Radical Words

I’m devastated tonight as a look through the lens of the digital mediums at the world today.  I was blessed all day because I got to spend almost the entire day with my son, in the safety of my small house in South St. Louis.  We played ball, laughed and he ate everything that I would give him.  It was an amazing day, fruitful in every way.  After he went down for the night though, my reality changed drastically.  I checked the social medias and found that in my blissful day, the world was anything but blissful.  This not so blissful day deserves a response.  I have been relatively silent up until now.  This deserves a biblical response.

Here’s the deal.  Racism in any form is anti-Gospel.  Period.  If you’re exegetical work lands you in some sort of racism, you’re wrong.

“For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Romans 10:11-17

My response will sit here in Romans 10.  The meta-narrative of the Bible provides the baseline for the response, but honestly this is a targeted response, mainly the Christian community.  I believe that Paul’s discussion here provides us a clear framework in which we need to address racism.

First, Paul denounces racism in this passage.  To the Church at Rome, Jesus’ work on the cross was for both Jew and Greek, no distinction.  In other words, theo-centric racism isn’t grounded in Christianity.  It’s grounded in the sinful nature of our hearts.  It’s a direct reflection of the fall, the turning from a Holy God.  It’s the same sinful nature that causes all people to turn away from God and commit horrible acts.

If you are still reading this, you read that right.  The racism that has been so proudly put on display over this weekend is rooted in the exact same nature of OUR sin.  Real talk here, I’m not calling you racist.  In fact, I believe that as we throw the word racist around so freely we are quickly becoming divisive and alienating brothers and sisters, without a Gospel cause.  It’s simply the Doctrine of Sin, and when a group of peoples sinful nature gets a world wide stage it is Biblical for the Church to respond.

Here is where I believe that the Church is failing to respond in a Biblical manner.

  1. We, the Church continue to use politically charged language.  Liberal this, and conservative that.  The entire Bible is a Story about a Hero that comes to redeem His people, the Church.  Paul points this out in the Roman’s passage above.  The majority ‘we’ are grafted in to His family.  The world that we live in as sojourners, utilizes those terms to divide and thus, we have allowed our sinful natures to take over and divide.  You can point at Satan if you feel appropriate here.  I tend to think that it’s our sinful hearts wanting identity in something other than Jesus.
  2. While it is absolutely appropriate and Biblical to become angry with systemic racism in our country, it is absolutely sinful to utilize the oppression of a people as a podium for politics, in the name of Jesus.  If you are so angry that a people group are being oppressed, do what God has called the Church to do in the first place.  Love the oppressed and pray for your enemies.  You, Christian were once an enemy of God, and yet He loved you.  You, Christian were made in the image of God, commissioned to continue the work of Jesus, put your hand to the plow.  You, Christian were saved for a purpose, live like it.  How you do that, as long as your walking in love and led by the Spirit is on you.  Be creative, be encouraging, be challenging, be aggressive, be the Church.
  3. While you are out doing out of your being, here is my last point for the response.  Paul points out in the Romans passage above that those racist, evil, misguided, ill informed, people need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So do the heroin junkies that are outside my house right now, kicking in the park across the street.  So do the people of North St. Louis and East St. Louis, where there will be statistically at least one person killed tonight.  The Gospel needs to reach the ears and hearts of the not-yet believer, and God’s plan from the very beginning was to use the Church as the vehicle in which the Gospel would be spread to every people group, globally.  If this is true and you aren’t supporting church planting, you’re wrong Christian.  You want to see the oppression lifted off a group of people, freedom in Christ is the only way.  We need churches planted on every block, corn field, desert, beach and street in the world.

 

The disclaimer to this response is this, Jesus wept.  If you aren’t weeping for the oppression of brothers and sisters, grab a brother a work through a hard heart.  If this response makes you feel uncomfortable, good.  Grab a brother or sister and work through it.  If we as a Church aren’t going to model how a redeemed community is to function, we can’t expect the communities around us to look any different.

 

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Thy Kingdom Come

Last week I had the privilege of teaching how God formed his family in the Exodus story and what it means to the Church today.  We talked at length about how God has called His family to live as a distinct community within the pagan world.  As soon as we get the audio you will be able to find the three sessions at porterbrookstl.com. 

The Spirit has done an amazing amount of work on my heart in this area, pressing out what the distinct community actually looks like.  It’s one thing to study, exegete and preach what a community is suppose to look like.  It’s an entirely different exercise to pastor the local church to the same goal.  After teaching Sunday on the Festival of Booths, the Lord continued to work on my heart.  What does it look like to live dependent on God, faithful to His word and engaged in community?  What does it look like to be called as an empowered community distinct in and with the pagan world?

It didn’t take long for the exercise to become a reality.  How does the church engage the world with something like gender identity?  It’s a hot button issue, now that Target has chosen to allow open restrooms to our friends that identify with a different gender.  This of course has become a moral outrage in the Christian communities that I have the privileged of being involved it.  Not that the communities as a whole are outwardly making statements, but as many things in the social ecosystem, one persons comments can be taken as the opinion of the majority.

I’ve seen the arguments, the Bible teaches that this is wrong.  God made Adam and Eve, not Adam that identifies as Eve or even an Eve that identifies as Adam.  It doesn’t take much to see that sexuality is something that is deeply important to God.  So the question begs why?

I believe that we find at least a hint of why in the book of Ephesians.

Wives and Husbands Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)

We clearly see here that Paul draws an analogy to relationship between a husband and a wife and Christ and the Church.  There is an implicit sexual nature to the analogy because the one thing that a husband and a wife have that is explicit to the relationship is sex.  Biblically, sex is for the marriage, a bond that is meant to be shared and nurtured through the physical act of consummation.  As a Christian this teaching shouldn’t be new or anything ground breaking.  I’m making the case for the moral outrage.  The issue with attempting to draw the moral backlash from these verses is that God through Paul is speaking about the relationship between a man and a woman whom has been called by God to be in the family of God.  Someone who’s heart has been changed by the super natural act of the Holy Spirit described in Ezekiel 36:

I Will Put My Spirit Within You “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (Ezekiel 36:22-32 ESV)

So the question still begs, how does the Christian react?  Again, the answer can be found in Ephesians 5.

Walk in Love Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:1-5 ESV)

We are to walk in love and be imitators of God.  The same God that came down and loved us when we were enemies of Him.  When we hated Him to the point of death on a cross, He loved us.  Our job as the church is not to make some moral outrage and boycott Target, that is the reaction of the world.  That’s the reaction of a pagan nation when something doesn’t go politically the way that they feel is right.  Do we boycott McDonalds because they help in the sin of gluttony?  Do we boycott every business that hires people what are living together but are not married?  Of course not, so the issue isn’t in fact a moral issue.

So what is the real issue?  The real issue is our hearts, Christians.  We only want to love, when it’s convenient and comfortable for us.  Someone who looks very different or has a completely different world view causes tension in our hearts and it’s a tension that we want to avoid.  How can I love this person whom looks and acts counter-cultural to my own beliefs?  And in that statement lies the very insidious sin in our hearts.  We still believe that the faith that was given to us was for us and in reality, the faith that was given to you as a gift from God is the faith causes you to engage a culture that is not like your own with the same love and grace that Christ engaged you with.

Or have we so quickly forgotten  the Gospel that saved us, is saving us and propels us into the world?

 

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)

An Open Letter to the Walking Dead

This morning I woke up much like every Wednesday and rolled out of bed for prayer.  It was a good prayer time, Jesus was lifted up and people were prayed for.  Our elder team gets up early because we believe that prayer is important, its essential and its vital to the life blood of the Bride.  As prayer ended, we started off our meeting with our current church planter and elder and he informed the group that it was true, a good friend and leader in our community had fallen and was removed as an elder and pastor of a major church.  For Pastors, there is nothing more devastating than hearing that someone had fallen.  As leaders in the community it immediately caused a tension that was physical.  My heart sank, a brother was hurting and his family was in the crosshairs of the world.

 

We prayed and we grieved.  A brother was hurting, and his family is in the crosshairs, but Jesus is still good, right and perfect.  He is still King and he still reigns on high, may we never forget that.

 

I sat down at my computer, getting ready for the firehose of work and wondered how quickly the social media ecosphere would take to a fallen brother.  8AM and the blogs were already picking up the story, my heart sank deeper.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t read the comments  and I wouldn’t engage… but I did.  I wanted to know and it brought me deeper into sadness and sinfully murdering people in my mind.  How could brothers and sisters say these kinds of things about a fellow brother?  Did they not remember that he is sinful man just like me?  My mind was racing, is this how the church reacts to brokenness?  What if I fall?  What if I’m found out, that I’m not as good as a Christian as I portray?  What about his family, I hope they aren’t reading the things that are being said.  Would this be the way that the church treats my family?

 

All these questions came racing across my mind, instantly pulling my heart from sadness to fear to anger and back again.  So I prayed.  Not because I’m a great Christian, but I prayed because there was nothing that I could do.  I prayed, my co-workers knew that something was wrong and I didn’t care.  My family was under attack and seemingly it was from within.

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

 

The words echoed in my heart and in my head.  I once was lost and now I’m found, I was blind but now I see.  How glorious grace is.  Not the Americanized cheap grace, but the life giving grace that can only be found in Jesus.  My brother is hurting and his family is still in the crosshairs.

 

This letter is for you Christian, that grace my abound in your life.  Amazing Grace.  When you are given a voice that has the potential to reach thousands, may grace abound.  When you post your thoughts on family, may grace abound.  When a man is hurting, may grace abound and when his family is put up for public display, may grace abound.  My friend is a man, broken like the rest of us.  He has his faults and they are very public.  May we look upon the mirror as if our faults and our brokenness is laid as bare as his, because it is.  May we be a people of repentance, reconciliation and grace, because we were bought with a price.  Called to be a distinct community in a pagan world.  So many of us failed today, my grace abound.

Good Friday and the Christian

This morning I woke up to the glorious day of the celebration, or remembering the greatest cosmic event in history. If true, changed the course of history forever. If false, than just a terrible story of an incredible injustice. Good Friday is the day in which many (most) honor Christ being crucified on the cross, defeating sin and bringing forth the redemption of the world.

Looking at the current state of our political, social and economic systems, I think we can all agree that redemption is more that welcome. This is the beauty in the redemption of the cross. It was holistic, it’s was extreme and it was permanent.

If the events of Good Friday are so good, so extreme and so glorious…

Why do we as Christians celebrate them only on one day?

Why does our level of excitement hit critical level this weekend?

I think, that if we had the same excitement about every service as we do about Good Friday or Easter Sunday, the outside world would sense a the reality of our beliefs in our lives. Of course, that would require that we meditated on the glories of the Crucifixion daily, recognizing the work that Christ did, is doing and will do. It would require that we put down our idols of self sufficiency, repent of our own need to be God and call us to worship. Daily 

What if everyday I reflected deeply on the Cross? What would my outlook on life if I started each day with the reminder that Jesus brought forth the redemption of the world and through me, He was calling people to eternal life in a world that is perfect?

What if my life was focused on eternal implications of my current situation?

What if Christ was truly King of my life?

Redeeming Social Media – The Experiement

Redeemin SocialMedia
So here is the deal.  I’ve tried just about anything and everything to control the social media beast that consumes our time and energy.  It’s the beast that maintains so much cognitive space in our minds that it actually is shaping who we think we are and how we engage the entire world.  It shapes our communication, it runs businesses and it develops reality (true or not).  The beast is real and there is nothing that we can do to stop it.  Like all things, our sinful hearts have twisted something that was originally good and turned it bad.  Luckily, we are loved by the Great Redeemer and we reflect that image to the world.

The question is really, how are we going to redeem social media?
I’ve seen it done in a few different ways.  Prayer requests and organization seem to be a few of the things that people are using social media for.  That’s in itself is dope.  I love seeing people that I love, loving people on the mediums.  There is more that we can do though.  The “social” aspect of the mediums is a piece that I think that we are missing.  The reason that I think we fail to engage the social part of social media is because we are inherently scared to socialize period.  I think that as a culture we stand on one of two different sides.  We either want to engage socially to the point that it’s a danger to our health, or we don’t want to engage period and it’s a danger to our health.  In the culture that we live, excessive is the norm and having a decent balance is really more of an urban myth.
So here is the challenge: We are almost out of January, so for the month of February, what are you going to do to redeem social media?  Who’s day can you touch and what encouraging things can you communicate to the people that you love?  Make a commitment to loving people in and around social media, and don’t just consume it.  If you see someone is having a rough time, reach out and go see them.  Make the phone call, it will be vastly more edifying than the simple “like”.
What are some ideas that you have for redeeming social media?  Share them out!

Come as you are

Comeasyouare

Reading through the scriptures today and preparing for the Christmas Eve service has me spinning on an idea that is a familiar stream woven throughout scripture, the idea of coming as you are.  The gravity of the Jesus’ ministry, the incarnation of God coming to people is nothing short of breath taking.  It’s one of those themes that we can quickly gloss over, as we run to the more exhilarating passages of scripture.  It’s one of those themes that should shape our ministries and our communities as we live life.

The commands of Scripture, as we should read it, are almost always plural.  Set to be done by God’s people.  Jesus’ ministry in a sense should always be considered in a communal state.  Jesus, the lamb of God, came down to the earth so that he would reconcile His people to Himself.  The miracles that he performed brought great glory to His Father, opening the eyes and the ears of some of the people around Him.  The interesting part of this is that the people did not do anything to warrant forgiveness nor did they do anything to clean themselves up.  Jesus called them “as they were.”  If we take this theme and apply it to our communities, I think that what we will find is that we require people to act a certain way for us to welcome them in.  We might mask our expectations with calls to the alter or charitable giving, but ultimately within the Church we expect that people will act a certain way.  This way is vastly different among churches, some churches require that you keep your hands down while worshiping and yet others look down on outward worship.  Regardless of the expectation, we as a church frown on and ultimately miss opportunities to engage one another because of our presupposed expectations.   The most evil and dangerous part of these expectations is that they evolve within a community.  As communities grow and become bonded, they develop their own expectations.  When the expectations of the community are not met within the community, there is hostility and often shunning, until the expectations are met.   This is not a hard and fast rule, just a simple observation.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently and I made a statement similar to the one that I just wrote, and it made him angry.  Angry at me and he was rightfully so.  I joined in on the communal expectation, ultimately ostracizing my own because they failed to meet the standard that I had set for them.  Of course, realizing my error, I apologized and repented for failing to see the error in my ways.  The conversation didn’t end there.  We talked and I pondered about what the implementations of my blindness has for the communities that I’m involved in.  How had my worship slipped back into self righteousness?   The question is answered in the beginning of this writing, it’s an indicative/imperative assessment.

I failed, and we fail because we do not allow people to come to us as they are.  We suppose that they will act a certain way, react a certain way or at least pretend to act a certain way.  This creates communities that are not built on trust, but rather behavior.  It’s simply going back to behavior modification on a communal level.  It’s an issue that stems from original sin, we want to be God, and in doing so we throw burdens on people that aren’t theirs to carry.  We want the clean, and yet we are called into the dirty.

My prayer is that our hearts will be broken for the broken.  As broken people we will realize our faults and repent of our sinful ways.  That we will yearn to be in the front lines of ministry, open about our brokenness and always on guard for the sin that is crouching at the door.  That we will be people that look more like Jesus and less like the religious leaders.  That God will move people into our paths, to challenge the norm and to force us to see the log that is in our own eye.  Let us not be a people that misses the point, that gathers around expectation and in doing so, fails to point people to the one that never failed.  His name is Jesus.

Reconciliation From the Heart

Radical

There comes a time and a place where one must sit down and consider the past.  For many, this comes during the end of a season or the end of a year.  As I sit and think about the past year, I am baffled by all that has happened in my life.  I think that sometimes we live our lives moment to moment, constantly driving towards the next accomplishment and goal.  This rhythm produces a profound effect on our lives and the lives of the people around us.  We become producers of content, from our 140 character tweets to our daily conversations and we become content in our lives of producing.

The good Lord has provided many opportunities to develop relationships, and in doing so, many opportunities to fail at developing relationships.  It’s in that space, when we can quietly reflect on things that we could have done better, times where our worship went astray that we can learn from our mistakes.  Time that we can repent, confess and return to worshiping the Creator.  It amazes me that throughout my life, God continues to bring leaders that are patient enough to walk through the maturation process and loving enough to love, even when my heart is not in the right place.  It amazes me that God was gracious enough to provide a wife for me that loves me regardless of how she feels about me in that moment.  It amazes me that I have the family that I have, knowing that I don’t deserve that gift.  There comes a time when you have to reflect on the gifts given.

The idea of radical reconciliation is so foreign to the world that we live in.  The world that produces content at 140 character tweets and insta-everything.  We take in and we push out more information than ever in the history of the world and in that process we lose part of the commitment that our words have had in the past.  It seems to me that friendships and family are disposable terms in our current culture.  That the words, “I love you” are little short of, “we are friends now, because you are doing what I want.”  This systemic interaction produces the same level of commitment that our 140 words do.  Approximately 7 minutes of life in the twittersphere.  So the question begs, how do we radically reconcile our relationships and bring them to a point where they mean more than the tweet?  It’s a complex problem, as all human interactions are.  There are endless possibilities, more numerous than the sand of the sea.  I don’t think that the solution is as complex.  I think that the solution is rather simple, actually.  The solution is found in our understanding of ourselves and the willingness to accept our condition.

In short, God has given us everything that we have.  Our relationships, our material goods and the life that live.  We manage to only bring destruction to the table.  Our sin nature to put it simply.  If this is true, the order of reconciliation should look something like, I have committed so much destruction and sin in my life that there is no room for me to judge you on any level.  Therefore, because of my condition, I have no right to do anything except forgive and reconcile.  In doing so, I will go out of my way to ensure that our relationship edifies the people around us.

The problem with radical reconciliation is that forces us to move from the field of competition, to the field of reconciliation.  It forces us to put down our pride, our self righteous indignant flesh.  We don’t live in a reconciled world, because we still want to live in the world of “me.”  Unfortunately, the world of me creates destruction.  The world of me wrecks lives and causes discontentment within our communities.  The world of me rips through the relationships in our lives, producing communities that can’t trust and don’t want to live together.  The world of me, disrupts and ruins the world that I live in.

There comes a time and a place that we have to reflect on the past, and my prayer is that as we look at the past, as we gaze into the future.  A future where all things will be made new.  A future that the brokenness of this world will be no more.  In doing so, we gaze at the One who can change our hearts radically, so we might be able to reconcile our relationships.