Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Women in Jesus' Family Tree: A look at Authenticity

As many know, I am no longer a Candidate for Pastoral Ministry in the United Methodist Church. This has left me free to explore faith in deeper. As I do every year, I come up with one word that I was to see more of in my life. This year in 2022, that word is Authentic. For years I have said the problem with Christianity is Christians. We have this great example of what a Christian should be, the ULTIMATE example in the person Jesus Christ and yet we fail to remotely look like Christ, we fail when it comes to faith and righteousness. And don't worry, I am pointing fingers at myself this morning. 

The first week that I really looked at and tried to understand authentic Christianity, I started by reading the Genealogy of Jesus Christ. While reading, I noticed that there are 5 women in the family tree. This is unique for two reasons: 1) most genealogy, even today, is counted only through the paternal lines. When women marry, they take their husbands names. When their children take their father's surname. If you want to run your DNA, it's always ran from the father's chromosomes and you have to order a special test to look at your mitocondrial DNA. 

The second reason that the genealogy of Jesus is unique is that 3 of the five women are outsiders. They weren't born into Hebrew/Jewish families. They were born outside of the family of Israel. And this makes sense when you think that Jesus is the Messiah of all the world. 

So what does this have to do with my study into authentic Christianity? 

To understand we have to know who the women are in Jesus' Genealogy.  The women in order are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheeba and Mary. 

Let's look at the first two today. 

TAMAR

In Genesis chapter 38, Tamar is first described as marrying Judah's eldest son, Er. Because of his wickedness, Er was killed by God. By way of a levirate union, Judah asked his second son, Onan, to provide offspring for Tamar so that the family line might continue. This could have substantial economic repercussions, with any son born deemed the heir of the deceased Er, and able to claim the firstborn's double share of inheritance. However, if Er was childless, Onan would inherit as the oldest surviving son.[4]

Onan performed coitus interruptus. His action was deemed wicked by God and so, like his older brother, God killed him. At this point, Judah is portrayed as viewing Tamar to be cursed and therefore as being reluctant to give her his remaining and youngest son Shelah. Rather, he tells Tamar to wait for Shelah. However, even after Shelah has grown up, Judah still does not give Tamar to him in marriage. (Genesis 38:6–14)

Judah and Tamar, Horace Vernet

After Shelah had grown up, Judah became a widower. After Judah mourned the death of his wife, he planned on going to Timnath to shear his sheep. Upon hearing this news, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and immediately went to Timnath which was en route to Judah's destination. Upon arriving at a place near Timnath, where two roads met,[5] Judah saw the woman but did not recognize her as Tamar because of the veil she wore over her face. Thinking she was a prostitute, he requested her services. Tamar's plan was to become pregnant by this ruse so that she might bear a child in Judah's line, since Judah had not given her to his son Shelah. So she played the part of a prostitute and struck a bargain with Judah for a goat, secured by his staff, seal, and cord. When Judah was able to have a goat sent to Timnath, in order to collect his staff, cord, and seal, the woman was nowhere to be found and no one knew of any prostitute in Timnath. (Genesis 38:12–23)

Three months later, Tamar was accused of prostitution on account of her pregnancy. Upon hearing this news, Judah ordered that she be burned to death. Tamar sent the staff, seal, and cord to Judah with a message declaring that the owner of these items was the man who had made her pregnant. Upon recognizing these items as his security, Judah released Tamar from her sentence. Tamar, having thus secured her place in the family as well as Judah's posterity, gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah. Their birth is reminiscent of the birth of Rebekah's twin sons. The midwife marks Zerah's hand with a scarlet cord when he emerges first from the womb, though Perez is born first. Perez is identified in the Book of Ruth as the ancestor of King David. (Ruth 4:18–22) The Genesis narrative also makes a note that Judah did not have further sexual relations with Tamar. (Genesis 38:24–30)

So how does this play into authentic Christianity? 

For me what makes Tamar's story unique and how it fits into Authentic Christianity is hope being born of desperation. Once the entire sordid affair came to light, Judah publicly admitted that Tamar was more righteous than he was – an accurate assessment given his cruel, callous treatment of her. And yet for all that, Tamar’s actions aren’t justifiable either, although they’re certainly understandable. Tamar (to say nothing of Judah) was a complicated person with a messy life, whose presence in the lineage of Jesus shows precisely the kind of people he came to save. In place of desperate acts and broken hopes, the coming Messiah would bring real hope into the world.

Authentic Christian faith is born of hope, and often that hope is born from desperation. 


RAHAB

According to the book of Joshua, when the Hebrews were encamped at Shittim, in the "Arabah" or Jordan valley opposite Jericho, ready to cross the river, Joshua, as a final preparation, sent out two spies to investigate the military strength of Jericho. The spies stayed in Rahab's house, which was built into the city wall. The soldiers sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring out the spies. Instead, she hid them under bundles of flax on the roof. It was the time of the barley harvest, and flax and barley are ripe at the same time in the Jordan valley, so that "the bundles of flax stalks might have been expected to be drying just then".

Rahab told the spies:


I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when ye came out of Egypt, and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites that were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. As soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father's house, and give me a true token: and that you will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.

— Joshua 2:9-13, King James Version.

After escaping, the spies promised to spare Rahab and her family after taking the city, even if there should be a massacre, if she would mark her house by hanging a red cord out the window. Some have claimed that the symbol of the red cord is related to the practice of the "red-light district".

Rahab Receiveth and Concealeth the Spies 
by 
Frederick Richard Pickersgill (1881)
When the city of Jericho fell, Rahab and her whole family were preserved according to the promise of the spies, and were incorporated among the Jewish people. (In siege warfare of antiquity, a city that fell after a prolonged siege was commonly subjected to a massacre and sack.)

So how does this play into authentic Christianity? 

Rahab has several vital lessons in her story; and many of the lessons are things that Christians truly struggle with; but the one that speaks most to me is that we are not limited by our pasts, because God is not limited by our past.

Rahab had a reverent fear of the Lord that was brought on by the awesome works of the Lord. In fact, if we look at the story of Rahab, we see that it wasn't just Rahab who feared the Israelites, it was an entire society that feared them. 

The opportunity to fear the Lord, gave way for Rahab to trust the Lord. 

Authentic Christianity is borne of faith in the Lord and trust that he will deal with us, as we have dealt with others. 


*Next Week ,we'll look at Ruth and Bathsheba. 


Sunday, January 2, 2022

Why Seasons?

Right now there are a lot of posts on Facebook about how warm its been these past three weeks. Christmas Day we ran around in shorts or fall weather wear. New Year's Day you could sit outside in Shorts and a T-Shirt. It's been crazy; and today, January 2, 2022 neighboring counties are getting winter weather warnings. 


Most of the posts have been funny, and many people are glad "we aren't doing winter" this year. However, the earth, much like the church needs seasons. I come from a family that will not understand liturgy or liturgical seasons because we didn't celebrate them. But to help them understand, because they do read my page, The liturgical calendar helps us celebrate and understand more fully the entire mystery of Jesus Christ, from his Incarnation and birth until his Ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of his return in glory. The liturgical year reminds us of what is truly important. Sundays remind us that our first duty is to worship God. The seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter remind us of Jesus’ Incarnation, death, and Resurrection and His great love for us.

Just as there are liturgical seasons, so must there be physical seasons. 

God has inscribed this same narrative structure onto the wider canvas of the natural world. Although the seasons don’t line up in perfect parallel with the four acts of the grand narrative, they echo its plot-line via their own annual cycle of life, death and rebirth. Vibrant flourishing life under the summer sun gives way to the fall. Plants wither, animals hibernate and humans huddle through the cold dead of winter. And the world waits with eagerness for the fresh rebirth of another spring. The cycle never concludes, but remains a universal reminder of the ultimate story God is crafting for his creation.

So while yes, it would be amazing for it to be summer all year long, it's not the way God designed the earth. He created the Earth, nature and human's to experience seasons. While we can't say that every season is great, because let's face it not all seasons are wonderful, when the season change and we look back on the previous season, we usually look back on the season with new eyes, now understanding the hardships and lessons of the previous season. 


Sunday, December 19, 2021

Let it Be...a Lesson from Mary

Tonight is the last Sunday of Advent and I am sitting here thinking of one thing: The response that Mary gave Gabriel. 

Luke recounts the foretelling of the arrival of Christ. An Angel that we now know as Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child. Now it would not be unfair to say that the presence of an angel and the news he brought was met with some trepidation. 

Mary, according to some apocryphal texts, and even some Jewish traditions state that she was probably 12-16 years old--which is a societal norm for the time. Many state that Joseph had already been married, was a widower and had children. However, we really don't know if that is true or not, so it does not matter for this article. 

But what really sticks out in my mind as I look at this story is Mary's response. 

Luke 1:34: Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ Then after Gabriel explains, Mary said in verse 38, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ 

The first question Mary asks is "How?" she doesn't say "Oh, no Angel boy, you got the wrong gal!" or may excuses, she literally says "how can this be?" Mary hadn't known a man sexually. She was betrothed to be married, but was still living in her father's home. Had she been sexually active he would have shunned her. 

There is a lesson to be learned here. 

When God shows us his will for our lives, even though we don't know how it will happen, all we have to do is say "how?" Often times we have our own plans for our lives. We know what we want, but we don't always know how to get to that point.  In fact, as Tiffany Lyons says "Sometimes God moves us in a direction we didn’t see coming. It is at these times that we need to know what our answer is going to be. Are we going to say yes to God or not. I believe that Mary had a posture of saying yes to God even before this major plot shift happened. Let’s get into a posture of saying yes to God." 

Mary believed that God was going to do what he said he was going to do. Just look at the second part of her answer "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ After all, Mary had heard this promise of the Lord, Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." and she believed it too!

My question tonight is are you in a place where if God tells you to do something or that something is going to happen, you are just going to ask "how" and then say "Let it be!"?


Sunday, December 12, 2021

Radical Advent

Two of my favorite seasons in the church calendar are not Easter and Christmas. Rather, I get excited over Advent and Lent. What a lot of people don't consider is that Advent is supposed to be a radical experience. We are literally preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ. We light candles in church that have a great variation of themes, though I lean towards the Catholic Rite of what the candles mean. 

Advent, the Latin word for “arrival,” reminds us that God stepped into human flesh. Emmanuel. God is with us and for us.

Advent reassures us that God hasn’t abandoned us or our fallen, broken world.

The prophet Isaiah expressed hope for God to deliver his people during a period of turbulent divisions. And in the midst of these divisions, God promised them a Savior: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Advent reminds us of the extravagant lengths God has gone to rescue us and restore our world.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:1) Every where we look, the world is dark and people are walking around in the dark. God during Advent is calling us out of the darkness in our life, so that He can search us and create in us a new being. (1 Peter 5:7) God searches our depths, turning our faces toward eternal light.

Advent guarantees that God has the upper hand even when the opposite seems true.

Scripture assures our residency in heaven though our fallen, broken lives contribute to our fallen, broken world (Philippians 3:20-21). And our enemy (the devil) prowls the earth, seeking to kill and destroy (Peter 5:8-9). When God sent His son Jesus Christ to live among humanity, He did so in order to reconcile us to Himself. This year has been hard on my family. Since the pandemic started we have lost 9 family members, 7 of which I was close to and it's been tough. Yet knowing that God is right here in the midst of my suffering has made it tolerable. 

Advent calls us to respond in radical love for God and our neighbors.

Emmanuel calls us to love God and our neighbors to our greatest capacity. Living by faith means stepping out in courageous acts of compassion.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31)

Early last year, my neighbors started a prayer vigil for our community. It has been an honor to have neighbors that I know I can count on. 

The baby born to a virgin in a manger, over 2,000 years ago, guarantees that God is for us, not against us. God sees. God cares. Emmanuel has come to redeem us and our fallen, broken world. And we can be assured that He is in control of everything present and all to come.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Break Our Hearts From What Breaks Yours

Disclaimer: Before everyone thinks that you can state that I am using a race card, I am caucasian and have witnessed first hand the racial bias of the Criminal Justice System. This article is not condoning the violence done by rioters. Instead it is showing that the political right wing church has very little relevance in our communities. 

Today Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of murder. Never mind the fact that he was carrying a gun under age; never mind that he had ZERO reason to be at a violent racial justice protest. He purposely carried a gun and when attacked he killed two people and injured another. There are plenty of people that want to say what he did was right and that it truly self defense. I have been taught how to respect guns my entire life, and how to use them defensively if needed. I have also been taught that you don't shoot to kill, you should to injure the other. You don't go to seek out trouble. In other words, you don't go to purposely take the law into your own hands. However, when I look at Kyle Rittenhouse, I don't see a upstanding person. I see a horrid person, someone that deserves to be in jail because of the laws he brought by his vigilante justice. 

A vigilante is a person who takes it upon himself to enforce laws or to provide justice in situations where no justice seems possible. Vigilantes operate without proper legal authority, and they often depend on their own notions of right and wrong with no concern for what is truly just. Vigilantes skip due process, sometimes with the belief that law enforcement is inadequate or unavailable and that their intervention is necessary to maintain a peaceful existence. The irony is that, as a vigilante seeks to bring lawbreakers to justice, he becomes a lawbreaker himself.

In fact, the heart of most acts of vigilantism is contrary to Scripture. Vigilantes act outside the purview of the law, which is problematic for Christians. Also, vigilantism often gives way to mob rule, and the out-of-control actions of a lynch mob hardly if ever lead to true justice. “The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). The authority in free countries is the law, which even a nation’s leaders and judges must obey. In most cases, to bypass due process is to flout the law. It is the government’s duty “to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4; cf. 1 Peter 2:14); it is the Christian’s duty “to submit to the authorities” (Romans 13:5; cf. 1 Peter 2:13). Christians should be exemplary in their law-abiding behavior. Except in rare situations, there is no need to resort to vigilantism. There are better ways to resolve perceived injustice. The Christian is obligated to “show proper respect to everyone, . . . fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17), and he prays “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2).

In our town, we had protests, and the only people who were remotely violent were the right-wing supporters. In fact, when the police were called they didn't do anything to stop the right-wing supporters from hitting people and were arresting those yelling out "black lives matter." Seriously? A man assaults a woman because she is yelling on a corner that black lives matter and law enforcement arrested the woman who was yelling. I witnessed this several times. 

Even the Washington Post has written about racial bias in the courts. In 2016Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) gave a powerful speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Scott talked about how he had been repeatedly pulled over by police officers who seemed to be suspicious of a black man driving a nice car. He added that a black senior-level staffer had experienced the same thing and had even downgraded his car in the hope of avoiding the problem. Given that Scott otherwise has pretty conservative politics, there was little objection or protest from the right. No one rose up to say that he was lying about getting pulled over. The thing is, most people of color have a similar story or know someone who does. Yet, there’s a deep skepticism on the right of any assertion that the criminal justice system is racially biased.

As a Christian I am not longer able to sit by and let my brothers and sisters be treated less than because of their race. Earlier in the week, before my grandmother passed away, I went to visit her and my cousin told me a story of how her mother and father (my great grandparents) used to invite the sharecroppers into the house to eat and there was one black man that wouldn't enter the house. My great-granny encouraged him to come in and he wouldn't come in. Since he didn't feel worthy to come into the house, granny set him a table on the back porch, covered it with a table cloth and gave him a chair. In the early 1930-1940s granny felt that a black man that did equal work on the farm was equal enough to come in to her home to eat. 

So what is the problem today? Why aren't we as Christians exhibiting the same understanding of humanity that my great granny knew? 

Of particular concern to some on the right is the term “systemic racism,” often wrongly interpreted as an accusation that everyone in the system is racist. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. When you consider that much of the criminal justice system was built, honed and firmly established during the Jim Crow era — an era almost everyone, conservatives included, will concede rife with racism — this is pretty intuitive. The modern criminal justice system helped preserve racial order — it kept black people in their place. For much of the early 20th century, in some parts of the country, that was its primary function. That it might retain some of those proclivities today shouldn’t be all that surprising.

When I worked in the school system, I saw a School Resource Officer (SRO) body-slam a student of color to the ground and tell him "I am going to put a bullet in your head if its the last thing I do." I reported the incident to the school administration. 

Instead of allowing a modern segregation, maybe we should do as Billy Graham did when he did the unthinkable at the 1952 Jackson, Mississippi crusade when he removed the red segregation rope that separated black and white worshippers. Men like Moody and Sunday lacked the courage to address the racial constructs in the South, but four decades later Graham would face the race issue avoided by his predecessors.[1] “There is only one solution to the race problem, and that is vital, personal, experiences with Jesus Christ on the part of both races.”[2] Graham has often been accused of ignoring segregation, but it is a charge that does not bear scrutiny. Speaking in the South, Graham denounced racial discrimination as a product of man’s sinfulness. “Without the bible, this world would indeed be in a dark and frightening place, without signpost or beacon.”[3]

When I started looking at Racial injustice, and really started studying it, because of my own ancestry, I realized that Christians have responsibilities--and one of the groups that I read a lot of was Converge Church. The rest of this article is from their website

The church was designed to be on the forefront of the conversations about race. The church has been called to speak out against oppression, defend the marginalized, live as peacemakers and lead their communities in reconciliation and transformative change.

There is no group more prepared for this moment and equipped by God to delve into these divisive issues in society than the people of God filled with the Spirit of God and informed by the Word of God. We must recognize these gifts in this moment and bring the hope of Christ to what seems to be a hopeless situation.

We know all this. To do nothing would be wrong. To say nothing would negate our witness. But where do I start?

In the past few years, Dr. Harold Lewis, our vice president of Biblical Diversity, has taught me a fourfold filter for personal interaction with people from other cultures, colors and classes. I have benefited from applying these actions when I engage with people who have a different view or experience in life. While this is not the primary focus of our conversation today, it may be helpful to explain these steps as a foundation for our main topic.

Listen. Learn. Lament. Lead.

Listen: Seek to hear rather than be heard. Seek to understand rather than be understood. Increased awareness will increase understanding.

Learn: While you cannot stand in another person’s shoes, you can learn from his or her experience in this world. Taking a humble, teachable posture validates that their experience can be different than yours and may empower you to walk alongside your friend more effectively.

Lament: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. The ability to “grieve with those who grieve” as well as take responsibility for any part you may have played in their pain creates connection and trust.

Lead: Once understanding is gained, connection is established and trust is earned, you can now walk together into expanded conversations and actions that strengthen your relationship with one another and influence others in your life who need to join the journey of awareness and action.

A paradigm for the church

While these four actions are great personal steps for us as individuals, church leaders are desperate to find corporate pathways to lead others. While leading self is always the first step in leading others, the track to employ a congregation of believers with their community goes beyond personal interaction to corporate engagement.

Though I feel like I am still on the steep learning curve of this conversation, I have found the following paradigm to be helpful as both a starting point and a measure of health for churches that want to move forward on this priority and change the narrative in our communities.

1. The ministry of prayer

True change begins and ends with prayer because prayer turns our focus toward God. One of my friends tells me all the time: “What we focus on is what we move toward.” If we focus on the problems, they will get bigger. If we focus on God, we will see his power to speak into our lives.

God has the ability, through his Word and his Spirit to prepare us for this spiritual battle (Eph. 6:17). He searches our hearts (Ps. 139:23-24), speaks into our motives (Hb. 4:12), opens our eyes (2 Co. 4:4Rev. 3:18), calls us to repentance (Acts 3:17Rev. 2:5) and corrects our way (2 Tm. 3:16-17).

Repentance is one facet of prayer but is essential in the church in this season. Repentance always precedes repair.

Repentance, not only for ourselves but for our people, is common in the Bible. Many examples exist in Scripture of going to God to acknowledge the sins of both groups and generations (2 Ch. 7:14Ne. 1:5-7Ps. 106:6Je. 14:20Dn. 9:1-19). In 1 Peter 2:9, we are called a “royal priesthood.” Priests, by occupation, intercede on behalf of their people.

As that priesthood, we should go to God not only on behalf of ourselves but also our families and our country. We are to seek God on behalf of our leaders (1 Tm. 2:1-6). There are both examples (Gn. 18Acts 7:60Rm. 10:1Lk. 23:34) and expectations (Ez. 22:30) that people would stand in the gap and approach God on behalf of others in prayer.

I encourage church leaders to develop powerful prayer ministries as an integral part of the strategy to prepare the people of God to engage their communities and prepare the people of the community to receive the people of God and their message (Col. 4:3).

2. A ministry of presence

I’ve had the privilege to oversee the celebration of life of many dear people who have gone to be with the Lord. The circumstances surrounding these gatherings are varied — some responded to the death of their loved ones with relief, while other situations were tragic and emotionally charged. Very often, before these events, I would be approached by an acquaintance who had no idea what to say or do in the presence of those who are in pain. My response has always been the same, “That’s OK. You don’t have to know what to say or do — your presence is your ministry.”

Jesus knew the power of presence. As he called his disciples, the first descriptor of their discipleship was “that they might be with him” (Mk. 3:14). Presence with Jesus was a part of their training. God uses our presence to:

When it comes to present-day issues surrounding injustice and race, the lack of the presence of the evangelical church has been discouraging to people of color and culture, while the absence of their voice has been deafening.

As we have seen from previous installments of this conversation, the church was designed to be a voice that speaks out against injustice and a presence that intervenes for the marginalized and oppressed. The power of the church’s presence in these situations would be hard to deny or ignore. We have to learn how to stand with and speak for friends, fellow congregants and the people of our community when they have been treated unfairly. Our presence can be powerful.

3. A plan for personal growth

Spiritual growth is not automatic. A quick look through the pages of the New Testament clearly reveals that challenge and correction were a normal part of Paul’s interactions with the church. Jesus reminded us in the parable of the soils that it is not unusual for the inertia of everyday life to slow us down, choke us out or dry us up (Mk. 4:13-20).

Intentionally growing in the area of biblical diversity has many angles, but Scripture is always the first place to start. The Bible is replete with themes, passages and angles that address this subject.

However, if I had to give you advice, I would start with a thorough study of the book of Ephesians. The emphasis of chapter 2 on the reconciling work of Christ that impacted not only our relationship with God but with each other is a foundational teaching on this topic. The conversation around oneness in this multiethnic church and what it means to mature together in chapter 4 sets the tone for how the church should operate in our very diverse world.

Once a biblical foundation is laid, our personal growth plan can include many other facets of exploration.

  • Consider reading books and blogs on the subject that are recommended by trusted friends who are biblically faithful and culturally astute.
  • Consider reading on topics like the history of our country, racial reconciliation and increasing cultural intelligence.
  • Watch sermons and listen to podcasts of pastors from other cultures to get their perspective on the application of Scripture to current events.
  • Consider taking trips to experience the many historic sites around the country that give you a better understanding, like the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., or the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Regardless, do something. You can’t grow if you don’t know.

4. Participation in good

Paul emphatically calls the church to overcome evil with good (Rm. 12:21). James challenges us to not only be hearers of the word but doers (James 1:22). Jesus calls the church to “let our light shine” in such a way the world sees our good deeds and glorifies our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16). Participation in good should be a normal part of every believer’s experience and every church’s ministry.

In the days following the death of George Floyd, the churches of Converge did just that — they converged on the communities that were devastated by destruction and riots. Christians swept up streets, cleaned up communities, swept up glass, prayed with the hurting, fed the hungry, housed the homeless and spoke the truth in partnership with other local congregations and community leaders.

Others were too far away to have a ministry of presence but sent prayer, supplies and finances to rebuild these areas. All these partners know that once the crisis is over, what remains is not only a cleaned-up community but the possibility of ongoing relationship and ministry.

Partnership is the pathway to relationship. Relationship is the pathway to trust. Trust will open the door to the depth of receptivity, vulnerability, understanding, compassion and commitment necessary to begin steps toward lasting change.

Every church should consider developing long-term relationships and partnerships with other churches in their community to care for, learn from, work with and walk beside each other.

Your community may not have a crisis on the streets like they did in Minneapolis, but I promise you that there is a crisis in the hearts of people from different backgrounds. Our society teaches us to question people who look, act, speak or live differently than us.

Scripture tells us to embrace the beauty of God’s diversity of color and culture, reminding us that there is only one way to salvation (John 14:6Acts 4:12), one body of believers (Eph. 4:4Col. 3:15) and one life to make a difference in this world (2 Co. 5:10Hb. 9:27) and that he wants the transforming power of Christ to not only impact believers but also change communities. This all begins with participation and partnership.

5. A focus on policy change

God calls the church to make their communities better. In the Bible, we see the church impact communities in powerful ways (Acts 17:619:171 Th. 1). The Bible tells the people of God to defend those who cannot defend themselves and speak out on behalf of the marginalized (Pr. 31:8-9). It tells us to think about others first (Ph. 2:3-4), sacrifice (1 Jn. 3:16) and be generous (1 Tm. 6:17-19). Societal heroes have these same traits, and I believe God would love for the people of the church to be seen as the heroes of our communities!

These principles not only apply to personal life but also societal power constructs. Unfortunately, way too often, Christians have allowed their party views to blind them to biblical responses to society.

For example, the Bible is just as clear in its language asking the church to speak for the oppressed and serve the under-resourced as it is about the sanctity of all human life and the preservation of biblical sexuality. Why are we letting a binary political system divide God’s church over four clear calls to his people?

What I am about to say is my opinion and my observation on society. Some of you will agree, while others will cringe at the thought. We have a wonderful system of law in our country. While it is obvious that no system of oversight in this world is perfect, ours has a built-in opportunity for us to make adjustments.

Our founding fathers could not have anticipated all the changes becoming an independent country would bring, but they knew that they wouldn’t! They also couldn’t see the social blind spots and spiritual strongholds of their society (For example, as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” they could not see the dehumanizing act of slavery was directly opposed to this thought). Knowing this, they developed a system that provided opportunity to change things to better serve this forming nation.

While we have a good system, no human system is perfect. Human law is systemic. It is built on the precedent of previous generations and upheld by the powerful in the present generation. Politics, by nature (fallen nature in this case), are used to develop policies that protect the power and preferences of the dominant group or culture. Policy is designed to teach people to obey, not to think or question. Long-standing policy is designed to maintain the status quo and, if a society is not careful, instinctively dulls and desensitizes people to needed change.

If culture is unhealthy, unaware or unwilling to see inequity, it taints the system. In such cases, it often takes crisis (and often tragedy) to bring the attention of all to the need for change. Christians, informed by God’s Word, led by his Spirit and sensitively engaged in their communities, can be a great force in leading to God-honoring systemic change.

Christians should filter the strengths and weaknesses of their communities and culture through the lens of Scripture.

As citizens, we have rights, but as Christians, we have responsibilities to intervene on behalf of others. Our voice and our vote are both stewardships in a democratic society with freedom of speech.

My hope is that Christians would get more involved in local organizations that bring needed change to local communities and use their power of voice and vote at all levels to help the marginalized get relief and the minimized experience justice. For there is no doubt that racial injustice breaks the heart of God. It is abhorrent and it goes against everything that we should stand for as Christians.



[1] Roger Bruns, Billy Graham: A Biography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004), 86.

[2] Ibid., 85. 

[3] Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, and Donna Lee Toney, Billy Graham in Quotes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 181. 


Sunday, November 7, 2021

Forgiveness

I have been a fan of Brandi Carlile since before it was cool. I love her voice, her energy and her music. She's a musician's musician. She tells stories with her music. 

Brandi Carlile
For the past few years, I have been trying to move on from a hard time in my life. I happened across her 2015 album By The Way, I Forgive You, and I listened to the first song, Every Time I Hear That Song. The chorus of the song says 

By the way, I forgive you. After all, maybe I should thank you. For giving me what I've found, 'Cause without you around, I've been doing just fine. Except for any time I hear that song. 

The album made me realize that I needed to take a look at forgiveness. As Brandi says "Forgiveness is so radical and so filthy, and it gets made out to be such a casual concept, when really it might be one of the deepest things that we do as humans — to forgive for real deep hurts."  

Even before I wrote this article tonight I was discussing forgiveness with someone in a Paltalk Chatroom and I mentioned that I went from making $15,000 a year to making 3 times that in a job and how I had forgiven the person that helped me lose my $15,000 a year job that set me for what I have now. One of the admins must have gotten jealous because I was bounced and banned from the room. I could choose to be offended by this decision, but the truth is, this person doesn't like me, they never have. So instead of being angry, I am choosing to forgive them. 


But forgiveness is messy, especially when you don't know what you did. I don't know what I did to the admin in the room. I probably never will. That is okay. 

One of my favorite stories that I read while working on this article is from Brandi Carlile herself. In a NPR interview Brandi recounted a time that she had committed to baptism and her pastor decided the day of the baptism to not baptize her because she was gay. 

The Mayo Clinic states 

Forgiveness means different things to different people. Generally, however, it involves a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always be with you, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help free you from the control of the person who harmed you.

Three years ago, before I found out that my church was no longer going to support my calling to ministry I told this story in a sermon

There is a legend about a boy who was carrying an old, bent bird cage. Inside was a tiny field sparrow. A man stopped the boy and asked him what he was going to do with the bird. 
"Well..." the boy said.”I think I’ll play with it for a while, and then when I’m tired of playing with it -- I think I’ll kill it." He made that last comment with a wicked grin on his young face. 
Moved with compassion for the bird, the man asked, "How much would you sell me that bird for?" 
"You don’t want this bird, mister," the boy said with a chuckle. "It’s just a field sparrow." But then he saw the old gentleman was serious. 
"You can have this bird for – $100" he said slyly. It was an astronomical price for a bird worth only pennies. The man paid the money and then he let the bird go.

This is what Jesus did for us. You see, an evil specter called Sin had us caged much like that bird. We were unable to escape. Then Jesus came up to Sin and said, ‘What are you going to do with those people in that cage? "‘These people?’ Sin answered with a laugh. ‘I’m going to teach them to hate each other. Then I’ll play with them until I’m tired of them -- and then I’ll kill them.’

"‘How much to buy them back?’ Jesus asked. With a sly grin, Sin said, "You don’t want these people, Jesus. They’ll only hate you and spit on you. Why, they’ll even nail you to a cross! If you really want them", Sin continued " it’ll cost you dearly. It will cost all of your tears and all of your blood -- your very life."

For God to forgive us, Jesus died and it was messy, it was publicly humiliating, he was given a criminals death. But in the end, we gained our spiritual freedom. 1 John 9:1 says 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So if God, the creator the universe can forgive us, should we not be able to forgive our brethren?  

My own story, that rough patch, I was going through, has been forgiven. In fact, I really think it was listening to Brandi's music that helped me realize that I needed to really forgive this person. Even when I told a family member about the hardship I had faced, I said "Ya know, what happened wasn't right, but I forgive this person...because it set me up for success." And the person who bounced me and banned me from the room? Maybe someday I can forgive them...

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Get Real Church...

It's time for the church to get real. Yes, Christians have problems. We are far from perfect. It's time that we stop thinking we know it all and stop thinking that everyone else's sin stinks, but ours is okay. 

I say this because I hear daily how this sin or that sin is wrong, but no one ever points their fingers at themselves it's always someone else. 

Recently someone was talking about how disgusting homosexuality is to them, but they have literally been caught in fornication. How disgusting is that to you? Oh, right, because you are sleeping with someone of the opposite sex it's not nearly as bad or disgusting. 

Matthew 18 tells us how to handle sin within the church.
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
So why are we demanding non-believers act like the church, but we are afraid to speak against sin in the church or even against Christians who are caught in sinful acts?  
In the Revelation of John, Jesus gives the church their report cards. Tonight I want to ask you, which church are you? 
    Are you the church at Ephesus? The church in Ephesus is commended for hard work, and for weeding out false prophets, despite persecution. They are also praised for opposing the teachings of a particular sect, the Nicolaitans. Not much is known about this group. Some scholars believe they held to a doctrine of amorality, others that they felt that church leaders ought to "rule" over the laity. At the same time, the Ephesian church is criticized for being loveless. Their efforts are good, but they are slipping into coldness and religiosity, rather than Christian love (Revelation 2:1–7).

Are you the Church at Smyrna? Smyrna's church suffered under especially brutal persecution. According to Jesus' words in this message, that experience is going to become worse before it gets better. A significant challenge for this congregation is a group of hostile Jewish leaders, referred to here as a "synagogue of Satan." Smyrna is praised for holding fast, despite this hardship. This is one of only two churches which Jesus does not criticize in some way in His messages (Revelation 2:8–11).

The Church at Pergamum? The name of the city Pergamum is related to terms used for marriage. Coincidentally, Jesus' criticism of this church focuses on their inappropriate connections to false teachings, such as those of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. They are praised for resisting persecution, holding to their faith even when under threat. Their situation was certainly dire, as Jesus refers to their location as "where Satan dwells" (Revelation 2:12–17).

The church at Thyatira? Thyatira was a city deeply involved in worship of Apollo, a pagan deity of the sun and a child of Zeus. In this passage, Jesus is described in terms deliberately overshadowing Apollo's status and glory. This church is commended for their ever-growing participation in good works. However, they are strongly rebuked for "tolerating" sexual temptations and idolatry as promoted by a particular woman. This person is identified as "Jezebel," which might be a reference to the Old Testament queen of the same name. Since she refused to repent of sin, Jesus promises to bring fierce judgment on her and her followers (Revelation 2:18–29).

Are you the church at Sardis? The church at Sardis is given a positive comment, but that remark is really just a springboard to their criticism by Jesus. This church has a good reputation—this is a good thing—but that reputation doesn't actually match their spiritual state. Jesus warns the church at Sardis to "wake up," and stop resting on their laurels. This church was too proud of their prior accomplishments to diligently work for the good of the Kingdom of God. Still, there are those who have been faithful among the church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1–6).

Are you the church at Philadelphia? Philadelphia is one of only two churches, out of seven mentioned, that is not given any particular rebuke from Jesus. Instead, they are praised for their perseverance in the face of dire persecution. Like the church of Smyrna, Philadelphia seems to have been attacked by a specific group of non-believing Jews, referred to as a "synagogue of Satan." In response to this hardship, Jesus reassures them that His return will happen suddenly, and they will be rewarded for their faith (Revelation 3:7–13).

Maybe you are the church at Laodicea? Laodicea has the unfortunate distinction of being the only church which receives no positive commentary, whatsoever. Sardis barely earned a hollow reference to a good reputation. Laodicea is charged with being spiritually inert: lukewarm, rather than either hot or cold. This evokes the disgusting sensation of room-temperature water in one's mouth. Jesus heavily criticized this church for being arrogant and apathetic. Rather than being spiritually passionate, they are passive. Instead of being cold, meaning they are more likely to respond to the gospel, they are just familiar enough with God to brush Him off. Jesus still offers a chance for repentance—but He describes Himself as "outside", knocking at the door and expecting them to answer (Revelation 3:14–22).

I know which group to which I belong, most of the time I am the church at Sardis and Laodicea. But what about you? Have you ever thought about what your witness says about you? Not what you say with your mouth, but with your actions? Are you giving the appearance of evil? Or are you striving to meet holiness but not making it? 


The Women in Jesus' Family Tree: A look at Authenticity

As many know, I am no longer a Candidate for Pastoral Ministry in the United Methodist Church. This has left me free to explore faith in dee...