An Open Letter to Mr. Donald Trump

July 27, 2015
Dear Mr. Trump,
As I’ve watched and read a bit of the news coverage of your campaign this week, I came across a headline that disturbed me to my core.  On CNNPolitics.com, it read  “Trump believes in God, but hasn’t sought forgiveness.”
Later in the brief article it said, “Frank Luntz asked whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions.  ‘I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.'”
This doesn’t trouble me because I’m a pastor and I am busy keeping a list of your sins.  It troubles me because I’m a sinner in need of God’s grace of forgiveness and I believe you’re missing out.
Mr. Trump, at this point, I could point out all the things that every human does that puts us in need of forgiveness, but deep down I believe we all know that we constantly miss the holiness mark.  Instead what I would rather focus on is what we miss out on if we aren’t forgiven by God.
First, we miss out on seeing the holiness of God.  If we don’t need forgiveness, God is no better than us.  But he is.  God has not; does not; will not wrangle in the mud of mixed motives, impure thoughts, flashpoint anger and selfish ambition.  He is other-than.  He is pure.  He is true.  He is love.  Not seeing the holiness of God is like never smelling the life-affirming freshness of a newborn baby.
Second, we miss out on experiencing the grace of God.  If we don’t need forgiveness, then our goodness or rightness before God must be earned.  God becomes a task-master.  He is about rules and regulations and effort; rather than being about acceptance, giving and grace.  Not knowing the grace of God is like not knowing the gift of a perfect sunrise – something we had no role in producing, but rather just had to wake up and receive it.
Third, we miss out on knowing God.  If forgiveness offers no deeper connection to God, then knowing God is merely trying to know about Him.  There is no relationship.  There is no intimacy.  There is only weariness and striving.  There is only guessing about what he may be like.  Knowing about God and knowing God is like the difference between knowing a name on our birth certificate and going to the ballgame with our father who lives with us and loves us.
Fourth, we miss out on having a Savior.  If we don’t need forgiveness, we don’t need Jesus.  He was only a great man whose life ended very badly.  If that’s the case, we may find temporary comfort in his memorable sayings, but there is no power them.  There is no hope for transformation.  There is no guarantee of a future.  And that “little cup of wine and cracker” becomes a measly snack of sentimentality.  Not knowing a Savior is never knowing the knee-bending love of the most powerful Being, taking notice of me and making a way for me to be whole – now and forever!
When I confess my sins and sinfulness, God promises forgiveness.  He promises freedom.  He promises a lightening of our load.  And being forgiven, I have a Savior who died and rose from the dead.  I have a relationship with my eternal Dad.  I enjoy gifts that only God can give.  And I appreciate with worship, a perfect and powerful God who is unlike me.  Now, if you ask me, that’s living!
Mr. Trump, I don’t know if you’ll ever be the President of the United States.  But my hope is that one day, you will be my forgiven brother in Christ.  I hope you will find the freedom available in knowing we can’t produce a worthy life on our own.
Your friend and fellow sinner,
Jim Renke

How to find that quote you read, but can’t remember.

“All men alike stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own, and all men therefore are conscious of guilt.”  C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain

Quotes add power to writing.  They grab attention.  They add authority.  They reinforce the message with timeless words.  This quote was from a book I read  18 months ago.  How did I find it again?

An important part of effective writing is being able to recapture thoughts and information you’ve read before.  This method of storing and finding those quotes, illustrations, ideas and outlines is easy and effective.  It uses two programs that many of you may be using already.  And they are free!  It also makes all your reading quotes available for use anywhere you have a wireless connection, from any device.

  

Step 1:  Read a book in Kindle.  Now,  I know many of us prefer to read “real” books.  One of my biggest concerns is that if I invest in a book, I want the material to be accessable – forever!  And that has made me a little leery of electronic versions. But for me, I read faster in Kindle.  I like having my library with me wherever I go.  This simple strategy will address the need to keep the information and make it available whenever I need it.

Step 2:  When reading, highlight!  I like to highlight the headings and important quotes, or ideas, which will make more sense a little later.

Step 3:  Go to your Kindle account at https:kindle.amazon.com.  If you didn’t know it, like modern-day hocus pocus, any highlights and notes you have made in Kindle are saved there for you.  Open the tab “Your Highlights.”  There you will find highlights and notes from every Kindle book you own, read and highlighted.

Step 4:  Select the notes and copy them, all of them, for a given book.  Include the title and author.  You may have to do this in steps, depending on how long the book is, or how much text you’re copying.

  
Step 5:  Open your Evernote and create a note.  Use the title of the book and author’s name as the title for your note.  You can also add some keywords, or tags that relate to the books topic.

Step 6:  Paste the highlights to the evernote note.  As you will see, if you’ve highlighted the headings too, it gives you an outline, with the quotes you appreciated in their context.

Step 7:  Save your note.  Now you have a searchable note.  In Evernote, you can search for you note by author, key words, book title, or any word in the text, etc.  Type in anything you can remember to bring up that information for use in your next article, sermon, or teaching outline.

You could also paste these highights to a Word document.  If you do that, most likely, you would only be able to access that document when you are on that computer.  For me, Evernote has worked famously.  If  you want to paste it to a Word document and store that document on Evernote, you will need a paid version of Evernote to make the document searchable.  If you paste it directly into a note, you can use the Evernote free version.

For me, this has been great for writing papers, articles or sermons.  I can imagine it would also give you a great way to write a book or reading report.  It makes your notes retrievable.  It creates an outline of the book that also puts all those great quotes in context.  And it keeps the location of the quote, to aid you in returning to the book and reading that part again.

I hope this helps you communicate, remembering and utilizing all the thoughts and ideas that you’ve discovered along the way.

5 Steps to Taking the High Road in Conflict

How do we face threats when they arise? David faced opposition from someone, who in God’s plan, should have been an ally.

Saul was out to get David.  He was hunting him down like an animal.  And when David could have killed Saul and put an end to the conflict, David chose another way.  How easy would it have been for David to justify himself and say, “I’ve been anointed King. Saul has been rejected. Just finish it. Kill this guy and let’s get on with it.”

But David determined to do this with honor. And in that he protected his own heart. He protected the nation from a division that would have lasted generations. Let me tell you, when your future is being threatened by someone who should be working for your success, it is tough to take the high road. But that’s exactly what David did.

1 Samuel 24:11-17  “See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is not wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancient says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? After a dead dog! After a flea! “May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.” 

As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.”  

How can we face opposition in a way that honors God, His purposes and His ways?

1. Show honor. David gave deference to the king.  We need to show deference to one another. In times of change and conflict people will deal with it many different ways. And sometimes, not meaning to make things difficult, they will. We need to show honor even to the ones who seem to be making it hard.

2. Show love. David loved Saul. He loved the nation. He loved God. We need to love God. We need to love the Body of Christ. And we need to love the people around us.  Even when they’re making life hard.

3. Speak the truth. You could almost hear David saying, “Saul, look at what you’re doing.” We do need to be honest with one another. If someone’s comments are inappropriate or damaging we need to say that.  There are times we must say, “Right now, you’re not helping the cause of Christ.”

4. Rest in God’s judgments. Know that ultimately, God will direct. He will move and the results are his.  No battle on this earth is ours.  They all belong to God.  We need to let him work the way he sees fit and be okay with that.

David didn’t allow himself to be killed. But he also didn’t allow the purposes of God to be thwarted by his own actions.  He refused to destroy the other, even though he became an enemy.  He left the end results to God.  Even thought it hurt, he refused to take it personally.

Many years ago a pastor friend of mine once said, “We can’t always choose whether or not we’re going to offend someone. But we can always choose whether or not we’ll be offended.”  We can choose how we will handle the hurts and difficulty caused by others.  Let’s choose to go through it trusting in God to redeem it and resolve it.  That’s taking the high road.

One last step?

5. Keep praising God.  David was hurt. But he focused on praising. Psalm 59:16-17 “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sin praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”

What kind of conflict are you facing?  How can you take the high road?

Would Jesus Fly the Confederate Flag?

Some will say this is not my fight because I’m not from the South. But as I’ve watched the news in the past few days, I think all Christians need to put our cultural and even our patriotic commitments behind our Christian commitments.

When I listen to people argue for the flying of the Confederate flag, I am struck with a huge contrast. Let’s compare the gracious examples of those Christian family members whose loved ones were murdered this week, because of the color of their skin, with the messages communicated through the Confederate flag.

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There may have been many reasons the civil war was fought. Yet this flag is a symbol that carries with it the resentment of defeat and the bitterness of lost power. It’s time for us to take a cue from these Christians who have shown us the character of Christ and remove the flag from government grounds which are also supposed to represent those who gained their freedom because the war was lost.

In most instances, none of us can really say what Jesus would do. I’m not sure he would fly any flag. But I think the time is passed for us to fly this old symbol and instead we should opt for humility, submission, care of the other, mercy, love and forgiveness. This is the Christian commitment that will show the world another way.

After I wrote this, I saw that the Governor of South Carolina agrees.

Calming My Soul With God

 How are you handling the stress of life right now?  It seems we go through moments and seasons when life’s questions become overwhelming.  Have you ever felt like just living life must be above your paygrade?  I have.  I can’t seem to figure it all out.  And the harder I try, the more I get frustrated, sad, disapppointed and depressed.
There is a little Pslam that reminds me of what God has invited us to experience, in Christ.  He has not invited me to figure it all out with him.  He has not invited me to a life of confident answer-giving.  He has not invited me to help him put order to things and straighten out people.  He has invited me to rest with Him and in Him.

Take a look at these 3 short verses…

Psalm 131

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great

and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth

and forever more.

The psalmist writes in verse one, just what he’s decided to do.  He has humbled himself.  He doesn’t raise his heart up to try to take God’s place.  He allows that there will always be mysteries to life.  And so he says, he refuses to obsess over things he can’t figure out.  He accepts that some things are too much for him.

There is comfort in remembering that we are the creation and God is the Creator.  God’s expected to know where the stars came from and how long they’ll hang in the sky.  He’s expected to know how we’ve been knit together and why.  He’s expected to know the minute and monumental movements of the universe.  We’re not.

Instead of resting in his own ability to handle life, the writer rests in God.  He knows he’s been invited to a new kind of intimacy.  And then he describes it.  “Like a weaned child with its mother,” he writes.  What is that all about?  It’s a powerful picture of contenment.

A child that is still nursing is a child that demands from her mother.  She knows that Mom is the source of food.  Mom is the grocery store and the cook.  She is there to meet the physical needs of the baby.  Mom is there to take every pain away.  A weaned child still depends on Mom, but this child is content sitting with Mom, loving and being loved by Mom.  Mom is no longer a dispenser of food, but she is a comforting presence.

I think that’s the relationshp we’re invited to with God.  Early in our faith, it’s all about what God can do for us.  We want the salvation of God.  We want to be healed.  We want our lives to be fixed.  So we tend to go to God with anxiousness and even frustration.  But what we’re invited to is to be with God as God.  We are invited to rest with him in contented fellowship.

When I feel the tensions rise, I have to remind myself of a different approach with God.

1.  Don’t come to God for what you want him to do.  Don’t demand that he fix it too soon.  Come to him for Him.  Appreciate him in his presence.

2.  Rest in his knowledge of life and his power to change what needs to change (including us) and rest in his intrinsic goodness.  Sit for a moment.  Let him speak to you and love you in it.

It seems when I take the time and create the space to reset my relationship with God, I find that I learn to enjoy my Savior in the pain.  And He blesses me with the hope and confidence of moving forward with him.

Here is my prayer:  “Lord in the frustrations of life, I understand that things big and small are too much for me.  I can’t understand like you can.  I can’t control like you must.  Forgive me for trying.  

I rest in you right now.  I know you’ve done and will do all that needs to be done.  The cross of Christ is my supreme reminder of your power and love.  I rest in the knowledge that you want me to want you and not just all your stuff.  I trust you.  I hope in you.  Thank you for the rest you give.”

How does your view of God help you reconnect, or how does it keep you away from God?  What images come to mind if you described your relationship with Christ now?

Don’t Be a Friendly Church

friendly-people

Going from friendliness to friendship.

As I’ve led churches and talked to others about their church, we often get into discussions about how and why churches grow.  One phrase is repeated more often than not, “We’re a friendly church.”  The fact is most people who go to church believe their church is friendly.  I think that’s a reasonable thought.  Most of us think our families are friendly too.  This is because we’ve made our friends there.

Friendliness, no matter how well intentioned, is not a good gauge of a church’s readiness or ability to grow.  In fact, friendliness, if it is our goal, can be a distraction.  It’s good to give warm greeting when someone visits.  It’s nice to offer chit-chatty conversation.  But it’s not enough.  We have friendly waitresses at our favorite restaurant.  We’ve experienced friendly flight attendants.  Friendly bank tellers can really lift the spirit.  But that doesn’t mean any of these people want me to be part of their lives.

Many years ago, I read it takes at least 7 friendships to make someone commit to stay in a church.  Friendship, not friendliness is a more vital goal.  When you consider whether or not your church is ready for new friends, ask these questions.

1.  Will the “regulars” make room in their lives for new friends?  People will need to know we have relational room for them.

2.  Are there new groups where new people can get in on the ground floor?  These aren’t just groups of new people.  But new groups where newcomers and long-timers can connect and care with one another.

3.  Are there new ministry opportunities where new people can become stakeholders and invested leaders?  Few of us want to feel like we’re part of someone else’s project.  New ministries should be started, rather just using new people to keep old things going.

4.  Are new people encouraged to bring their ideas to make ministry happen?  Do we listen to the ideas, passions and commitments of new people?  God is bringing them, with their experiences, to us for a reason.

When we completely include people as friends, they tend to stay and get involved.  Friends are people we make room for.  Friends are people we give things up for.  Friends are people who have a say in what happens.

Jesus told his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).”  Jesus’ goal in making disciples was making friends.  That same desire should be reflected in the way we do ministry.

Being friendly is a great first step.  But it’s incomplete.  A church will only grow it is good at making friends.  Who are you making friends with at church?  What new avenue could you help create to give new people a place and a purpose?

Have you been to a friendly church where you couldn’t make friends?  What is your church doing right to help people make genuine friends?  How are you part of the process?