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)

The First Year of Grace

rings

We made it, it being one year into marriage.  We made it through some tough times.  We lost some friends that honestly we thought were going to be “ride or dies.”  It’s the natural rhythms of life it seems, as the Spirit moves and our sinful hearts pull things happen and it’s good.

So here are a few things that I have learned from our first year of marriage:

  1.  I am a terrible God.  So is Taylor.  Grace has to abound in marriage for it to be healthy and happy.  Yes, you can stay together and be miserable for the rest of the days… but I’m not all about that.  Call me a hedonist, I’m good with it.  Marriage without grace is like playing wack-a-mole with your spouses heart.   Every time that you feel offended, they get smashed.  It’s literally our Jekyll and Hyde hearts, with deep repercussions for the entire family and it starts with a heart that is tuned and nurtured to be it’s own God.  If your spouse is your God, you will murder them on the cross and without Jesus, they just stay dead.
  2. Family worship is hard.  I’ll admit and confess, I thought I had a plan for family worship.  My plan sunk faster than the Cubs in October.  Still working on it, still learning Taylor and how she worships best, still learning me… still learning.  It’s apparent to me that learning each other continuously is key.   If the Spirit is active, change is constant and you have to be willing to be quite and humble during the process.  
  3. Taylor is my best friend and because she is my best friend, she is not my sounding board for everything.  If you love your wife, you protect her heart violently.  We as men need to be at war with our sin natures, daily.  Every time that you sound off on your wife about struggles with other people, you are setting the stage in her heart for resentment that can last much longer than yours.  You don’t however start blasting co-workers, ministry leaders and your friends if you are walking in grace, with the Spirit as your guide.
  4. If you aren’t visibly and audibly reliant on God, you can’t expect your wife to be.     

My prayer is that this quick little list is just really a reminder of things that seem to fall in the cracks during the grind.

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.

The Gospel to the Streets

Walking through some teaching last night with a few of people made me realize that there is a disconnect, a misguided nature to the way that we teach Biblical truths to the people that God has placed in our paths. This disconnect isn’t inherently wrong, nor does it present itself as a heart issue per se, but it opens up conversation and teaching at a much deeper level. The issue is not with the curriculum that we are teaching but how we apply the teaching and the response to the truths that we are hearing.

Let’s flesh this out a bit. Last night we are working through the advanced year for Porterbrook. If you aren’t engaged in Porterbrook, find a learning site and go. We are talking about the Cross and the theological beauty of the scandal. The depth of the teaching is unreal. The implications are mind boggling and irrational, counter intuitive to the progressive society that we live in. As a group we can clearly define what grace is, and the happenings of the cross and this is where we find the disconnect. With all the teachings that we went over, we as a group struggled to be able to reteach or reframe all the teaching in language that mattered in our culture. We essentially have been taking great theological teaching and letting it die on our own domes (that’s brains in an urban culture).

Questions like; “How can you translate this for the people in your culture?” and “Can you explain this to me if I’m struggling with the nature of the cross?” turned out to be very pressing. Our group, had a difficult time breaking down the knowledge of the Gospel and turning it inside out. If we are going to fulfill the Great Commission we are going to have to turn the teaching inside out.

I love the phrase “turning the teaching inside out,” because it conveys the nature of the Gospel in a way that people can understand. As we peer into the Word, the Gospel infects our hearts, it changes us. We learn the deep truths, as we engage not only the Word but teachings from the word. It goes inside us. To develop disciples that internal engagement has to reflect and turn outward. It’s the nature of the Gospel. So our teaching has engage that reflection, it has to engage the mind and the heart. Our focus cannot be simply on learning, but on the teaching aspect as well. It’s in the nature of a disciple to teach, and reproduce.

Here are a few things to ponder before your teaching, regardless of the medium.

  1. As a teacher, are you using theoretical language? Is your language conducive for reteaching? Are you pressing out how to teach the information? Are you using real world examples or are you relying on Christian language to reinforce your points?
  2. Do your people really understand the material or are they just there? How can you format the teaching time to best engage your people? Is it time to step back and make sure that everyone is on the same page?
  3. How is the Gospel speaking into the hearts of your people? You can turn the knowledge inside out, if it’s not really getting to the inside. Where are your people at in their daily devotions?
  4. What’s going on in the lives of the people you’re shepherding? How can you leverage daily living as teaching moments? How is the Gospel speaking into their current situations?
  5. Are you teaching our of your personal experience with the Gospel and whatever curriculum that you are working out of? Do you have stories and life events where the teaching as greatly effected you?

These are just a few of the questions that we should be asking ourselves as we are preparing to teach. The glory of the Gospel is that we can’t add anything to it, to make it work. We can however teach it in ways that press our people deeper in to mission, deeper into community and just plain deeper in.

How are you getting the Gospel to your streets?

The God Delusion – Riding the Curtails.

As I continue this wonderful journey of diving deeply into the writings of a man, who on the surface hates all that is religion I am met with a deeper understanding of why on an intellectual level, people hate religion as a whole. You don’t have to read but several pages into The God Delusion and you can find the premise behind the entirety of the work.   Mr. Dawkings, in the preface presents his ultimate point, and something that we as Christians should consider.

Indoctrination of our children with religiosity, rather than grace is a grave mistake.

Richard would probably refute this as the premise to his work, and in some sense that is fine.  His goal is to scientifically disprove the probability of a God and mine is to simply learn from his work.   I’m sure that there are some that are reading this article and stopping at this point, with scripture flying through their well-trained brains to refute my point.

[6] Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6 ESV)

[6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV)

[14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV)

[19] For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:19 ESV)

As you can see, the bible is very clear about the role of parents in the education of their children in the ways of the Lord.

I would humbly offer that the way of the Lord is grace.  It’s not the tribal language, nor the traditions of your particular church.  It’s assuredly not the ways of Christendom that have long failed in the desperate attempt to moralize and control society.  Grace, given through faith, as a gift, undeserved, is the root in which the life of the Christian steams.

This is not to say that traditions are worthless, or inherently wrong.  I personally believe that understanding the history of the Church is important, but it should not be the central teaching of parents to their children.  Instead, the traditions that are taught should point to the giver of grace, the one that walked out grace through every minute of His life, Jesus.  Central to all teaching, must be Jesus or we simply indoctrinate our children with religious idols, which will ultimately lead to destruction.

Dawkings’ point is very clear, and regrettably true.  As a Church, we have failed in many cases to articulate the doctrine of grace in words that children understand.  Admittedly, this is difficult to do especially after I offer that we should allow our children intellectually explore the world around them.  I present this idea, with the caveat that the community of believers that is influential on the child can open discuss the ideas and wonders of not only science, but of other religions as well.  We teach our children to engage the world, offering and understanding the prospective of grace.

The implications of the “Greats” in the bible ring so crystal clear here, it’s almost easy to miss.  When Jesus says,

[37] And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. [39] And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

He’s giving us the teaching for our children.  Mr. Dawkings has no need to make his continued point that “religion” indoctrinates children and is the cause of so much strife in the world (more to come on that) if the generations of children where discipled, rather than indoctrinated.  If well-taught grace is the cornerstone of all teaching it should drive the Great Commission, out of love, not fear or religious duty.

[16] Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. [17] And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. [18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)

In essence, we are fulfilling the Great Commission by teaching our children grace.  We stop allowing our children to ride on our faith, but rather explore the deeper truths that will in time be revealed to them through the Holy Spirit.

We as Christians need to stop pretending as if we are God and we have the ability to change the hearts of anyone, especially our children.  We need to model grace and teach the truths of the faith with razor sharp accuracy and undeniable meekness.