I Love Our People

I Love My Church GraphicHistory was made in Taylor County, Georgia during the high school prom of 2002. For the first time in thirty years the prom would be racially integrated. For over three decades this South Georgia town had held two proms, one white and one black. The school was approximately half white and half black, and the kids were conditioned to simply go along with the way things had always been. That was until a seventeen-year-old African American girl by name of Gerica McClary stepped up along with others in her class to campaign for one prom. We are not talking the South of the 1960’s. This was 2002. For the first time, blacks and whites and all ethnic groups could step onto the dance floor together.

This is my vision for the church. I imagine a day when all God’s people will join together as one body, one church, and one people to proclaim the name of Christ together. I imagine a day when the color of our skin or the culture we identify with no longer serves as a dividing wall for the church. Instead those differences are celebrated as what makes us each unique and united in our proclamation of Jesus as Lord.

What the church needs is more prophets like Gerica McClary. We need those who are not afraid to call it what it is – the church is one school attending two proms. Why is it that families who live in the same neighborhood get up on Sunday morning, dress themselves and their children, pile in a car, and drive to their white Churches, black Churches, and Latino Churches? Is there are any prophets out there among us willing to call us all to God’s dance floor? Is there are any dancers available to show us what the dance of God’s amazing grace looks like? When the Jewish Peter stands before the Gentile Cornelius to share the Gospel, he begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). He proclaims this because God had shown him in a dream that he is not to call “anyone profane or unclean” (10:28). So, where are the dreamers among us? Where are those who are not afraid to preach reconciliation?

The apostle Paul declares to the racially diverse congregation in Corinth, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:13). I have a vision of Church as the one body of Christ. I have a dream where race, social status, or age does not divide. But as long as we continue to think more of ourselves than we should as Paul tells the church in Rome, it isn’t going to happen. As long as the privileged of society drown out the voices of the underprivileged and the wealthy stand over the poor and we don’t have ears to hear what the young people are trying to say, we will never be a church that is united in Christ.

I love Liberty Hill Church because we are a church that cares for the poor, where race is identified as a person’s uniqueness in Christ and not used as a dividing wall, and where the voice of the next generation matters. We don’t always get it right. We are broken people. We need the Christian practice confession and forgiveness because at times we can be racist, judgmental, and threatening.

We cannot live out this thing we call church without you. While God may have individually spoken to you, called you, and saved you, you have been joined to a body, the body of Christ. We cannot be Christian without being joined to the body of Christ. The author of I John will go as far as to link salvation to fellowship. He believes there is no salvation outside of fellowship with God and with one another. If you think that you can be a Jesus follower without making your connection to the body of Christ a priority, then you have fooled yourself.

My grandmother has this bad habit of giving away gifts that were once given to her. If our family gives her a night gown and slippers for Christmas, someone next year will get those same slippers. Sometimes she won’t even open it. She will ask, “What is in here?” and then put it aside. We will find it in the same wrapping paper under the tree the following Christmas.

It is frustrating and yet, comical. But this is what the apostle Paul tells us to do with the gifts that we have been given. We discover our gifts within the body of Christ and in return we use those gifts in the body to build one another up. The gifts and talents that the church helps us figure out are to be used to shape the church into being who God has called us to be.

Paul could have used a variety of metaphors to describe the church. He could have used family. We are family who stick by one another in tough times. He could have used team. We work like a team to fulfill our mission. And yet, Paul uses the metaphor of body. We all know that we can take a break from the team. We can say, “I am not playing this year” or “I am taking this season off from the team.” We all know that we can go on vacation without the family. We see the family all the time, we have dinner with them, we celebrate holidays with them but sometimes we say, “You know, I love you but I need to take a break from you.”

It is hard to take a break from the parts of your body. The right arm cannot say to the left arm, “I need to take this season off.” The left leg can’t say to the right leg, “I need a break. Can you pick up the slack?” If that ever does happen, we don’t give excuses to parts of the body for not being what it suppose to be. Instead we go to the doctor and say, “My leg is not working right or my arm is not functioning.”

The church is a body that belongs to Christ. We are the body that gives Christ a face to the world. We are his voice. We are his hands and his feet. We cannot do it without you. You matter and Liberty Hill Church needs you.

And you need Liberty Hill Church. You need us to be Christian. You need us to mature in your faith. You need the church to know what love, grace, and forgiveness is all about. Some claim they don’t need the church to be Christian or simply they don’t think the church makes a difference in their Christian walk. This is unbiblical and self-centered. If you think that life is better lived in isolation from the community of faith that has been shaped by a great cloud of witnesses then you are claiming to know more than Jesus and the biblical writers. I don’t want spiritual insight from someone who sits around trying to be Christ-like alone. I want someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community. I am not coming to you for prayer and Godly wisdom if being Christian among other people is not important to you. When I need someone saying a prayer and encouraging me, I want it to be someone who has lived out the faith with other people and not someone who claims to do it in the comforts of their own selfish lives.

I Love Our Mission

I Love My Church GraphicMale birds develop sophisticated ways to attract mates. They build up more and more “attractors.” These attractors mean more weight, more elaborate color, more refinements to the feathers, until they can no longer fly or become easy prey for predators. The elaborate dance, bright colors, and beautiful feathers are impressive in attracting a mate but they also can become the male bird’s death. They can limit the bird from doing what it was intended to do – fly!

The modern Church has built its whole way of being Church around the attractional model. It has created “attractors” – large buildings, complex productions, and elaborate programs; all with the hopes that they can be the Church with the loudest “Come and see” appeal. The problem with the “come and see” model is that it puts the Church in competition with Disney, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue. The “come and see” Church will always be forced to focus more energy on putting on the latest production or creating the edgiest marketing instead of discipling the people to become more like Christ. “Come and see,” “come and be a part,” “come and follow,” is a part of the Christian way but only after the church “goes and tells,” “goes and lives,” goes and invites” to come and follow.

At Liberty Hill Church we want people to “come and experience” but we want it to be as an invitation from us who have “gone and told.” The Church should always be growing, always changing, always maturing but not because it has the best marketing in town or the coolest space available but because its people believe the words of Jesus when he said, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28: 19-20).  The Church grows because people believe that Jesus is with them as they go forth telling the Good News of God’s amazing grace. People should be flooding into the place of worship because the people who worship in that place have gone into the entire world and proclaimed the “good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

God is a God who sends. God sent Moses to rescue his people out of slavery. God sent his people, the people of Israel, to be a “light to the nations.” God sent prophets to remind Israel of their mission. God, the Father, sent Jesus to be reconciler and freedom announcer to all people. Jesus sends us. He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). If we stop sending, we stop being the church.

Martin E. Niemoller was born on January 14, 1892 in Lippstadt, Westphalia. During World War I, he served as a German submarine commander, but when the war was over, he went to seminary and became a Lutheran minister. Niemoller spoke out against National Socialism. He organized the Confession Church, a group of German Protestant Christians that opposed Hitler. Niemoller was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, after which he helped to rebuild the German Protestant church.

Not long before he died on March 6, 1984, Niemoller lectured at Drew University in New Jersey. In his speech he told of a recurrent dream that involved the voice of Hitler, a voice he had heard numerous times. Niemoller said in his dream he heard a voice speak from the clouds: “Before I pass final judgment, do you have anything to say in your defense?” And from behind him he heard an answer. He tried to turn his head to see the voice that was at the docket, but he couldn’t get it back far enough. However, he recognized the voice. “I never once heard the true gospel message,” Hitler said.[1]

Niemoller’s point was that even the most evil needs to hear the gospel. And it is our mission to get it there, to take up our commission, to agree that we have been sent. If we are not going to our neighbors, to our friends, to our co-workers with the Good News of Jesus Christ, then we have no right to call ourselves Christian.

Let me be clear, being sent does not always mean packing a suitcase and boarding a plane to the remotest part of the world. It could mean that you do that but it means as much about walking across the street or down the hall. When Jesus gave the Great Commission he said, “go” which the best translations read “as you are going.” It is not so much a change of territory as it is a change of mindset. The focus of going is “making disciples” which means as you are living out your life, going from here to there, “make disciples.” As I listen to the conversations that some have around missions I am afraid that missions have become idolatry. When missions is reduced to an agenda – feed the poor, build churches, take care of orphans – rather than living as a response to what God is doing in the world then it is salvation by works. If your need is to accomplish a predetermined task for God then it can no longer be called missional or Christian vocation. At that point you must call it what it is, good humanitarian work.

I love the mission of Liberty Hill Church. We exist to engage people in the life and mission of Jesus. We make no excuses about it. We exist to engage. We know that if we are going to continue to be a viable witness to the work of Christ in this area that we must engage. We will not hide behind walls. We will extend invitations. We will invite our neighbors. We will tell the Good News. We will take seriously the call to follow Jesus into the world.

As we said last week, we believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He has come not to just give us life but to give us abundant life. He extends an invitation for life filled with passion, a life of purpose and meaning, and life of joy. Anything less than these things is not the Jesus way.

If Jesus is the way to abundant life then we know that we must tell others. First, people must make Jesus the leader of their lives. He must be their lord and savior. When we say, “We are Christian,” we declare that, “Jesus directs my decision-making, my parenting, my marriage, my finances, and my relationships.” Jesus is my life.

Secondly, we believe everyone has a vocation. Everyone has a call, a purpose, and a mission. We exist for more than filling up space. Our life has meaning.  We believe every person matters.  We exist to engage people in the life and mission of Jesus. This is why we are here. This is what keeps us forward-looking. This is the reason we want the world to know that God planted Liberty Hill Church.

The revolution started with twelve men, twelve ordinary, common men in first century Palestine. Eleven saw it through to completion. It wasn’t easy. They were human. They had feelings. They had their own desires, wants, and dreams. Their emotions got the best of them at times. Their hunger for power limited their view of what Jesus was trying to accomplish in and through them.

In the first chapter of Acts, we find them staring up into the heavens watching as Jesus ascends out of sight. Jesus who was their closest companion was now removed from them. Jesus who went about doing good, proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick and giving himself in love is now no more. The one who they witnessed as his life was poured out in love and whose love bled down a wooden cross was rising into the clouds. Their moment of awe is quickly interrupted by two angels who ask, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Other words, “Quit standing around. Go and live your lives as redeemed men of God.”

They started a revolution that would “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The movement became unrestrained and unstoppable. It brought down empires, toppled power structures, and proclaimed a message of freedom to the enslaved. Caught by the vision of God’s reign and empowered by the Holy Spirit they set out to be witnesses of the Good News “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).

Two thousand years ago, it started with twelve being called. Eleven saw it through. Let’s refuse to be the ones who betrayed. Let us renew our mission to engage people in the life and mission of Jesus. Let’s come out of our religious ghettos and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. Jesus promised the kingdom and God sent the church. The best we can be is a sign of God’s reign on earth. We live out the hope of God’s presence among us. We are the life of the kingdom. We are the people of the vision. The vision that Jesus proclaimed when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Let’s quit standing around looking up into the heavens and wondering when Christ will return. Instead, let’s go out into the streets, byways, and highways proclaiming the Good News. Let’s mend up the brokenhearted. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s clothe the naked. Let’s give shelter to the poor. Not because it is to be our agenda but instead because it is where we will find God among us.

We are witnesses of amazing grace. We are witnesses of unconditional love. We have our own story to tell, how we were once blind but now can see, once lost but now found. We are like the eleven with our mixes emotions, fear, and doubts. Like them, we have nothing to boast of except the love of God who saved a wretch like me. Jesus has come to us, he has come to Liberty Hill Church, with a love without limit, and invites us to tell the story of love over and over and over again until all the world hears. Imagine what “Good News” turned loose on the world today would look like? Imagine it. Now go and live it. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Can I get a witness?

 

 

[1] Sweet, Leonard. So Beautiful. Pg. 65.

I Love Our Vision

I Love My Church GraphicWe live in an amazing city. I’m not just saying that because I think it is a great place to live. Canton, Georgia was recently named one of the safest cities in the state of Georgia. Our city has been identified as one of the most affordable cities in the state. With these two honors, Canton is ranked as one of the best places in Georgia to live. Our public schools are staffed with some excellent educators. Our public service employees serve our residents selflessly. A quick trip down interstate 575 gets us to downtown Atlanta. If we need to get away from the madness, we head north to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Canton has exploded in population over the past decade, jumping from 3,500 residents in 2000 to more than 23,000 in 2012. The word is out that Canton, Georgia is the place to live.

We have a variety of restaurants. Shopping of all sorts is available. Farmers Market on the weekends, movies in the park, and First Friday Nights on the square make for some great social events. There is an abundance of activities to enjoy. However, are we living abundantly? Do our lives radiate joy? When you speak to your neighbor are you hearing gladness in her heart? When you watch the children play is it carefree or anxiety driven? Just because we have been given the title “safest city” doesn’t mean we are not living in fear. Canton may be considered one of the most “affordable cities,” but it doesn’t mean we are not overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the Jones’. Life can be delayed, put on hold, and made into a doormat. Just because it is existence doesn’t mean it is life.

Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). He says this after reminding us that the “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). It is not hard for us to name the thief that robs us of life. For the single mom who is trying to provide for her children, he has a name. For the retired person who feels like has no purpose, he has a name. For the teenager who is constantly bullied, the thief has a name. For the suburban family trying to simply survive, he has a name. For the undocumented immigrant, he has a name. For the sick, he has a name. For the broken, he has a name. For the poor, he has a name. What is the name of your thief? What is the name of the one who is trying to rob you of life? What name is given to him – fear, poverty, homelessness, purposeless, cancer, anxiety, or worry? There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance, who steal our joy, or snatch away our passion.

And so, Jesus comes as a gate-keeper. He says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). There are those out there who want to steal and destroy. They want to sneak into your life and take from you all that is right and good and beautiful. Jesus says, “No more! I am going to lay down my life at the entrance of your life and I am going to keep you safe.” By making your coming and going in life through the access gate of Jesus, you will discover abundant life. It is what he meant when he replied to Thomas’ question, “How can we know the way?” with, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the way not just to life after death, but life before death. There is no limit to the gift of life that Jesus gives. The Psalmist promises, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in for this time on and forevermore” (Psalm 121: 7, 8).

Everyday we are faced with choices. We choose what is from above or what is from below. We choose light or we choose darkness. We choose what is true or what is false. We choose what leads to death or what leads to life. Jesus says if we try to get at this life by any other way than through him, then we become our own worst enemy. We destroy our own life, rob ourselves of passion, or steal our own joy. Without Jesus, the only choice we have is dark, false, and death. Abundant life is not something we earn or achieve, buy or barter for. It is a gift. A gift of God made available to us by the one who has laid down his life for us. We are simply called to walk that way by faith, to walk through the gate he has opened for us. Again, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Jesus never defines for us what abundant life looks like. We can translate abundance in different ways. It means passion, full, or plenty. But he never explains what a life of abundance is exactly. If we look at it within context, we discover that Jesus has just finished healing a blind man. This was a man who had been blind from birth. Everyday he depended on the kindness of others to take care of him. Some of the townspeople felt that he was blind because of a curse that was on the family. Others thought it was because he sinned. Regardless, everyday was lived in darkness. For the blind man, abundant life meant sight. It meant freedom. It meant new opportunities.

Abundant life looks different in different places to different people. However, it is always a response to whatever it is that tries to rob the children of God of life, purpose, and joy. For the single mom, abundant life may be the friendships of others. For the teen that is bullied, abundant life could be justice for the bully. For the undocumented immigrant, abundant life may be a life without fear. For the suburban family trying to keep up the status quo, abundant life may be the call to simplicity. Whatever it is that moves us from not just persisting, but thriving; not simply getting by, but flourishing; not just existing, but joyful living is abundant life.

What does abundance life look like for you? Is it life without fear? Is it life without anxiety? Is it life without worry? What would give you life back? Jesus says, “I am the gate for you to enter to receive it.” What would give you a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment? What do you need to feel accepted? Jesus, “I am the door.”

Abundant life means different things to different people because the thief is different for each of us. But this is why I love the vision of Liberty Hill Church. If abundant life looks different for different people, we are a church that is not afraid to join ourselves to God’s mission to bring abundant life to all God’s children. We are a church that pays attention to what is robbing the children of God of life and we will stand against those forces. We believe that abundant life is not just a reward at some faraway distance, but an invitation to discover life right now. Our vision is that God’s desire is that everyone experiences this abundant life. It is a life that matters and not just one that fills up space. It is a life of abundance caring for one another. A life filled with passion for living and not just existing. A life of purpose lived out by responding to God’s call to share love and forgiveness.

We may live in the safest and most affordable city but we still have thousands of people missing out on the abundant life. On any given Sunday only 14 percent of the population of Cherokee county is attending worship. That means 86 percent is missing out on the abundance of life offered by Jesus. They will not experience it unless we extend an invitation for them to join us for worship. There should not be a week that goes by that we are not inviting someone to join us for worship. If you believe that abundant life is found in Jesus, then why are we not sharing it? We average three guests a week. If we are going to be a viable church that is living out the mission of God, then we need to be averaging ten guests a week. It isn’t going to happen without us catching the vision of what an abundant life in Christ is all about. People are out there asking everyday, “Is there more to life than this?” “Is there more than just making a living?” Is there really life?” You have the answer. You have the correct response.

By coming into this world, Jesus gathers himself a community of believers who believes he is the bread of life for those who are hungry for purpose and meaning, who believe he is the living water for those who are drowning in despair, who is the vine for those who feel they having nothing to pull themselves back up, who is the good shepherd who protects those under his care. We are that community. Let us be captured by the vision of abundant life.

Just One More

“Just one more drink.” “One more won’t hurt.” One more will take the edge off.” “One more visit to the bar.” “One more shot.” “Give me one more.” We all have a “one more” story. Either we are the ones saying one more or we know someone who keeps repeating the “one more” line. It is always “one more.” And yet, “one more” is never enough.

Addiction is more than a drinking problem. Addiction comes in many shapes and sizes. It is done for the sake of feeling good, looking good, or tasting good. It shows up alone behind a computer screen, in front of crowds at a party, or with so-called friends in a dark room.  Addiction leaves us feeling high, low, alone, or crowded. Or it leaves us feeling nothing at all which is what most addicts are going for. Addiction offers us the escape from being human. It destroys our deepest passions. For the addict, life becomes narrowed down to the “one more” convinced that the “one more” is saving his or her life even while it destroys it. Every addiction kills; some do it more discreetly than others.

As humans we have gotten good at playing the “got-it-all-together” game. It is a game we have mastered with some efficiency. As long as someone keeps taking away our bottom we can keep playing the game. As long as we keep the excuses for the hurts coming, the habits fed, and the hang-ups downplayed, we can stay in the game.

You know that addiction is an issue when it begins to define you. If your life is lived for the next drink or drug, then addiction is what you are dealing. If your life is only about how to get high, stop the pain, or numb the feelings, then you are an addict. If drugs, alcohol, sex, work, or Instagram “likes” label you, then you could be an addict. If you blame others for your habits, hurts, and hang-ups, then you could be an addict. If you know someone who is always giving excuses or finding crutches to lean on, then you could be dealing with an addict. The addiction becomes a crutch. It keeps them from walking on their own. As long as the addict has a crutch, healing will not happen. At some point the crutches are going to have to be dropped.

It isn’t until we face plant on the icy bottom that the cracks begin to show up, the bruises hurt, and the ugliness is reflected. The “got-it-all-together” game is lost and we crawl away as losers. When addiction is the hand we are playing with, there are never winners.

Before King Solomon dies, Jeroboam, son of a servant of the king, starts a revolt that will divide the kingdom of Israel. After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam tries to return unity to the kingdom but when he ignores wise counsel the northern tribes secede from the kingdom and make Jeroboam king. Rehoboam is left with the tribe of Judah. In his fifth year, Judah is invaded by the king of Egypt. He comes in and takes all that is valuable from the house of the Lord and the house of the king. It appears that Judah becomes a vassal of the king of Egypt. The king of Judah is forced to pay a tribute to keep the armies of Egypt from attacking and destroying the people. Rehoboam becomes the last king of the united Israel and the first king of Judah after the kingdom is torn apart. The people of the land turn to idols and do wicked things under his leadership. He has lost all control and eventually is buried with his ancestors in the city of David. (See I Kings 14: 21 – 31)

Rehoboam’s life becomes an image of someone who is controlled by addiction. He refuses to listen to wise counsel. It is impossible to argue sanely with an addict. His heart is divided which causes his home to be divided. The addiction becomes king. It comes in and takes what it wants leaving nothing but brokenness and tears in its path. Eventually the only thing that can be said about the addict is that he slept with his ancestors.

Addiction does not have to be your legacy. There is a way out. It starts with honesty. Addiction will destroy your life. It will continue to take and take until you are left with nothing but shame and guilt. For a lot of us, our story is “it started out pretty good and then it got bad. But then I made a change and it got better. And then it got worse.” Why? We acknowledge we have a problem, we work hard to clean-up our lives, but we strive to do it all on our own. Jesus tells a story in the gospel of Matthew about an unclean spirit that decides to return to the house from whence it came. He finds it empty, swept, and put in order. The unclean spirit is thinking, “This is a great place for me to invite some friends over to hang out.” Jesus says, “The last state of that person is worse than the first” (Matt. 12: 45). Why? Hiding things in closets don’t last. The closet cannot hide all our secrets. Eventually, the pressure is more than the door can stand. It takes more than cleaning up. It requires turning over the keys of the house to Jesus.

Overcoming addiction happens when you get out of bed every morning and ask God for the strength to resist for that day. If you try to win back your neglected years, you will lose your days. Freedom from addiction is found in taking the next right step. What is the next right step for you? What one thing do you need to do today that is a step toward victorious living? It could be simply acknowledging you have a problem. It could be reaching out for help. It could be saying a pray that begins, “Thank you Lord for another day to make the next right step.” What is that step for you?

Faith is the most captivating power on earth. By it mountains move, waters divide, and the dead are raised. Faith is the only stimulant that can produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). If it must be dependency, let it be a faith dependent on Jesus. Quit playing the “got-it-all-together” game, put down the hand you’re playing and start trusting and confessing. The bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). What do you need to confess today? What do you need to come clean about today? What do you need to acknowledge? To confess means to “agree” with God. I agree that I am an alcoholic, drug addict, or workaholic. Be specific as you silently confess your sin to God. Addiction derails us from God’s pathway to peace and joy. Confession puts us back on track. Trust God to deal with your hurts, hang-ups, or habits.

The church is full of addicts. We are all recovering from sin and none of us has it all together. We are a community that is learning by faith to trust in God and daring to trust one another. We are people on a road called redemption. We are wounded people listening to a wounded pastor, living in the light of God’s amazing grace.

What is the next right step for you? Take it. Don’t look for a shortcut. Keep fighting. Stay with the struggle. Run the race. Crawl if you need to. But trust God. Hope in Christ. Never give up. As long as God is in control, resurrection is always a possibility. If today you find yourself saying, “Just one more,” let the one more be reaching for the hand of God.

Prayer of Confession (For Love of Power)

Eternal God, you are purer than our eyes can behold, instead of power to rule the world, you chose love. We look to you for mercy today.

We confess our failures in the art of love. We have talked about loving one another but have shown indifference, anger, and hostility. We have talked about serving others but have selfishly tried to manipulate for our own gain. We have talked of carrying the burdens of the downtrodden but instead have stepped on them. We have talked about sacrifice but instead rest in comfort while others are oppressed and face injustice.

We confess our love of power. You have given us splendid visions of goodness, truth, and beauty but we have replaced the vision for a craving to control, manipulate, and dominate.

Forgive our treatment of others and heal us of our addiction to power. Help us to see all our actions against the backdrop of Calvary. In the name of him who rules the world with love instead of power we pray and ask for forgiveness. Amen

For the Love of Power

He was taken to the highest peak and showed all the kingdoms of the world. He was promised it could all be his. If only he would worship at the feet of Satan, Jesus could have all the power and splendor of ruling the world. Scanning the horizon, Jesus replies, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’” (Matt. 4: 10).

If only the temptation to turn away from power was that easy. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Power is an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It is easier to control people than to love people. It is easier to manipulate than to negotiate. It is easier to own our life than to love life.

The very traits that help people gain control – being polite, honest, and outgoing – all but disappear once the rise to power. The person intoxicated with power becomes impulsive, rude, and reckless. They start acting like fools. Studies have shown the more power someone possesses the less sympathetic they are toward the concerns of others. The rise of power causes emotional detachment. Intimacy is seen as a threat to the rise of power.

Power sways our ability to make ethical decisions. Everyone understands that cheating is wrong. But a person of influence and control finds ways to rationalize away their moral lapse. “Yes, stealing is wrong but what I am doing is not stealing,” they may say. Power turns us into hypocrites. It has the ability to show our human weaknesses. Just like a person addicted to Meth starts showing the breakdown of the body, a person obsessed with power will show signs of the collapse of the soul. As Lord Acton said in the 18th Century, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Solomon took over as king during a tumult time. David’s sons were fighting for a throne that had been promised to the son of Bathsheba. After being anointed king by his father, Solomon sets to work consolidating the kingdom. In order for this to happen people had to be killed and leaders taken out of power. Leading a nation requires wisdom. He prays to the Lord and is granted wisdom. He could have asked for wealth or power, but he needs wisdom. God is pleased with Solomon’s prayer and grants him his request and more. Rulers from all over the Mediterranean world, including Queen of Sheba, were drawn to his court because of his legendary wisdom.

Solomon set out to build the temple. It took seven years and thousands of hands to construct. Once it was finished it became a place of religious identity for the people of Israel. The temple was a magnificent structure that reminded everyone who saw it of the God who had rescued his people from Egypt and had chosen the people of Israel to be his nation. The Lord appeared to Solomon with the promise that if his faithfulness and obedience continued, his family would be kings forever. Israel would be securely established for eternity. He was set to be the greatest king in Israel’s history.

If we read between the lines, we discover that Solomon enjoyed his power. Yes, it took seven years to build the temple of the Lord, but thirteen years were devoted to the construction of Solomon’s palace. He had fourteen hundred chariots, twelve thousand horsemen, forty thousand stalls of horses at his beck and call. He issued heavy taxation on the people and demanded forced labor. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. This was a measure of his influence in the ancient world since these were largely marriages used for treaties with foreign people. In order to keep peace in the palace, he builds shrines to the gods that his wives worshiped and houses for them to reside.

“The Lord was angry with Solomon” (I Kings 11:9). As a result, his kingdom would be torn away from him and given to others. All that would be left would be the tribe from whence he came. Solomon ruled with absolute power. He was his own destruction. He came to symbolize the wealth and glory of the empire. No other king ascended as high on the pinnacle of worldly splendor. His power became a wall of mirrors that reflected his own glory and reputation. Drunk on power, he became his own worst enemy. Possessing all the wisdom of the world could not keep Solomon from being seduced by power.

Ever since the snake said, “The day you eat of this tree your eyes will be open and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil (Gen. 3:5), we have been tempted by power. God knew that the world could not be rescued by power. Jesus was born in a place not fit for a king. He came not riding on a warrior stallion but a humble beast. He was lifted up not on a throne but on a cross. Instead of a crown of jewels, a crown of thorns was placed on his head. If God of the universe knew that power would not save the world, why do we fight for it thinking that it will solve all our problems?

We let the rise to power consume us. We live for the next promotion. We strive to have the most “likes” or followers. We stress over our place in the world. Jesus encourages us to take a look at the lilies of the field. Do you notice how God cares for them? They grow as God provides. Jesus says, “Even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Matt. 6:29). Solomon in his entire splendor has nothing on the grandeur of God’s creation. And yet, we strive to be the next Solomon.

Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” We reply, “Can we sit on your right hand or left hand in your kingdom” (Matt. 20:21)?  Unless we learn to keep our feet on humble ground and our heart connected to God’s love, we might just get carried away by seductive gust of power.

(Sermon preached at Liberty Hill UMC in Canton, GA on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014)