What Is The Answer?

When I saw the video of George Floyd’s arrest and subsequent death there was a flood of emotion and a flurry of thoughts.  In the wake of more terrible news across the United States of America, I realize there is little that I can say that will change what is happening.  I also realize that many are wondering what this all means and how any of it will ever change.  Some of you know what it means because you have experienced acts like these and you live in fear of those things.  There is little that I can say that will change what has happened, however, I do think there are steps that we can take.

We have a race problem because we believe there are races.

We have a race problem because we believe there are race(s).  There are not races.  There is one race – the human race.  Whenever we look at each other, treat each other, categorize one another, have bias for or against one another, over generalize one another and draw conclusions about one another based on the color of skin, the style we exhibit or even the lifestyles we have – we have played into the problem.  We do not have multiple races.  Yes, we have ethnicity, culture, and even skin tone, but those things do not define anyone like the word HUMAN!  Each person is a HUMAN.  So, when you treat or interact with someone, talk about someone, draw conclusions about someone or even generalize someone in your mind based on skin, you are demonstrating your heart struggle with the sin of partiality (more on that to come).  God has clearly created us from one blood.  The Scripture is full of references to this.  Acts 17:26 states:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

So what is the solution?  First, believe that we are all from the same Father and we share commonality in that we are made in the image of God.  Stop valuing or devaluing each other based on experience, skin tone, or anything else.  Value one another based on one truth – we are made in the image of God.

Solution #1 – Believe what God says about our shared origin and act accordingly.

Second, we have a race problem because we have a heart problem.

The sin of racism at it’s core is favoritism or partiality.  If you treat one person a certain way based on any number of issues – gender, skin, economic or social status, etc – you are practicing partiality.  Now, here is where it gets hard – do you find yourself uncomfortable around people who are homeless?  Do you get nervous and act differently around people from another culture?  Are you willing to treat a person who is a refuge or immigrant different than someone you might consider “legal”?  If so, those things reveal the real heart struggle of partiality.  This is where we need to look at allowing the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and having an honest take on what He reveals.

Solution #2 – Honesty and Holy Spirit heart searching is required.

Third, the only solution with past, present, future and eternal ramifications is the heart change brought about by the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that interlocks with working toward justice.

Yes, we should speak out against injustice.  Yes, we should hold accountable those that are doing wicked things.  Yes, we should work to see structural change in our society, in our country, states and cities.  Please hear me when I say this – yes these are important.  However, the only thing that will bring lasting change – change with healing and hope – is the heart change that is brought by faith in the work of Jesus.  This change is a work in progress and the church of the 21st Century is proof of that.  We are not perfect, but as we lean into the gospel we see Jesus’ heart for listening to our brothers and sisters who are being mistreated.  As we lean into the gospel and learn to apply it we see that we can serve those who are oppressed, depressed, downtrodden and even forgotten.  We (the Church) need to remember that the solution is calling people to repentance of their sins and faith in Jesus Christ.  Any other solution does not produce the full spectrum of change needed.

So, Christians, we need to make sure that we are working toward the spread of the gospel.  We need to be building helpful and grace oriented relationships to point people toward Jesus.  But don’t miss the call to work toward justice wherever possible.  I love Tim Keller’s statement on the gospel and justice:

“To work against social injustice and to call people to repentance before God interlock theologically.” – Timothy Keller

So yes, God wants us to call people toward Jesus and I believe that is the primary calling of the church.  But I also believe that there are many opportunities for us to work so that those who are the least of these (Matthew 25:40) know that we are for them and not against them and better yet – that God is for them and not against them.

Solution #3 – Share the Gospel, call to repentance and do justly.

One final note on this last point.  Sometimes doing justly means holding people accountable.  This is not fun or enjoyable in any sense, but it is imperative.  I am a Christian leader.  If I ever break the law, or have a moral failure of some sort, I expect to be held accountable.  Other pastors and leaders have had failures, but that does not lessen my trust in other pastors or Christian leaders – it is only a sober reminder of the need to take heed to my own heart and the true teaching of God’s word.  With that in mind, where other officials fail, I can decry the failures while still trusting the other authorities God has allowed.  To declare the death of George Floyd unjust – does not diminish my respect for police officers – many of whom are my friends and I trust.  My respect for the role – whether pastor, officer or government official does not stop me from speaking out when something is wrong – it actually encourages it.  In other words, speaking out against injustice, does not contradict my deep respect for the role or those who put their lives on the line to carry it out.

What Is The Answer?

Key Verses For Unsettling Times

A good friend of mine shared a document with me yesterday with a list of verses that He has been sharing out with a regional collaboration of churches that he works with.  It’s a great idea and it inspired me to create a list for us.  Check these out.  Also, if you want a pdf of it to print out and post – email me at a.patton@newstory.church.

Covid – 19 Key Scriptures Guide

Psalm 46:1-3  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Hebrews 13:5-6  “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’”

Psalm 56:3  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

2nd Timothy  1:7  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

John 14:27  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

John 16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Joshua 1:9  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Romans 8:38-39  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1st Peter 5:6-7 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Philippians 4:6-7  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 41:10  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

1st Peter 4:12-13  “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Romans 12:9-12  “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need…”

Romans 5:3-8  “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

James 1:2-5 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Philippians 1:27 – Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.

Psalm 94:18-19  “When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

Key Psalms: 4, 8, 16, 18, 20, 23, 27, 30, 86, 131

Key Verses For Unsettling Times

We are still the Church

I’ve said it several times over the past week.  You’ve likely heard several others say it as well.  We have an entirely new situation in front of us.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  For centuries we’ve done a lot of things in very similar ways.  Not anymore!  But don’t forget:

We may not be gathering but we are still going as the church!

We may not be gathering but we are still the church!  Here at New Story we started using the #alonetogether hashtag in order to remind ourselves that though we are social distancing and a lot has changed, we are not alone.  So, I want to address what it actually means when we say: we are still the church.  Here are my top 4 truths behind the statement: we are still the church.  We need to remember these truths and practice them because we are still the church.

God still loves us.

Yes, this is crazy.  But remember, through every dangerous and dark situation our world has ever faced, God has loved His people.  I wonder how God has demonstrated His love for you already.  What are you seeing?

Throughout the centuries, God has demonstrated His love for His people by sustaining, not removing them from dark situations.  Think of the Holocaust, the great persecutions of Christians during the 1st through 4th Centuries and the persecutions that have occurred recently in countries around the world that are closed off to Christianity.  God tends to show His love by supporting and sustaining His people through great and terrible times.  Today is no different.  If your expectation is for God to show His love by removing this, I am afraid you will be disappointed.  We can pray for that, but I don’t have any insight into how He will answer.  Don’t let that trick you into thinking that God doesn’t love us.  He does.

We need to love the world like He does.

The rest of the world is hurting too, and we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.  So, if God does love us, then we have an opportunity to love the world in a dark and dangerous situation.

Now more than ever you have a reason to check on your neighbors.  You have a reason to reconcile with a boss you’ve been fighting with.  You have a reason to reach out to an estranged family member and demonstrate love.  God, your God – loves this world desperately.  We need to demonstrate that desperate love.

We are still called to live holy lives.

There is a lot of talk about cleanliness right now.  Wash your hands.  Use hand sanitizer.  These are all important things – by the way, you need to be doing those things.  Do everything you can to promote health including social distancing.  But we also need to keep working on doing the things that will help us live holy lives.

Check your heart and your attitudes as often as you check what is going on with the virus.  Check to see if there is sin that you need to turn away from.  Are there positive steps that you need to take and have been avoiding?  Prayer?  Studying Scripture?  Asking forgiveness?  Checking your media and entertainment intake?  If so, don’t come out of this quarantine spiritually fat.  Work now to be spiritually fit.

We still have a common mission.

Finally, there are people all around us who are innately more aware of their own mortality.  Because of that, I believe there is an opportunity to point people toward the hope that Jesus has provided through His death, burial and resurrection.  We have hope because of Him.  Not our own deeds.

When Covid 19 is all over – what will be told about us and how we lived?  I hope that the story will be told that we shared Jesus over and over and we supported the needy and loved on the lost and cared for the lonely.  That is our mission.  We still have work to do even though the world seems to be in quarantine.

We are still the Church

Problems, Fears and A Balanced Response

I’m not sure any of us have experienced anything like this before.  You would have to be living under a rock to avoid the enormous amounts of information and conversation about the Coronavirus in recent days.  Social media displays everything from fear, mockery and even legitimate suggestions.  Since we are all aware of it, I wanted to share a few thoughts:

Don’t stick your head in the sand.

There is a legitimate problem that is threatening many people.  Every individual matters and therefore when a person is sick, injured or dies, that is a terrible concern.  Yes there are many problems all around our world that place people in jeopardy, but this is another.  We shouldn’t ignore it and we shouldn’t ignore the concerns that others have.

Be a hope dealer.

If you are fearful, or if your neighbors/friends/family members are fearful – I hope that people won’t mock you.  Sadly, some of that is happening.  Christians – this should not be us.  Please don’t mock people who have fears.  Some fears are held by those who have preexisting conditions.  Some fears are there because of concern for loved ones.  Let’s acknowledge that there are fears and address that but not mock it.  In fact, when these fears come up, why not share the source of our hope – Jesus.  Encourage people.  Remind them that God sees them and cares.  Point them toward Jesus.

Handle your fears with wisdom and trust.

If you have fears – remember – we can take those fears to God and not be controlled by those fears (Philippians 4:6-7)  On the other hand – Christians, this isn’t just a trust thing.  It’s not like we can simply trust God and you won’t get sick.  You can pray about it.  You can ask God for protection but I don’t know how He will answer that prayer.  However, you can trust Him to work for your good and His glory.  You can trust that He will keep his promises to you no matter what.  I can trust that even if I grow sick and die, I have the hope of heaven.  We should use wisdom as well.  Take the normal precautionary measures.  Be wise about hygiene.  If you are sick – be wise.  Stay home.  If you are around people – don’t shake hands.  Use your elbow.  Wash your hands.  Use hand sanitizer.

Let’s help our city.

Christians, this is where we can excel.  Our world is afraid.  Please recognize this as an opportunity to point people toward Jesus.  He is why we have hope.  Our hope is found in something better than a life here where we never get sick.  Our hope is found in eternity.  Use these very real fears as a chance to talk about Jesus.

We can also excel by serving those around us.  Rather than hoarding – we should be ready to share with those in need.  The early church was not known for spreading fear and stockpiling for themselves.  The early church excelled because they were ready to help the needy and ready to share with others who were walking through difficulty.   If there are shortages – share.

How about you?  What opportunities do you see to help and encourage others with the abundance of fear around us?

Problems, Fears and A Balanced Response

God’s Will “For Me”?

As a pastor I often have conversations with people about what is best for their lives and how to make decisions that will lead them in a good direction.  Personally, I don’t always enjoy this part of what I do as a pastor because there is always a bit of fear in me when these discussions roll around.  The fear is related to one very big idea that I personally hold.

I believe that God won’t lead you contrary to what His revealed word says.

Yes, I actually believe that and it’s rooted in one idea – God Never Changes!  So, if God never changes and He has already spoken on the subject of finances or sexuality, church involvement or even swearing, then yes – He will not lead you contrary to what His word (The Bible) already says.

Here is my point.  Increasingly – Christians are saying – I need to figure out what is right for me – and they are applying this idea to areas that God has already spoken on.  So, guess what: you don’t have to figure out what is right for you.  It’s already right in front of you, on your phone, in your Bible app.

Here is why the fear – this idea is putting me in an increasingly small group.  I know that!  But it’s okay, because God doesn’t change.  So, please, look to God’s word concerning the issues of “His Will”.  Most of the things we have questions about, He has already spoken on.

God’s Will “For Me”?

4 Steps To Creating A Plan Of Escape

I confess, I’m writing this because I need to be reminded, and I would guess that if you are trying to follow Jesus…so do you.

I’m teaching through Romans right now.  It’s not a long teaching series, so I don’t get to spend a ton of time on each verse or chapter, however I’m trying to wrestle with as much as I can in the allotted time.

This past weekend I interacted with Romans 6.  It is needed in the life of the Church and in the life of this pastor.  Statements like this:

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  – Romans 6:2

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; – Romans 6:11-13

So in thinking through fighting back against sin, I was reminded of how we need to identify the temptations we are struggling with and put a plan of escape together.

Have you done that?

Do you need to?

If so, here are four helpful steps that I’ve been using since my college days.

Identify the specific temptations.

The first step to putting a plan of escape together involves being honest about what you are struggling with.  You may be tempted to steal at work.  You may be tempted to lie.  You may even face temptation toward things in your mind  that no one else might see.  Whatever it is, be honest about it so you know what you are facing.

Identify where you are likely to face them.

Where do you tend to face these temptations?  Do you tend to face them at work?  At home?  Late at night?  On the way home?  Wherever and whenever it is, if you identify it, you can prepare yourself for those moments.

Write down someone you can call or a place you can go to take yourself away from the temptation.

I know what you are thinking – you’re not going to call someone else about this struggle.  Well, I hope I can convince you change your mind.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.  – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

When we have someone else who can help us, the chances of our success dramatically increase.  Who can you call?  Where can you go to get away from the temptation?

Choose one verse you can memorize and fight with.

The last step that I have found incredibly helpful is memorizing Scripture.  When I get in the heat of the battle, I need to be reminded of what I want most, not just want I may want right now.  God’s Word reminds me of the truth.

Choose a verse.  It doesn’t have to be the perfect one.  God will use it to help you.  Write it down on a card and begin to read it each day.

Having a plan of escape when temptation comes is critical.  Sin will be killing you and your relationship with God and others if you aren’t fighting to kill it.  If you want to see more from Romans 6 about why we can’t keep walking in sin as Christians, you can check it out here!

4 Steps To Creating A Plan Of Escape

Why You Won’t Win Unless You Are Honest With Yourself

The truth is…it’s a struggle for every single one of us.  Some people look like they have it all together.  Some people act like they don’t struggle.  Some people even believe that they are immune, but the reality is that everyone of us fights an inward battle that we will never win until we are honest.

What is it?

It is the battle with temptation.

Now, I realize that not everyone who reads this will acknowledge the idea of “sin” or temptation, but I think we can all acknowledge that it is possible for us to do things that hurt other people and vice versa.  For me that is the very definition of sin and sin starts with temptation.  Here’s what I know about temptation – it usually starts in our minds and we tend to hide the fact that we are struggling with it – and as long as we do, we aren’t going to win!  That’s a problem.

Temptation – it usually starts in our minds and we tend to hide the fact that we are struggling with it – and as long as we do, we aren’t going to win!

And in case you were wondering, the problem is bigger than we think – here’s why:

Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits, habits lead to lifestyles, and lifestyle produces a legacy.

So what can we do?

In 1 Peter 4 – Peter tells us to arm ourselves with the attitude of Christ in the battle against sin.  Christ went to the cross with eyes wide open – knowing that it was going to be a great battle.  He was honest and open about not wanting to do it, but having a willingness to obey the Father.  That gives us a real key to fighting back against sin: honesty and humility.

What if we were honest about our struggles and knew that sharing that struggle wasn’t a pathway to condemnation but a doorway to restoration?  What if we were honest with ourselves, honest with God and honest with trusted friends about our private struggles?  What then?  Maybe we would win a few more battles.

What if we were humble enough to acknowledge that we need help?  I think that honesty and humility would begin to produce habits and lifestyles that would produce a different legacy.

So, start with being honest with God daily.  Then be honest with a trusted friend, and maybe we can grow in a way that will help us fight back against sin.

A final question for you all – is the way you are currently living going to produce the legacy you want to leave behind?  If not, why not honestly and humbly ask for help.

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Why You Won’t Win Unless You Are Honest With Yourself