Month: November 2014

Reflections On Chaos

DELLWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 25:  A sign sits amidst rubble
(photo from KSDK.com – http://on.ksdk.com/1vkkILw)
Like so many today, the news from Ferguson – along with the images of tear gas and burning buildings – has me reflecting, processing, praying, and contemplating. I’m sure much of what I’ll say below has been said elsewhere and said better than I will say it. This is however my way of processing the manifold complexity of the situation. So for what they are worth, some random thoughts on race, human struggle for equality, elusive honest truth, and of course the grounding of the gospel.
(1) Attacking an officer and pulling a gun is wrong – That to me seems to be a plain fact. If you attack a police officer, hit him, go for his gun, then yes, the policeman should defend himself. I have never been in that situation so I have no idea what is an appropriate level of force to use. I suspect that if someone is trying to kill you, then self defense may naturally lead to lethal defense. Again, this seems plain to me. That said, what is also plain to me is that I’m not in the position to say if Michael Brown should have or should not have been shot to death. I am not in the position to see all the details of that night, to hear all the evidence, to know with certainty like the jurors might know. So at the end of the day, anything I say (for or against) is a wild guess and wild guesses aren’t all that much of a blessing when an image bearer of God is dead, a father and mother is mourning, a policeman and his family’s life is wrecked, and a city is on fire. Surely prayers are worth a trillion times more than guesses in this situation. This seems plain to me. So yes, I affirm that IF a police officer is attacked and threatened, he should defend himself at all cost. But also yes, I should speak to the measure that I know and I don’t know a whole lot.
(2) Mature thinking (and godly perspective) sees both sides of things and is not afraid to make what seems like concessions – So much of the chatter I have heard and read today has been one sided. In fact, the most nuanced and well balanced thoughts I’ve heard on the matter has been from President Obama. Thank you for that Mr. President. I respect the words you had to say. Surely we, especially we who love both the justice of God and the love of God, can speak in terms that are not so simple sided. For example, I might say “attacking an officer and threatening his life” is massively wrong and at the same time, I can affirm that there is systemic racism still at work in much of our country. I can say racial oppression is wrong and hugely difficult to overcome and still say looting and rioting is never an excuse, no matter how you have been treated in your life. Surely I can say to one of my children “don’t hit your sibling, that’s wrong” and at the same time, say “I am so sorry your pet died today. I know how much that hurts you.” When I read of Jesus, I find that he’s quite offensive at times. He’s not politically correct and he often seems socially uncultured. He says it as it is. At the same time, He is amazingly compassionate. He weeps, and prays, and serves and then He weeps again, all while saying “That’s sin”. Oh that we might learn this, or let me say – Oh that I might learn this.
(3) Our contribution to the public discourse should work towards reconciliation at the deepest levels – Social media is typically horrible at this. It’s so easy to say things behind the safe veil of a computer without much thought. As an ambassador of Savior Jesus, who not only commanded that we love our enemies but then laid his life down for them, we should weigh our words, our meme’s, our tweets, and our post carefully. What if we imagined that every word we post would be delivered to Jesus and that He would personally read them to Michael Brown’s family. Would it be an embarrassment for Jesus to read them? Or likewise, what if the words we spoke about the officer and assumptions we make of him were read by Jesus to him and his family? Surely the cross teaches us to do more than jump online and take stabs at what bugs us or what assumptions we make. It is doubtful to me that the barrage of “watch this clip and see how evil Michael Brown is” or “here are all the ways minorities have killed whites but gone unnoticed” will help any look to the cross & repent of their sins.
(4) Racism is historic in this country and it is real in the hearts of every person – I’m not a historian by trade nor by education, but I know enough to say that racism has a history that runs deep in this country. At the same time, as a minority that TREMENDOUSLY BENEFITED from the gracious and kind act of the United States of America, let me also say that racism runs just as deep in the hearts of minorities. Even for a people disenfranchised from their own land and living as refugees, it’s an amazing thing how prideful and racist the heart can be. I know, I’ve seen it, experienced it – minorities that judge other people of other races. I can’t recall how many comments I heard growing up because my best friends were blacks and hispanics. When Julee and I married, a distance uncle (I’ll call him that) said things to my half-Caucasian / half-Hispanic wife that would have earned him instance entrance into any KKK group. I find I myself make stereotypes, assumptions about people based on what I see, not what I know, all the time. I wish that were not so, but it’s an amazing thing – living in Southern California, being a Christian, serving as a Pastor, growing up in the melting pot – all of that has not rooted out of my heart fully this thing called racism. It would be good if we could all admit that. It would be good if we just admitted that racism exists and confessed that whether we are white or black or brown or yellow, we have have some deep strand of racism in us. The truth is we naturally prefer people like ourselves because it affirms who we are. People that are different in look and culture are a threat to us because it’s unfamiliar and it’s different. If we can just admit that, then we would all find that we are all racists that needs forgiveness and healing at the deepest levels. That of course comes through the Jesus, who unites all people in Himself. He becomes our culture, he becomes our race, he becomes our ethnicity.
(5) In dark hours, the church community is meant to shine and demonstrate what the world hopelessly gropes for – Our world wants unity, collectiveness, acceptance. Everyone wants to be treated right, to be loved. This is a great thing. Only two problems stands in the way of that – sin and sin. One, we want to be treated right but struggle in treating others right. We want to be shown patience, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, care, understanding – but we ourselves often show impatience, bitterness, injustice, harsh judgmental assumptions. Two, we refuse to see our sin. We somehow believe that for there to be unity we should never call anything sin. God on the other hand, calls sin as it is – sin. Please know that – God’s love is partly demonstrated in calling our sin …. sin. He does it so we can have a right view of ourselves and a clear view of Jesus. He does it so we can get off our high horse, bow at the cross, and find life! All this to say, believers should find great unity in Christ, even over difficult situations like this. If we all believed and spoke and acted like Jesus is the only true person that knows the full situation, surely we would speak more carefully, graciously, courageously, and humbly. Surely we would speak more words to God than to the ethereal world of social media – and surely the result would be that we would lead the world in how to have difficult discourse in highly sensitive topics. And from that – perhaps – we would lead the world in how to find reconciliation … and that last word, reconciliation, is the word that has been flying over my heart for some time now.
It seems to me that those who love and value being furiously pursued by God’s reconciliation through Jesus should conduct themselves in like manner and work towards reconciliation. My guess is this grid would help us greatly in the times we live in.

Acts 29 Conference – Building Healthy Churches (part 1)

The week I’m at the Acts 29 North American Conference. The theme is “Building Healthy Churches”. It’s been a great conference so far and here’s some thoughts from the first day:

– YOUNG BEARDED MEN WILL LISTEN TO WISER OLD MEN – this conference demonstrates that. There is a whole generation of young pastors and leaders that are looking for older men to father them in the faith. For a young network of churches, almost all the speakers have been over 50 and there is a real sense in the room of respect for these older men. In fact, in one of the sessions, Ray Ortlund came up and spoke and he was so out-of-touch with the crowds clothing attire, lingo, hair style (on head and on chin), but if he would have spoken for 5 hours, no one in the room would have moved. Every word he spoke was filled with grace, wisdom, and the gospel and everyone in the room was taking it in. This is how the faith works – passed on people to people (2 Tim 2:1-2)

– GOING TO CHURCH AND PURSUING A HOLY LIFE IS ONLY PART OF GOD’S PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES –  That is you being a disciple. The other part of life in the present as followers of Jesus is you being a disciple that makes disciples. That’s the great commission. In some sense, the first is loving God and the second is loving people. However you want to frame that understanding, Christianity is both an inward life and an outward work. One is towards God and the other is for people.

– PLANS ARE NECESSARY – This conference has been different than any conference I have been at. Usually, you bring out all the big speakers for conference, you do big and flashy sessions and provide heavy and in-depth teaching after teaching after teaching. So many at this conference are great teachers so Acts 29 could have done this, but instead, they chose to structure the conference towards helping churches work through some of the topics it needs to build healthy churches. Things like how to raise and train godly elders, how to theologically-form disciples. In both of these instances, there was a call for leaders to have Spirit driven, clear plans for how these things would happen. This was a big learning point for me yesterday.

– I LOVE THEOLOGICALLY RICH WORSHIP – It’s been great to worship. The worship has been a mix of hymns and more contemporary songs, but in every case, the songs convey theology, the songs are interwoven with scripture reading and calls to worship. The emcee in fact is a boisterous Presbyterian minister. Lots of fun!

Orphan Sunday

Web-Banner-for-CAFO-Site

Tomorrow is Orphan Sunday – a chance for churches to care about the plight of the fatherless. The issue is big, complicated, heart-breaking and – like most of life, if not all of life – deeply theological.  As I’ve spent this week studying, some thoughts come to my mind that I hope to expound on tomorrow:

1) God’s mandate to care – God pronounced judgement on Israel often includes an indictment against their lack of care for the poor, alien, widows and orphan. God ties how the harvest is reaped to the care of the same group. God demands a national tithe for the care of the same group. God identifies himself as the defender of the same group. Needless to say, God cares about this group – a group that includes the fatherless. I’m a bit overwhelmed by how blantantly God ties the reality of faith to the care of the same group!!

2) Adoption is not for everyone – That much should be said. Many of you know we are in the process of adoption a girl from China. This was God’s call on our lives after 16 years of talking and being open to it. For some, it may be 16 years before their call comes, or 16 months, or perhaps never. Adoption is only one of the ways care is demonstrated.

3) The spectrum is wide – Adoption, foster, extended family care, supporting single mothers, be a big brother, respite care. Care for the fatherless is practical care. Many ways to do it.

4) Related to #3, care for the fatherless is for everyone – This is a call not just on families able to add a member. This is for every Christian. A mandate. Care. How many reports have I read on the disaster of a fatherless home in America? Too many. How many of those reports included a side note of the positive impact of churches and Christians stepping into the gap? None that I can remember. How things might change if we who know the Fatherhood of God would take time to reflect that to those that need a father – take a kid out to a ball game, ice cream, send a note of encouragement, tutor, send a gift card on their birthday or Christmas. How many William Wilburforce’s would be unleashed in this world if a few John Newton’s stepped in with a little bit of love.

6) Related to #3 again, this ministry (http://www.projecthopeful.org/mom-sponsorships-hope) and this video about the ministry stirs my heart:

HOPE+ Sisterhood from Lantern Vision on Vimeo.

5) Adoption is so theologically and lovingly rich in the bible – Adoption in this life is of course a matter of reflecting what is true in the bible. Five times Paul uses that word “heuiotheisa” (Greek for Adoption) and each time it covers some aspect of redemptive history, with two of them pointing back to the ultimate apex of redemption – to know God as father and to say as Jesus did “Abba” (Eph 1:4-5; Romans 8:15-16, 22-23; Romans 9:4; Gal 4:4-6)

6) Adoption brings out the full warmth of the doctrines of grace –

Ephesians 1:4–6 (ESV) — In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 

All the joy, all the warmth, all the tremendous heart filling thoughts that surround adoption – God adopting us rebels into his family and being our father, is founded upon his purpose of predestination. This is one reason the doctrines of grace matter – it’s about the impossible relationhip with God being made possible through the eternal relentless pursuit of God’s love.

Oh that God might grant us hearts to care about the things that He cares about.