Pre-Gifted: The Gifts of the Wise Men

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Solstice!  Season’s Greetings!  Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate-In-December!

I want to wish you an awesome holiday season full of joy, peace, and good tidings, and hopefully no fruitcake.  I don’t think anyone likes fruitcake.  But that’s beside the point.

Social media has become a place where the loudest argument wins, where we have the option to hide behind the safety and security of our screens and proceed to rip apart every statement that comes our way, even if it doesn’t concern us.  We react violently instead of responding gracefully.  We get offended by everything.  We would rather unfriend and unfollow someone instead of discussing our differences over food and coffee.

The truth?  It’s one huge distraction.

This month of December is a time where we are supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  This season is supposed to be a time of cheer and selflessness, Christmas caroling, Kevin saying, “Merry Christmas you filthy animal,” and Buddy the Elf shouting out “SANNTAAAA!”   But I hardly see that nowadays.

Buddy

Yep, I put that here because reasons.

Call me an idealist (ironically I’m an INFP), but we’re missing Jesus.

I was involved in this year’s Annual Virginia Christmas Spectacular by Thomas Road.  During our Nativity scene, I had to introduce the band of scholars, the wise men, who followed a star until it led them to Jesus.

Turn with me to Matthew 2.  After Jesus was born, the wise men (Magi) were summoned by King Herod to find the child so that he could worship Him (Spoiler alert:  That wasn’t Herod’s intention!)

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I want to talk about the three gifts here:  Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

Gold – Jesus as King

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,

Gold I bring to crown Him again,

King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.

Gold is a precious metal and is often used as a status symbol for those in royalty.  It’s dense and very weighty.  The elements of the tabernacle mentioned throughout Exodus and Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 6 has elements created from pure gold or overlaid in gold.

Gold is incredibly valuable, but it’s also very soft.  It can be bent, twisted, and beaten down, but that doesn’t change its identity.

Christ the King lived a life that we couldn’t live.  He experienced good times and bad, joy and sorrow, trials and temptations.  He was beaten down, attacked, and broken, but His identity as the Son of God never changed.  He who knew no sin became sin so that we could become His righteousness.

Here’s the thing.  There is no amount of gold that can even compare to the kingship of Christ.  His kingdom will never end.  His love and justice has the final word.  You can mock Him, claim He doesn’t exist, challenge Him, but He is still God.

Christ is King forever and ever!  Hallelujah!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. — Isaiah 9:6-7

Frankincense – Christ as God

Frankincense to offer have I

Incense owns a Deity nigh.

Prayer and praising all men raising, worship Him, God on high.

Frankincense is a high quality composition.  Some of you burn incense in your homes and it gives off a distinct fragrance.  During Old Testament times, incense was burned daily and nightly as a constant offering to God.  It accompanied sacrifices and was burned by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on the annual Day of Atonement.

Incense represents the prayers and intercessions of people to a spiritual power.  In this case, it’s the saints (Christ followers) to the Almighty Father, with Christ as the mediator.  We offer our incense to God whenever we pray to Him.  Did I mention that prayer is a weapon against the enemy?  When you pray, God is working on your behalf.  He will guide you, protect you, sustain you, but only if you call out to Him.

O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You!

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! — Psalm 141:1-2

And when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. — Revelation 5:8

Myrrh – Christ as Sacrifice

Myrrh is mine: It’s bitter perfume

breathes a life of gathering gloom.

Sorry, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

Myrrh served a few purposes.  It was an ingredient in anointing oil, it was also an embalming agent, and a perfume.

Well, if myrrh seems like a good gift, then why is it associated with death per the last verse?

Take a look at Mark 15:23.  This is where Jesus is being crucified.  The sinless Son of God whom the Pharisees demanded His death is being forced to carry the cross to Golgotha (Place of a Skull).  They nail Him to a cross.  The suffering is excruciating.

Look up Roman crucifixion in your spare time.  That’s what Christ went through for you and I.

And they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.

According to Jewish custom, those sentenced to crucifixion were given this mixture of wine and myrrh to deaden the senses, to make the pain more bearable.  Jesus didn’t take it.  He went through hours of pain with the weight of the sins of the world upon Him.  When He died, they laid Him in a tomb, embalmed with spices and myrrh (John 19:39-42).

But that’s not the end of the story.

Three days later, the tomb is empty and Christ has risen in glory!  The Son of God conquering death so that all who would believe would be born again!  He has given us the task of spreading the good news of the Gospel, that He died for us, killing our sin, so that we can live with and for Him in this world and for eternity (Matthew 28:19-20, John 3:16).

The wise men’s gift of myrrh was a prophetic indication that He would be the great Sacrifice, the one who would give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

Wise Men

Glorious now behold Him arise,

King and God and Sacrifice

Alleluia, alleluia!

Earth to heav’n replies

For this Christmas season, remind yourself.  It’s not about Santa Claus, the presents, or the jaded commercialism.  Instead, it’s about one night in Bethlehem that changed the course of history; a prophecy hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the making.

The Baby Jesus, born of a virgin in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

The angels heralding of Christ’s birth to nearby shepherds.

The wise men a time later presenting their gifts to the future King, God, and Sacrifice.

Reflect on that, my friend.  Read the stories for yourselves.  Slow down and appreciate what God has done for you and I on this one particular, holy night.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings.

Merry Christmas and an awesome New Year!

-Jon Pannell

Disagree?  Let’s talk!

On Unity in the Face of Adversity

Friday the 13th of November.  A tragic day for the world.

Terrorists opened fire and set off bombs in Paris, France.  Terror group ISIS admits involvement and says that this is only the beginning.

There were earthquakes in Japan and Mexico.

There was a bombing in Baghdad and a suicide bombing in Beirut.

It was said that “24 hours and we lost 115,200 heartbeats.”

In the past 24 hours, I have never seen such unity across the internet and social media.  I see people with France’s colors over their profile pictures.  I see the hashtag #prayforparis or even #prayfortheworld.  People are quoting Les Mis and standing in solidarity for the world.  Places around the world are lighting up in the colors of the French flag.

We're with you, France!

We’re with you, France!

The world it its brokenness, is coming together in sympathy and empathy.

It’s beautiful.

I love seeing people are putting their differences aside and coming together and fighting for a common cause and common good.

In a world where we get offended by just about everything, we forget the importance of unity.  We find solace in our criticisms, disagreements, and divisions.  We are addicted to drama, gossip, and dissension.  We’re losing friends, burning bridges, and building barriers through our beliefs.  Yet it takes a tragedy of national or global proportions to bring us together.

I’m going to geek out for a brief moment.  One of the games I have, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, involves the heroes and villains of two worlds, Marvel and Capcom, fighting against one another.  But they realize that something greater, Galactus, is about to destroy the planet they call home.  The two worlds seemingly drop their differences and band together to defeat Galactus.

I think that when the common good and the essence of life and freedom are threatened, that’s when we draw the line.  This is where we drop the things that divide us and wage war against the enemy.  We need to see this type of attitude in our nation and in our churches.

There are people out there who hate unity.  They will do whatever they can to make and maintain division in this nation, world and our churches.  They are addicts and drama is their drug.  They make mountains out of molehills, reopen wounds, and bait unsuspecting people into their agendas.

But I digress.  Let’s look at Psalm 133.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!  For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Whenever the word “Behold,” is mentioned in the Bible, it usually means to pay close attention to what is being said next.  It is used to point out something of importance.  In this case, it’s the goodness and pleasantness of unity.

Now, I want to tell you that the goal is unity, not uniformity.  Unity is coming together despite our differences.  Uniformity is coming together in the name of sameness.  Unity is based on love; uniformity is based on coercion.  Unity celebrates the unique pieces that make the big picture of a puzzle; uniformity celebrates the whole puzzle as the parts that have been manipulated to fit.  Unity is individuals with one mission and one cause; conformity creates mindless minions.

Unity is a beautiful thing, people!  Embrace it!  Be civil about your differences, but come together when it matters.

Unity

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!

Oil is required when someone is to be anointed.  Being anointed means you are set apart for a purpose.

In Exodus 30, there is a section on the anointing oil and incense.  This is also the part where Aaron and his sons are anointed to be God’s priests.

You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. and you shall say to the people of Israel, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations.  It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition.  It is holy, and it shall be holy to you.  Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people – Exodus 30:30-33

Earlier in the chapter (verse 22-24), we see the composition of the anointing oil.  Everything said oil touched became consecrated and holy; sacred and set apart, giving off a pleasant aroma.  It’s serious.

See the connection?  There is a holiness, a sweet sacredness, something ordained by God in unity!

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!  For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Geography lesson:  Hermon is the highest point in Palestine, capped in snow and can be seen from miles around.  The dew flows from its peak to the mountains of Zion.

So, what does the oil on Aaron and the dew from Mt. Hermon have in common with unity?

It’s the flow.  It starts from the top until it flows down to the bottom most part.  The anointing oil of Aaron went from head to toe.  The dew of Hermon went from top to bottom.  In the same way is unity.  Unity is a blessing of God from Him to us.

Unity must come from Him, or else it can be easily corrupted.  Now, I must stress that unity has to come from God, or else it’s going to fall apart.  We’re human, I understand.  But this gives us all the more reason to lean on God.

There is life in unity because it is a connection between God and His people, Christ and His Church, Holy Spirit and the believer.

So when we unite, what is the goal?  Does it give glory to God?  Is the goal to work together or create minions?

I think it’s time to stop listening to those who are intent on dividing us and instead start joining forces to go on mission.  This world is broken, and only God Himself can restore and revive.  He’s chosen us to bring that message, this Gospel, to the world.  What are you doing with that message?

When our enemies join us to fight the greater enemy, it’s an opportunity to engage in the Great Commission!

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – Jesus; John 16:33

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

-Jon Pannell

P.S. – If you disagree with me, let’s talk and be civil about it.  Unity is a desire that God has placed in my heart to see happen across the globe and in our churches.

The Salty Christian

Hello friends, once again I have the opportunity to write to you guys.  I hope your month/week/season/semester is going well and that you are spending quality time hanging out with Jesus.

It’s been a while since I have written on this blog and I didn’t have the time or the idea to write, until now.

As most of you know, Joshua Feuerstein encouraged Christians to have Starbucks baristas write “Merry Christmas” on their red cups.

You’re probably wondering, “Oh no, not another red cup post.  Can’t we just drop it already?” And then proceed to close my blog post.

Darn you Starbucks for making me be vocal about my faith!  *sarcasm*

Darn you Starbucks for making me somewhat vocal about my faith! *sarcasm*

I’m not going to touch on this issue that much.  Honestly.  Keep reading.

In my opinion, we as Christ followers tend to get upset when companies and corporations wage a “war on Christmas,” and that the secular liberal progressives are ousting God, like that is going to hurt His feelings.  Let me tell you folks something.

Christ will still be in Christmas and He will still be involved in America as long as there are people in those arenas who are devoted to Him.  He is still on His throne, and He will be reigning there forever.  He conquered death, hell, and the grave.  So, why do we feel the need to be upset over something as a silly red cup?

The word “salty” has become one of my favorite words to use in today’s day and age.  It means to be angry, upset, agitated (thank you, Urban Dictionary!).  Most Christ followers aren’t salty about the red cups, but they are salty that other Christians are salty about the red cups.  We’re saltier than a Salted Caramel Mocha with extra salt (which is probably definitely not good for you, with so much salt).

Mmm...delicious.

Mmm…delicious.

BUT, What if I told you that we as Christ followers are supposed to be salty?  And no, I’m not talking about the angry and upset kind of salty.  This is a different kind of salty.

Turn with me to Matthew 5:13.  This verse is at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says this:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the salt of the earth.

Salt had incredible value and revenue before and during Jesus’ time.  Soldiers were paid in salt and it accompanied sacrificial offerings.

Salt is a mineral that adds flavor.  Salt makes food interesting.  Do you have bland food?  Put a little salt in it!

Christ followers are not meant to be bland and boring!  Your life should make people wonder how you still hold on in difficult situations, how you still have joy even in the direst of circumstances, how you were RESCUED from a life of sin and TRANSFORMED by the power and love of Christ.  Your saltiness should come out as a testimony of God working in and through your life through your words, actions, and character.

Salt also preserves.  There were no refrigerators or many preserving agents in biblical times other than salt.  If you had food, you better cook it or handle it as soon as possible or it will not bode well for you.  Salt helps preserve food to make it fresher longer.  The food will not spoil or rot for a while.

Salt represents endurance and protection from corruption, dear Christ follower.  In your saltiness, are you persevering in your daily life?  Are you staying strong?  Are you fully equipped with the armor of God so that you can stand after you done all you could (Eph. 6)?

Salt also heals.  If you have a wound, you will need to put something on it to keep it from getting infected.  Salt is an antiseptic that does just that.  It’s painful, but it will do the job as true healing takes place

Christians are meant to be healers.  We heal by speaking the Truth of Christ and from His Word.  We can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be healed.  It involves confronting sin, but also provides an eternal remedy.

But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

If salt doesn’t get used, or if it’s contaminated, it goes bad; there’s no use for it.

As Christ followers, we are meant to live out and be vocal and unashamed about our faith.  When we are not committed to God, one another, and our neighbor and engage in the spiritual disciplines, we start to atrophy.  We weaken.  We get stale.  It’s the same when we compromise our beliefs.

Salt and sand are both minerals, but salt brings life and zest.  Would you rather have salt in your food or sand?  Christ follower, if you lose your zest and zeal, what will make you different from a nonbeliever?  If you lose your savor, of what purpose will you serve?  It will take a miracle, a revival even, for you to be salty again.

So yes, brother or sister in Christ, let’s be biblically salty, but not in the contemporary sense.  Let’s not be upset and offended over the small stuff; instead continue to live life with Christ as your Savior and Lord and to tell others about Him.  Remember, the “attacks” on Christianity and the negative events of this world do not excuse you from fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. – Colossians 4:6

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

– Jon Pannell

P. S. – Got questions for me?  Let’s talk about them.

Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed…in America!

It’s been a while since I last wrote as life continues to come at me with uncertainty after uncertainty.  But I think I’ve embraced it.  Life is full of surprises and unexpected turns, but trust God in the process and everything will be great!

Now, to the matter at hand.  I’m going to talk about a word that American Christians tend to, in my opinion, overuse:

Persecution.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, we come to the story of Kim Davis, a lady who refused to give out wedding licenses to same sex couples in Kentucky.  She was therefore sentenced to jail, but was later released.

The world of social media was split in its judgments.  One side called Davis a hero for standing up for her beliefs, the other side called her a religious bigot and attempted to dredge up her past, while a third side said that jail time was justified as she was breaking the law.  Oh, I forgot to mention that a fourth side wondered why she didn’t quit or get fired.

Whatever your stance is on the matter (there will be no debate on this here), I want to talk about the definition and reality of persecution. Now, I have to be careful here as I do not want to water down or compromise what persecution really is.

Turn to Matthew 5:10-12.  This is shortly after the beginning of Jesus’ three year ministry.  He speaks to large crowds and He calls His first disciples.  In this passage, He preaches the Sermon on the Mount, starting with the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers.

I want to focus on the last two Beatitudes:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…

Persecution in the Greek is διώκω (dioko), meaning to pursue in a hostile manner.  It means being forcefully dislocated or relocated on some basis.  In this case, Jesus says you are blessed if you are being pursued because of your righteousness (which comes from believing and having a relationship with Him) and it results in you having to forcefully leave your current location.

We see the perfect example of this in the early church of Acts.  We see Stephen, one of the first deacons, performing signs and wonders among the people (Acts 6).  The religious elite of the day argued with him, but they couldn’t stand against his God-bestowed wisdom.  He was put on trial and he gave them an earful, even calling them stiff-necked people who resist the Holy Spirit.  They sentenced him to death by stoning.

After this execution, Saul passionately persecuted the church, having men and women who followed The Way dragged off into prison (Acts 8).

**Side note:  Notice that there are two types of people who can persecute you:

  1. Those who hate the name of Christ and will do whatever they can to eliminate any mention of Him.
  2. The religious elite, who believe that the traditions of men are immeasurably better than a relationship and belief in Jesus Christ.**

Was that the end of the church?  Of course not!  The people of the church spread the Gospel and preached the Word, even as they were scattered.  The church kept growing, and multiplying.  Christians have been martyred for their faith.  They were put on trial, tortured, whipped, beaten, and killed for believing in the lordship of Christ.

True persecution is when you are forced out of your current location to another location and spreading the Gospel during that time.

Look here, just because persecution is alive and well, that does not mean that you stop sharing the Gospel.

…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Ah, this is such a refreshing promise from Jesus.  If you are persecuted, guess what?  You get the kingdom of heaven!  That is your inheritance as a son and daughter of God!  Let this be an encouragement to you!

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

Blessed are you when others revile you…

The word “revile” in the Greek language is ὀνειδίζω (oneidizo), meaning reproach, dishonor, or showing disapproval or disappointment.  This can come through insults, loss of friends, and threats.

Now notice that being reviled is NOT the same as being persecuted.

Being unfriended or unfollowed on the basis of faith or disagreement. Reviled.

Being ripped apart on social media. Reviled.

Having articles written about you in a negative light. Reviled.

…and persecute you…

Receiving death threats and being forced to move for your faith.  That’s persecution.

Someone physically chasing you and possibly giving you a physical beatdown on the basis of your faith.  That’s persecution.

Having your church or house burned down or closed on the basis of your faith.  That’s also persecution.

Here’s my point.  A lot of American Christians got it mixed up.  Yes, Christianity is unpopular, but that has always been the case.  Christians were persecuted and reviled all the time in the early church, but that caused the church to grow and multiply.  When Christianity was recognized through Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 AD and therefore stopped being a persecuted religion, that was when Christianity started to become stagnant.

If you look around the world and witness churches being destroyed and Christians being killed by the hands of terrorist organizations like ISIS, you will realize that you are still blessed to be in this nation.  Trust me, friend, it’s not as bad as you think it is!

Inigo

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s always the opportunity for Christianity to become truly “persecutable” in America.  I just don’t think it’s that bad now.

…and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…

It’s going to happen.  If you’re a Christian and hold on to the Word of God as the authority of your life, you basically have a large target on your back.  People will say things about you.  It will hurt.  It will suck.  It will cause you to question yourself.  But it is also a mark that you are a disciple of Christ.

If you are living righteously through Christ and no one can dig up any dirt on you, people will make stuff up to put you in a bad light.  It’s called slander, libel if it is published.  It happened to Stephen (Acts 6:9-14), Naboth (1 Kings 21), and Jesus.

Notice that I said if you are living righteously:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 1:12

Here’s my next point, and I’ll draw this from 1 Peter 4:14-16:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murder or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

I’m going to tell you something really quick.  If you suffer, are persecuted, and reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed.  However, if you suffer because you are an unloving jerk, then you deserve it.  End of story.

Folks, being persecuted and being reviled are two different things, but they yield the same result.  Both of them, if done for the sake of Christ, will give Christ glory and will remind us that we are not of this world.  Most “persecution” in American culture is mainly being reviled if even that.

Persecution

In essence, don’t be a jerk in the name of Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – John 15:18-19

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…

This is the promise for those who suffer by other people in the name of Christ.  You’ll have a great reward in the next life!  Isn’t that awesome?  At your lowest point, when Satan and others get you down and it’s hard to keep a smile on your face, know that you have a hope, your story is still being written, and that this world is not our home!  Keep preaching and presenting the Gospel, and don’t be a jerk about it!

(the apostles after being beat and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus)  Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  And every day, in the themple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. – Acts 5:41-42

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

Jon Pannell

Got questions, comments, or concerns?  Let me know.  Let’s talk.

Church, Be Like Jesus!

Church, I believe there is still hope for our nation.

Okay, call me an optimist, or maybe even delusional, but I truly believe that America can turn around and experience an earth shattering revival that reaches the world.  Why?

Because hope has a name, and His name is Jesus.

As you all know, there have been tons of stories and issues in the past few weeks from the news and social media:

  • ISIS continues to persecute and kill Christians and those who do not adhere to their radical faith and beliefs.
  • The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • The debate of the Confederate Flag; is it relevant, offensive, and necessary?
  • SCOTUS’s decision to legalize gay marriage in every state in the nation in spite of individual state views.
  • Stories of police brutality.
  • Stories of riots.
  • Instances of racism, whether real, perceived, or made up.
  • Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner
  • The Patriot and Freedom Acts

There have been a lot of contention and heated debates everywhere on social media, resulting in choice words, unfollowing, unfriending, and just flat out name calling.  People are slashing and wounding others within the safety of being behind their screens while the rest of us watch and weep as we attempt to make peace and seek unity.

There are also Christians who insist we are in the end times, that the events of Revelation, 1 Thessalonians, the Gospels, and Daniel are coming to pass.

“The Antichrist is soon coming,” they say, “and it’s (insert person here and reason why).”

“America is becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“This nation is going to hell in a handbasket!”

“There’s no more hope for America!”

But I believe that there’s hope for this nation, and His name is Jesus.

American Church

Church, we forget (and often!) that Jesus has already won.  Instead, we have a tendency to complain and speculate about the current events and issues in our nation.  We withhold love and grace that Christ and instead Bible bash.  We have these unrealistic expectations for nonbelievers and even fellow Christians to be holy as we, not Christ, are holy.  We get all uppity and hurt because sinners are acting like sinners; it’s in their nature.  In our pride, we tell God that we can do His job better than He can.

We mercilessly and remorselessly limit and manipulate the power of God to make it only “effective” through our “spiritual checklists.”  We make others put on a show to please God as we do the same thing.  Our testimony becomes irrelevant as our works and deeds seem to show a Christian life, but our spiritual and moral lives are bankrupt. It is a religious circus doomed to fail.

We judge others because they sin differently than we do.  We try to take the speck of sawdust out of other people’s eyes when we have enough planks in our own eyes to build a log cabin.

I’m working this summer at a Christian camp.  Here, we meet kids and staff members who have great relationships with Christ.  But we also have those who come from deep, dark stuff bringing stories of abuse, addiction, insecurity, and love withheld or revoked with them.  The staff and I encounter real questions and legitimate concerns.  Their brokenness breaks my heart, but we get to show them Jesus, the Healer of our hurts, the only One who can put us back together into something new.

All of a sudden, the desire to be right fades away.  Contention and chaos cease.  People are now seen as God sees them, as humans with flaws who have been wounded and are looking for answers and in need of a Savior.  This, Church, is where we can save the day, by bringing them Jesus.

Bible

Take a look with me to Matthew 9:10-13.  Here, Jesus reclines with His disciples as well as tax collectors and sinners:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when He heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus enjoyed having company with sinners…and we should too!

Would you look at that?  Jesus hangs out with the outcasts, the undesirable, and the lowest of the low.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners are some of His favorite people.  If Jesus was born and living in this day and age, I think He would be in a homeless shelter, talking with the people there.  He would have coffee and conversation with someone in the sex industry.  I would even say that He would share a meal with corrupt business men.  He would be the one who would hug people at a gay pride parade/festival.

I would go even further to say that you would rarely see Him at church.

Before you dismiss me, let me clarify.  The church in the Greek does NOT mean a building.  The church is a living and breathing organism of a people called out that meet together to build one another up and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus often went to dark places to shine His light.  I mean, He cast out demons for crying out loud!  Now that Jesus is not physically on this earth, we as the Church (universal) have a responsibility to go to those dark places and do what Jesus did; love what He loves and to be the light of the world.

I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. — Isaiah 45:3

Church, darkness rarely finds its way to the light.  Let’s stop praying for people to come to church and instead be the answer to that prayer by doing something!  Let’s go into those dangerous places and shine our God-given light!  After all, if Christ is for you, who can be against you? (Romans 8:31)

The religious took notice…and asked “Why?”

The Pharisees are interesting people.  They know the Word, they’re zealous, follow the commandments, and are often leaders of their time.  In a way, they’re just like you and me.

They’re also like you and me in the sense of hypocrisy.  Some of Jesus’ harshest words were for the Pharisees and religious officials.  These guys upheld the rules (613 statutes of Mosaic Law) and traditions of men over love, justice, and mercy.  They honor God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.  They shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  They are blind guides leading the blind.  They withhold love and grace from other people and expect them to act according to their standards of holiness.

Want to take a quick test to see if you’re a Pharisee?  Replace the mention of Pharisees with yourself.  Take some time to reflect, pray, and repent.  I’ve been guilty of this as well.

The religious look at those who are living for Christ and ask others, and God, “Why are they doing this?  Don’t they know about this person or that place?  God won’t even go near them!”  They claim to be God’s spokespeople.  Don’t be that person.  Ever.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. — Galatians 6:1

Who needs a doctor? The well…or the sick?

It’s interesting how Jesus presents this statement in verse 12.  Obviously, you need a doctor when you’re sick.  If you have the life-threatening sickness of sin, then you need the Great Physician, who is none other than Jesus.  The people Jesus built relationships with were sick:  the demon-possessed, the prostitute, the dishonest, etc.  The Pharisees were sick as well, but with a different and dare I say worse illness.

Self-righteousness.

The Pharisees thought they were the special group that’s going to get all the glory from God when they passed away.  They kept the law and saw themselves as more righteous and holy for keeping the law than the layperson.  They looked down on sinners.  They were prideful and competitive.  They had the whole “holier than thou” mentality.

The similarity between the sinner and the self-righteous is that they are both sinners, sin has made them sick and they need the healing power of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

The difference between the two is that the sinner acknowledges their sin and seeks Christ while the self-righteous deny that anything is wrong with them.

It’s amazing to know how sinners can see the face of God and repent while the self-righteous see the face of God and not even feel remorse.

Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. — Matthew 21:31-32

Mercy, or Sacrifice?

The Pharisees were notorious for stepping over people to accomplish the Law.  In essence, they sinned while trying to get people to not sin.  They tie up unbearable burdens on other people, but are not willing to lift a finger to help them (Matthew 23:4).  They think that God wants sacrifice over mercy and that justify their actions.  In other words, God will grant you mercy if you follow the Law and traditions of man with no help from us.

But Jesus flips it.  Instead of forcing people to conform to our expectations, we should see people as God sees them and have compassion on them.  He gave us love, grace, and mercy in our brokenness and sin; why not do the same thing to others?  It’s God’s job to remake us into His image and set us apart.

So what?

With the nuttiness going on around this nation, we need to stop living our couch-potato, lukewarm, defeatist, fatalistic, and self-righteous “Christianity”:

  • We cry “Injustice!” but do nothing else.
  • We are “slacktivists,” where we throw some of our money at a cause, but do nothing else.
  • We obsess over the end times and wait for Jesus to come back, but do nothing else.
  • We debate over doctrine and theological issues while attempting to shun heretics, but do nothing else.
  • We read the Word of God, but do nothing else.
  • We obsess over getting ready for Christ to return, but do nothing else

As Christians, we are called to be Christ-like in everything we say and do.  When we meet people, they should encounter Jesus who says, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  We need to get up, repent, and get our hands dirty as we win souls for Christ.  Let’s jump into this harvest.  Let’s venture into the dark places.  Let’s get out of our hypocrisy, get away from our computer and phone screens, and make disciples.

Don’t. Give. Up.

People should hate you because of their hatred for Jesus, not because of you being a jerk.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see this nation have an encounter with Christ and for true revival to break out!  Who’s with me?

Until next time, be hidden in the shadow of His wings,

Jon Pannell

P.S. — Enjoy this song from Casting Crowns. Also, let me know if you have any questions!

An Open Letter to My Fellow Civilians on this Memorial Day

Dear Reader:

It’s Memorial Day, a day and weekend chock full of cookouts, parties, long trips, weekend deals and sales and day(s) off work and not to forget an American flag.  Tons of us have plans this weekend, and that I fully understand.

But in the spirit of the holiday weekend, we tend to forget the true meaning of Memorial Day, just like what we did with Easter and Christmas.  As Jesus was replaced by the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the not-so-mighty buck, Memorial Day has been replaced in the same way.

All of a sudden, it’s no longer about the fallen soldiers, those who gave their lives for us.  Instead, it’s all about us.

I don’t have any experience in the armed forces, but I know a few people who do.  These men and women do not take life for granted, as we carelessly do from time to time.  Most of these men and women have been in battle.  They experienced risk, injury, and the death of their fellow soldiers every day.  And most of them suffer from the aftershocks of war and PTSD.  Veterans freak out when fireworks are set off because it reminds them of wartime gunfire.  That’s not a laughing matter.

I can’t imagine what these men and women go through each and every single day.

These soldiers gave up their lives fighting for our country and preserving our freedom.  We talk about our weekend plans and the great shopping deals, but we forget our soldiers.  It’s a little oxymoronic, don’t you think?

I’m going to make a suggestion here.  Let’s show our gratitude for those who are serving our country, living or dead.  Comrades and families are hurting today.  There are empty chairs at dinner tables.  Only God knows the countless tears that are shed on this day.

Let’s spend time with veterans and those in the armed forces today.  Pray for them.  Don’t just pray for them, do something as well!  Buy them a meal or coffee.  Pay your respects.  We may not be able to fully grasp and understand what they are going through, but we can be there for them and give a listening ear.

These brave men and women have done so much for our country and we sometimes don’t give them the respect they deserve.  It’s time we changed that.

What are you going to do today for our fallen and those who are still living, Mr. and Miss Civilian?

“And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.” – Joseph Rodman Drake

Until next time, be hidden in the shadow of His wings.

–Jon Pannell

An Open Letter to the “Protesters” of the Black Community

Dear African Americans,

May I be honest with you?  I’m angry.

As a twentysomething African-American grad school student, I’m angry.

Most to all of you know the situation in Baltimore, Maryland.  A 25-year-old black man by the name of Freddie Gray was apprehended by police officers in a high crime area.  He died in police custody a week later due to a spinal injury.  Riots started immediately after Gray’s funeral.

This is the point where my heart breaks and my anger burns.

Not against you black community, but against your actions.

Before I continue, let me say that this has nothing to do with the peaceful protesters; I’m proud of you guys.  My message is for the rioters, who justify their actions as “protesting.”

Quick history lesson for you guys:

//During the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped lead the black community to equal rights through nonviolent protests, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the sit-in movement in 1960, and the March on Washington of 1963 where the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech was spoken.  There was a lot of black and white segregation going on.  The idea of “separate but equal” sounded like a good idea, but it was terrible.  We also had the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1952) which ruled that segregation was disadvantageous in schools and the Civil Rights Act of 1963 which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.

The black community was taunted, jeered, jailed, treated unfairly, killed, called the N-Word and everything but children of God based on the color of their skin, but they came out triumphant.//

Why did I give the short history lesson?  Simple; I want to show you all one little detail.

MLK Jr. used nonviolent protesting.

Protesting is a useful tool against injustice, but causes become discredited once you throw ungodly violence into the equation, resulting in no winners and an unnecessarily large mess.

Looting stores, burning buildings and hurting others for the sake of your cause (whatever that may be) is not going to bring a dead person back.  Speaking out your absolute disdain for the police and your so-called oppressors are not going to awaken justice.  Rioting is NEVER a way to honor a person’s death.

Freddie Gray’s family asked for peaceful protests.  Michael Brown’s family (Ferguson, MO) asked for peaceful protests.  But you didn’t listen.  You were out for your own agenda.  Younger generations are following your example.  You’re filling your social media feeds with #BlackLivesMatter and your blatant hatred and defiance of the law and police. (Yes, there are corrupt cops.  I get that, but that’s not the point of this letter.)

And the whole world watches.

I’m going to be blunt here.  You guys are being a setback to the black community.  A lot of us have stopped playing the “victim card” a long time ago and let things go.  It’s high time you did too.  How dare you take advantage of a perceived injustice for your selfish gain?  What exactly are you trying to prove?  What legacy are you leaving behind?

Your reactions and these riots are a sign that you do not appreciate where you came from.  You are throwing roughly 350 years of blood, sweat, tears, and struggle down the drain when you decide to act out in violence towards other people for the sake of justice.

I apologize for the firmness.  I write this letter to you not to shame you but to simply say:

You are much better than this.

You can step away from this nonsense and stop thinking that everyone is out to get you.  You can walk away from your sense of entitlement and special treatment.

I’m not saying that we should simply forget that slavery and racial injustice ever happened.  I’m not saying that at all.

We are broken people, you and I.  We are imperfect humans in need of a Savior to redeem and love us.  His name is Jesus and He wants to rescue you and wrap you in His tender arms.  He is the true administrator of justice; He will do as He sees fit in His timing.  But as for you, just let go and let God have His way.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. — Ephesians 4:31-32

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled… — Hebrews 12:14-15

When you riot through your actions and words and carry on this sense of entitlement and victimhood, you are withholding the grace of God.  You are being used by Satan to plant seeds of discord and bitterness to your fellow men.  That seed grows into a tree which bears terrible fruit.  Then, the tree of bitterness later becomes an orchard of bitterness.

Dwelling on the negative aspects of history becomes a root of bitterness.

The news that the media (ugh!) put out on a daily basis becomes a root of bitterness.

How others treat you based on stereotypes and the color of your skin becomes a root of bitterness.

When you act out of bitterness, others will see it and follow your example.  Bitterness never holds on to one person.  It’s a highly contagious disease that infects everyone touched by it and like all diseases, if not treated, will kill you.

Your hatred stems from generations past, the everyday circumstances of your life and the interactions thereof.  Hatred seems justifiable, but it is nothing but a cunning deception from the Father of Lies.  Don’t let it overtake and define you.  Bitterness and hatred is cancerous and no amount of chemo is going to cover that up.

You are much better than this.

You can forgive.  You can be kind.  You can be peaceful.  You can be the conduit of the grace of God.  You can put away your godlessness and embrace the truth and reality of Christ, who calls us to love our enemies and to love one another.  But you can only do so through the power of God.

You can rise above the hatred and evil.  You can rise above the ungodly violence.  You can rise above racism.  You can rise above your emotional and historical strongholds.  But you can only do so through the power of God.

It’s not going to be easy.  Simply cutting down bitter trees isn’t enough.  You will have to uproot those bitter trees.  It’s going to hurt.  You won’t like it.  It’s going to suck.  But it will be worth it in the sight of God Almighty.

Put away the negativity and try to live in unity and harmony with one another.

There is much pain and many troubles in this world.  But we have a Healer, and His name is Jesus.

I will close this letter with two quotes from MLK himself:

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Until next time, be hidden in the shadow of His wings.

With love, joy, and peace,

– Jon Pannell