her past, I don’t know the darkness in her heart, I don’t know why she shot and killed Botham, and I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now. But I know that when Brandt offered forgiveness and grace, she ran to him.

I don’t know but if Amber Guyger has been waiting her whole life for somebody to show her some unconditional Christian love. I don’t know but that her soul has been crying out for this for years: “Somebody forgive. Somebody express some love. Somebody say something kind. Somebody show grace. Somebody open your arms to me in acceptance and mercy.” And when somebody did — the teenage brother of her victim — she ran to him.

I also know that Brandt’s act of courageous forgiveness and unconditional love diffused the violence that was percolating in the streets of Dallas last night. Yes, there was a small protest in front of the courthouse. While Botham’s family sang and prayed at the Dallas West Church of Christ, dozens of demonstrators marched through downtown in protest of the relatively light sentence handed to Guyger. But there was only one arrest. Nobody got hurt.

I’m reminded that when the families of the victims of the church shooting in Charleston four years forgave Dylann Roof in that court hearing right after the massacre, the head of the Black Lives Matter movement called off their march. “It shut us down,” he said. “When they forgave him, it shut us down.”

The way she ran to him. I can’t get that out of my heart today.

That’s the power of the Kingdom of God, friends. The power of our Lord Jesus is not in threat or force or punishment, it’s not in numbers or petitions or boycotts, it’s not in protests or marches or demonstrations. The power of God’s Kingdom — what moves people and changes hearts and heals souls and destroys evil and will eventually transform us and the world — is forgiveness and mercy.

Brandt’s father said last night that his son’s actions in that courtroom didn’t surprise him because that’s how he was raised. That Church of Christ in St. Lucia taught and nurtured that, they practiced that. I hope our Church of Christ in Amarillo and your church wherever you are is teaching and nurturing the same thing.

Peace,

Allan

A Great and Terrible Nation

I’m always on the lookout for balance and objectivity when it comes to viewpoints regarding the way American Christians follow our Lord while living in the United States. Logic. Rational discourse. Theological insights coupled with Christian hope. Who is able to prophetically call out the idolatry of combining God and Country and, at the same time, acknowledge the really good things about this country and the blessings we enjoy here?

Mark Galli, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, is one such thinker/communicator. His recent editorial, A Great and Terrible Nation, correctly observes that calling the United States a Christian nation founded on Christian principles is a bald-faced lie at best and probably blasphemous.

“Can we, in any way, shape, or form say that America was founded on Christian principles when its very existence and prosperity were set on a foundation of unimaginable cruelty to millions of other human beings?”

At the same time, Galli calls us to love this country and to pray fervently for the United States.

“Let us continue to love it as we love our flawed families and friends. Let us continue to serve it as God leads us to. Let us continue to reform it as has been the practice of every generation. And, most of all, let us continue to pray for it, that God would continue to have mercy on us and on our children, and on our children’s children to the third and fourth generation.”

The United States was founded the way all worldly nations are founded: violence, rebellion, power, and oppression — nothing Christian about that. Since then, the U.S. has, ironically, become a land of freedom and opportunity for untold millions — it is possible for people to prosper here in ways they just can’t in most other countries. In short, Galli’s piece concludes that the U.S. is just like every nation that’s ever existed on this earth, blessed by God in many ways and in many ways standing under God’s judgment. This seems like the right perspective.

I recommend his editorial, which you can access by clicking here. If you like that, you might also enjoy and be challenged by his editorial in the May 2019 print edition “Repenting of Identity Politics.”

Peace,

Allan

Better Christians

“We don’t need more Christians, we need better Christians.” ~Francis Chan

The world is turned off by “radical Christians.” The world is sick of “Christian fanatics.” People don’t listen to Christians anymore because some of them are “too Christian” and are offending everybody. I can’t become “too Christian” and I don’t want my church to be “too Christian” because we’ll just make people mad.

Yes, we do hear the world complain about “Christian fanatics.” These “radical Christians” get born again and they start hollering, they start screaming against things. They yell and make speeches and forward emails against politicians and parties, same-sex marriage and evolution and abortion, immigration and homelessness. Pick a topic, pick any issue, and Christians can appear to be very judgmental and intolerant and loud. That’s what turns people off.

And when that kind of behavior is done in the name of my Lord, it turns me off, too.

When did those kinds of people and that kind of behavior get labeled “Christian?” Or “radical Christian?” Why do people who act that way get accused of taking their Christianity too seriously?

It’s terrible that the world thinks overbearing and judgmental and narrow and self-righteous is what it means to be Christian. It’s awful. Whose fault is it? How did that happen?

It’s our fault because we are not Christian enough. We don’t take our Christianity seriously enough.

When we’re loud and opinionated and harsh and judgmental, we’re not being radical Christians; we’re really not being very Christian at all. Christians are people who are following Jesus in his ways, imitating Christ, obeying his teachings, and living by his call. Christians should be radically humble. Fanatically sensitive. Over-the-top loving. Extravagantly forgiving. Extremely understanding. Christians should be servants. Just like Jesus.

Some of us can be arrogant and pompous and selfish and actually be a hindrance to the Gospel. We can actually be working against our God as he redeems the world. We say we carry a message of grace, but how will people experience it if we act that way? Sometimes, in the name of Jesus, we’ll just run over people. We can be so narrow-minded and stubborn sometimes that nobody’s right about anything but us.

Our Lord Jesus completely embodied and brought a powerful message of truth that called people to repentance and accountability and change. But he never ran over people.

If we were all really “fanatic” about our Christianity, if we were all truly “radical Christians,” the whole world would fall in love with our God.

What if every one of us made the decision today, right now, that from here on out everything is going to come from and flow through denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus? Every word spoken is a word of grace and encouragement. Every human interaction is drenched in mercy and goodwill. Every action is motivated by sacrifice and service for others. If the world saw all of us walking to the cross, walking with a cross, serving and sacrificing, dying to ourselves and dying for one another, loving unconditionally, forgiving extravagantly, showing mercy and grace to all, speaking only kind words, the whole world would fall down and worship our Lord.

People wouldn’t know what to call us. But they would more clearly see Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

The Primary Command

Few things are as thrilling in sports as a tied NHL Stanley Cup playoff game in the third period.  Only overtime. And the Stars outlasted the Predators Monday night in an edge-of-your-seat overtime slugfest to advance to the second round. My heart has just now this morning returned to its normal rhythms. Overtime in an NHL playoff game is the only true “sudden death” in sports. And it’s incredible.

One of the great things about a Stars game on TV is the running color commentary provided by Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. Every 90-seconds or so during every single game, Razor says something that makes me giggle. The guy’s a genius. Monday night he referred to the Stars’ six-foot-seven goalie Ben Bishop as the “net-minding mastadon.” After a wild flurry of saves late in the second period, Razor called Bishop a “brilliant rubber regurgitator.” He described a save by Nashville’s goaltender as “a sassy glove grab.” When the game was over and the American Airlines Center crowd was celebrating the series win, Razor reminded all the TV viewers back home that “the singular of confetti is confetto.”

Their second round series against the Blues begins in St. Louis tomorrow night.

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The world expects Christians to show love. That’s why people rip into the Church and rail against us when we don’t show love. That’s why they criticize us.

People don’t cuss at the beach because it’s sandy; it’s supposed to be sandy. We don’t complain when rain is wet; it’s supposed to be wet. we don’t gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo; it’s supposed to blow. That’s what we expect. And the world expects followers of Jesus to love. So, they rightfully call us out when we don’t.

(Sometimes we gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo. Let’s be honest.)

Scripture tells us plainly that, for children of God and disciples of Christ, the primary command is to love. From the Old Testament law and prophets to Jesus and his apostles, loving other people is the primary response and the natural reflection of God’s love that’s been so undeservedly showered on us

According to the Bible, if you’re not a loving person, you don’t know God. If you’re not showing love to others, you haven’t truly received God’s love for yourself.

Nobody in the world will listen to you talk about God if they experience you as an unloving person. You’ve got no credibility. It’s obvious you don’t know who you’re talking about. At Texas Dodge, they don’t let their salespeople drive Fords or Chevys. The president of PETA doesn’t run the membership drive for the NRA. And you’re not going to influence anybody for Christ if you’re not a loving person. You’ll push people away.

The Church is fractured and our witness to the world is compromised because we keep getting this one thing out of order. Instead of loving first, we judge first. We condemn first. We yell first. We whine and complain first. We forward the email first. We insult first, and then love comes somewhere after that. It’s out of order.

We put socioeconomic boundaries first. We put racial differences first. We prioritize parties, platforms, and politicians. We make denominational distinctions primary. We figure out our theology, doctrine, and church structures first, then decide later where, when, and how to show love.

Yes, there are difficult passages in the Bible that must be figured out and there are parts of Scripture about which followers of Jesus can legitimately disagree. But the command to love as the most important command and the one that trumps all the other commands is not one of them.

The apostle Paul tells us that a Christian who doesn’t love is like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Eugene Peterson’s Message translates it “the creaking of a rusty gate.” Someone else might say “fingernails on a chalkboard.” In other words, a Christian or a church like that is irritating. It gets on people’s nerves. It’s outwardly obnoxious.

If love doesn’t come first, if love is not the origin and the energy behind and through what you’re doing, it’s not good. A Christian or a church that prioritizes love over everything else fills the world with the hope and healing and joy of our Lord. Without love, a Christian or a church is a tree that bears no fruit, a cloud that produces no rain. Obnoxious.

This is a critical time in the Church. Theologians, historians, and sociologists have been telling us for four decades that we are going through the greatest transition in the last 500 years of Church history. And what you do matters. It matters to you and your family, it matters to your friends and your city, it matters to this country and to the whole world.

Anger is acceptable now in our culture, but that’s not who you are. Discord and division are society’s tools, but not yours. The culture encourages you to look out for yourself first, but that’s not proper for Christians. Asserting myself, my rights, and my personality is not my priority as a follower of Jesus. We don’t go along with the world on this. We don’t say, “Well, that’s just the way things are.” To somehow justify not loving other people, no matter the reason, is to squash our creativity and insult God’s grace and ignore the command of Jesus.

No person in the world who runs into a Christian should ever have to wonder if that Christian is a safe person who will love them. No server at a restaurant, no teller at a bank, no classmate at your school, no neighbor on your street, and no member of your church should ever spend one minute wondering if love has disappeared from the earth. People who run into you, people who experience you, should believe in love.

Peace,

Allan

Obey the Lord in Front of Your Community

“Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deuteronomy 6:8-9

Your commitment to God is a public matter. After all, what does it mean to write, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” on your front door? It’s a constant reminder that your first allegiance is to God. Every time you leave your house and every time you come home, it’s a reminder that your loyalty to the Lord controls all your activities both inside and outside your house. It declares to all your friends who visit you and to all strangers who drive by that the Lord is not just the unseen guest in your house, he is the supreme ruler.

And on the gates. The gates were the community gathering place, where things were bought and sold, where justice was administered, and where reputations were made. Dependence on the Lord was to be declared and practiced in the middle of all that, too.

Love the Lord with your whole person and obey the Lord with your whole life.

I think, as Christians, we are subject to a couple of temptations. We are tempted to treat our relationship with God as primarily a private interior thing or only as an exercise in external performance. It can’t be just one of those things. It must be both. Our love for the Lord and our devotion to him alone is certainly rooted in the heart. But it’s demonstrated in the wholeness of our lives, in a passion to speak about our faith with our families, and to publicly declare our allegiance to the Lord in front of the world. This passage says the very decorations in our homes and the things we wear on our arms and around our necks should testify to our loyalties to God.

Peace,

Allan

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