Archives For Reconciliation


God, give us grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

 

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

 

Amen.

 


Image is from the Political Carnival website.

I am hesitant to write this post namely because I cannot control how people will respond to it.  I also want to admit there is a host of history I am aware of but am not trained in that precludes the issues we will address in this post. However, I am struggling with the ramifications of first century Christianity and how we have done Christianity or, in my particular context, how we have tried to “restore” New Testament Christianity. So for the scholars who read this please know there is a lot I am skipping and I ask your forgiveness for that but I am merely trying to scratch the surface in this discussion.

Question: Why do we have many black churches, white churches, hispanic churches (enter other ethnic group here) but few mixed churches?

The answer is obvious to many as the history in America, unfortunately, has paved the mindset of the church and that we are products of our segregated history. The church should have been the leader in integration years before it occurred (in some places it probably was) but unfortunately whites (predominately in the south) developed an anglocentric view of God’s people and believed anything else was not God’s provision. The Stone-Campbell movement was not unscathed by this as many white churches dodged integration (while still making their conscience stay clean) by starting black churches of Christ in the same city (partially funded, in some cases, by the white church) as the white church.

Fast forward decades and we still have black churches and white churches with few exceptions. Why? Perhaps there is some reconciliation issues that exist between the churches in the town. Perhaps that is just the way some people believe it should be. I talked with a gentleman some time ago about the need for our church to reach someone in the inner-city community and his response spoke volumes to me: “I wonder if this is something the ________ church should do.” In another conversation I had with a person about inviting people from the poor community into our worship I was blown away by their response: “Robbie, I am not sure we should invite ‘those people’ because they do not act right in bible class.” My jaw dropped.

Certainly this is not the way Paul would envision the church. A church that was racially integrated (Jew and Gentile issue in Acts 15) in a racially unstable climate? You had Jews, Romans, Samaritans, women (remember they had no rights), slaves and all sorts of different people learning to be a church together. Yet, we still have churches meeting the needs of each person or, should I say, each race.

But here is a question I have as well: Should integration be the goal of our churches? In other words, is it ok to have rich churches, poor churches, black churches, white churches, if they are at least addressing a certain type of people?

I struggled with this one. Really I did. I believe churches should be integrated so far as communication can be accomplished. There are language barriers in our community that would make Hispanics feel uncomfortable since English is not their primary language. But…it can still be done. I believe that the church should be a warm fellowship filled with different races, socioeconomic levels, nationalities and even people with different beliefs (how can discipleship happen if we all believe the same thing?).

I think there are dangers to integrating churches. One danger a church should avoid is the bigger white church looking like a dominating take over of the smaller black, Hispanic or other church. Perhaps new leadership should be installed represented from both churches and even shared pulpit and ministerial duties. Another danger from this is the immediate confrontation of racism within the body. A move like this would only bring the ugliness of some people in the light which is good though because at least you can see an issue that is in the light.

Again, there is a lot more behind this post that I am unqualified to address but I believe strongly that a church should be integrated based on Scriptures like…well…the whole story! Just think about this: What would it say to a community to see one church uniting rich, poor, black, white, green or purple (gothic too!) under the same name? Do you think it might change the community? Do you think it might unite a community?

What do you think?


I have read a few books that have changed the way I perceive Christianity, culture and the world but few have changed my life like this book.  Under the Overpass is about a journey of two guys named Mike and Sam who decided to take the words of a sermon seriously and go and live among the poor for a few months.  They sought guidance from spiritual advisers and decided to start in a Mission in Denver.  They traveled from city to city panhandling for food by playing their guitar and singing worship songs.  What you get when you read this book is a first-hand perspective at the ugliness of poverty and the grip Satan has on people with the drug culture.  Mike has an excellent flow to his writing and he has many keen incites to the heart of the gospel and its concern with those who are struck with poverty.  In this book it not only opens your eyes to basic assumptions about the homeless, but it calls into question our prejudice towards those in a lower socioeconomic status.  I wish I could find something wrong in this book as I usually find things I disagree with or something I would have said differently.  Not the case in this book.  What you get are real, authentic and raw stories about two guys on a journey to find God both in themselves and in the streets of America’s toughest cities.

Below are some memorable quotes from the book that I wish to share and let me challenge you to read the book and then put your faith to action.

  • I watched an old man take a slow, thankful sip of coffee and put his cup back on the table, careful not to spill a drop. “Come all you who are weary …,” said Jesus. It was moving to watch the weary man come, even more to see his desperation give way to peace, if only for a little while. (p. 24).
  • If we are the body of Christ—and Christ came not for the healthy but the sick—we need to be fully present in the places where people are most broken. And it has to be more than just a financial presence. That helps, of course. But too often money is insulation—it conveniently keeps us from ever having to come face-to-face with a man or woman whose life is in tatters. (pp. 36-37)
  • I felt my frustration rising until I realized how unentitled I really was. No one deserves mercy. And no one walking by owed us a dime. Mercy is, by definition, undeserved, or else it isn’t mercy. Every coin in the case looked different after that. (p. 52).
  • While kids might pretend people who don’t exist do, it’s the parents who pretend that unwanted people who do exist don’t. (p. 55)
  • Praying “Thy will be done” means you don’t believe in chance (p. 79)
  • What’s worse? To do dope or to not love your brother? Why do we kick drug users out of the church while quietly overlooking those who are ignoring their own different but equally destructive sins? Why do we reject the loving, self-sacrificing, giving, encouraging, Jesus-pursuing drug addict but recruit the clean, self-interested, gossiping, loveless churchgoer? Which one do you suppose Jesus would rather share a burrito with under a bridge? (pp. 96-97)
  • “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed, stopping. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “What?” said Sam. Then he saw what I was looking at. “Oh,” he murmured. A large gray church rose up behind a wrought iron fence in front of us. The building was old and weathered. Above the mahogany double doors hung a sign in red letters: “No Trespassing. Church Business Only.” A new chain and two huge padlocks secured the gate at the sidewalk. “It would take bolt cutters and a battering ram to get into that church,” I said, suddenly angry. “ ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden’? Yeah, and what, die on my front steps?” (p. 104)
  • “Then again, I guess we aren’t supposed to expect circumstances to be easy or safe just because we’ve prayed about them. We’re supposed to go into them knowing that we’ll be given what we need, when we need it.” (p. 139)
  • The words “Jesus loves you” take on a whole different meaning when you’re down and out. You hear them differently. You need them more. Just saying them to the next desperate person you meet could change his day. Wrap those words in friendship, a home-cooked meal, bus fare, and you could change his life. (p. 148)
  • We don’t go to church, we are the church. So many problems that show up on the church steps, or in the pews, or between congregations seem to start with misunderstandings about that. The church isn’t a physical building or a doctrinal statement or a perfectly produced program. It is us—we are the living expression of Christ’s presence in the world, His body. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to be the healing body of Christ to our sin-sick world. (p. 155-56)
  • I had discovered that I pulled better tips playing the guitar outside the liquor shop than across the street outside the family restaurant. Drunk people are more generous than sober people. (p. 181)
  • As we talked, the four of us agreed on one thing: Yes, God is alive and well on the streets of America, but so is Satan … He is busy stealing talents from promising lives. He is breaking bodies and smashing dreams. He is locking up good minds behind the bars of addiction. He is trading in the music of God for the sound of a crazy man yelling his head off in the middle of the street, destruction barreling straight at him. (p. 189)
  • The bottom line is that real love always shows itself in action. Nothing happens or changes in this world unless, by faith, we actually do something. (213-14)
  • I doubt those risks will have much to do with putting on a Christian acronym bracelet or a cross T-shirt. More likely, your journey will lead you toward utter dependence on the King of kings and a resolution to follow Him wherever He may ask you to go. (216)

Want to settle for the status quo and feel good about all the money, clothes and stuff you have?  Want to feel good about the middle-class church you attend where you have your nicely structured worship, comforting singing, warm pew and cordial hand shakes?  Don’t read this book.  Why?  It will change the way you think about Jesus, the church and your calling.  But if you want to change, read this book.  “There’s only this left to do: Walk off the edge with Him” (p. 218).


Please go to this website (http://action.usaid.gov/index.php) to help in the aid of children who die every minute due to starvation and malnutrition. This is from Chris LaTondresse’s article “Crisis in the Horn of Africa,” on Qideas.

Today is a major milestone in the FWD campaign. It is a day we are calling FWD>Day. In one single day, our goal is to get 13.3 million people, the same number of people impacted by the crisis, to forward the facts and raise awareness about the crisis. So today I’m asking you to post a message on your Facebook wall, tweet a fact about the crisis, or donate $10 by texting “Give” to 777444.

So can you help?  Look at the facts below and consider what you should do.  Tweet it, Facebook it or e-mail it.  Please help!


 


This is the last post of this series and I have valued all of the comments tremendously.  The series started not as a defense of social drinking but merely was it ok to be present at a location as a means of mission to people.  Sometimes posts have a mind of their own and it just leads in a different direction.  I loved it though because topics like this need to be discussed in a thoughtful, biblical and humane manner.  Too often we ignore something based on our assumption that it has always been a certain way so we need to keep it that way.  We should never dismiss comments or questions because we assume we are right on a subject.

The poll, to my surprise, indicated that most of you (66%) believe that it is ok for a Christian to drink in moderation.  This topic will surely find no resolve in the coming words but I wanted to share some observations on our discussion.  Hope you enjoy these.

  • A helpful study of the original words does help in our theology but we must do our homework.  Don’t assume a word means something without looking it up in some of the major lexicons and dictionaries.
  • Image is important but image is not everything.  Sometimes our perception of what a Christian should be is (ironically) the opposite of what Jesus said a person should be.  I wonder if Jesus would have been disfellowshipped in some of our churches today for what he would do?  Just a thought….
  • In regards to social drinking one must consider his or her motives.  I still can’t get away from this.  Why are you drinking?  Is it to feel a feeling or, like Samuel Young said in one of his comments, is it to appreciate something God made?  Motives are important.  It is doubtful someone would use Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to use wine for his infirmities but they may be looking to clear his or her conscience.  But…
  • We need to be careful where we place our judgment.  This issue is not limited to social drinking but many other aspects where we may be quick to judge before we consider the evidence.  We will know people by their fruits (Matt. 7:16).
  • Be careful about building-up straw men or chasing red herrings.  Arguments like, “What about all of the bad affects of alcohol?” is still side-stepping the real issue.  I heard one person give all of the statistics about the negative uses (abuse) of alcohol like car accidents, marriages, etc.  While I agree with that negative component of alcohol I also think they are simply chasing red herrings.  I wanted to ask him, “How many people die of heart disease from not eating correctly?” (TV, music, etc.)  The issue is, what does the bible say about it not society’s abuse of it.
  • The principle in Romans 14-15 needs careful consideration (especially Rom. 14:21) before anyone considers to take a drink.  I think if we practice self-denial on behalf of others then it might be our spiritual service to God (Rom. 15:1-2).
I will conclude with something from Isaiah.  In Isaiah 25 we come across a break from the woes and destruction of life for a vision of what life will be like in the last days (eschaton).  In discussion of this Isaiah talks about what life will be like post-destruction.  He writes:
6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.

8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. (25:6-8)

Sounds a little like Revelation 19-22…the new heavens and the new earth.  Blessings.

Perhaps no book has created such a firestorm in evangelical Christianity than the book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  From unabashedly scathing reviews to uneducated praise this book has certainly received plenty of publicity (much to HarperOne’s approval).  I did a Google search with the query “Love Wins reviews” and 2.5 million results came up.  Granted, not every hit is a review of Rob Bell’s book but what that said to me is that the wide-spread attention this book has garnered means there is no need for “another review.”  Yet here I am offering my “two-cents” worth on the book perhaps even risking the same ridicule or uneducated praise that Bell has received.  That’s not the point.  I want to offer my perspective on this book for the readership who may not be privy to it otherwise.  My approach to this review is that I want to take each chapter and discuss it in 500-600 words or so offering my comment and, at times, critique.  I am trying to do this without reading what other people say about the book but instead wrestle with the book’s implications myself.  This will not be the opportunity for people to bash Bell nor mention names of others who have written reviews, conducted interviews or made comments.  My goal here is to, as Bell and every other author wishes, wrestle with the implications of the book with the voices of Scripture and Spirit acting as norm for the discussion.  If you want a more educated/scholarly treatise of the book please visit Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed with his first post, “Exploring Love Wins 1.”

My request for you is that you comment freely but doing so with Scriptures like Colossians 4:6 and Ephesians 4:15 in the back, front and middle of your mind.  I have seen a lot of hateful banter that I am afraid has given Christianity a bad rapport with the unchurched community.  If we continue to bite each other like this what does that say to those on the outside looking in?

Much blood has been spilled in church splits, heresy trials, and raging debates over issues that are, in the end, not that essential.  (Rob Bell, Love Wins, x).


We have looked at the biblical witness to forgiveness and we have looked at the early church father’s practice of forgiveness.  We discussed the pressing need for us to let God do what he said he would and that is to forgive us and to not lay hold of things against us.  We also discussed in our last post a requirement for us to receive forgiveness: we must forgive others.  Letting go is not so easy especially when the hurt someone inflicted on us is to painful for words and brings tears to our eyes just to mention it.  Today I will mention some potential roadblocks to forgiveness.  I anticipate some of these will only apply to God or to other people but the list is definitely not all-inclusive.

Anger

Paul was very wise when he said these words: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32).  The number one roadblock to forgiveness is that we are angry at what has happened.  This can be directed at people but underneath there is an element directed towards God.  “How could you let this happen?”  Paul’s words is to get rid of it all!  The solution: forgiveness.  Let it go.

Lack of Teaching

Hosea was write thousands of years ago in that God’s people continually are destroyed for a lack of knowledge or understanding (Hos. 4:6).  Sometimes we hold on to bitterness and anger because we do not know how to constructively let it go.  Sometimes we neglect Scripture, we neglect prayer and seeking God’s counsel and sometimes we shut ourselves in and do not include the wisdom of other people.  Sometimes people say, “I wish we would had a lesson on that from the pulpit” and my response is: “We already have.  You just weren’t listening!”

Fear

Fear grips many of our situations and paralyzes movement towards redemption and reconciliation.  During the Civil Rights era I imagine fear caused people to stay away from African-Americans because: “What if my family disowns me?”  “What will others think of me?”  Maybe if we accept God’s forgiveness that means there will be repercussions or reverberations from friends and family.  Maybe if we finally forgive that person and let it go then we might not have anything to hold on to…they actually might change their lives if we forgive them.  Then they won’t get the punishment we think they deserve or the imaginary punishment we created in our brains.  Fear ensnares us.

Sin/Denial

When all else blame sin right?  Seriously though have you ever thought why people do not accept the grace given to them by God through Jesus Christ?  I mean, it is a free gift!  It is because people either enjoy the sinful ways or they are in denial.  Take your pick.  A governmental study from S.A.M.S.H.A (click here) stated that: “Nearly 7 million Americans age 18 to 25 were classified as needing treatment in the past year for alcohol or illicit drug use, according to a new SAMHSA report. But 93 percent of these young adults did not receive the help they needed at a specialty treatment facility.” Why is that?  It is because so many people think they are in control or that they are fine.  That is denial!

So what other potential roadblocks do you see?  I have mentioned four big ones!!!

Aphesis 6 (Letting go)

February 21, 2011 — Leave a comment

My primary concern with this blog is that we must forgive people for what they have done to us or against us.  Jesus said this:

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).

That does not seem like an option but more like a commandment.  Forgiveness between humans is a messy business and I do not pretend to say that it is something that is easy to do.  Say a wife cheats on her husband and the husband finds out and is notably devastated.  The wife wants (yea begs) her husband’s forgiveness but he does not know what to do.  On one hand the Bible commands that he forgives her but on the other hand there is the reality of pain that the husband is enduring.  If he “lets her off the hook” then somehow it seems like she got a way too easily.  She must bear the consequence of what she did…there must be payment for his anger and her sin because there is a void there.

Maybe on a larger scale the atrocities that happened as a result of Apartheid in South Africa.  The racial inequality there mirrored (perhaps exceeded) the racial divides in the southern United States in the 20th century.  Violence spread and governments were rearranged but instead of full-scale violence the civil unrest was worked through in a non-violent and peaceful way.  Desmond Tutu, a bishop for the Anglican Church in South Africa during Apartheid was involved in the peace discussions and reconciliation talks between races.  His solution for the problem was “frogiveness”:

“Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.”  (From “Truth and reconciliation”, BBC Focus on Africa magazine, January-March 2000, p53.)

So what does this mean for us?  It means that when we are wronged immediately we are drawn (because of the sinful state of man) towards anger and resentment.  We want to hold on to this anger because often it is the only fuel we have that keeps us going.  Anger soon becomes idolatrous as it is the only thing we can think about and soon the anger makes a move towards vengeance.  We want justice…we want them to pay for what they did.  Desmond Tutu again relates:

“There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative – not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew.” (From “Recovering from Apartheid”, in The New Yorker, 18 November 1996)

That is what forgiveness is all about…restoration…a promise of tomorrow…and a brand new beginning.  Often when I am struggling with forgiving someone I look in the mirror and ask: “What if you had not received forgiveness for all of the atrocities you have done?”  I am reminded of how redemptive forgiveness can be when Jesus was ridiucled on the cross enduring the pain and agony at the hands of the Jews, the Romans and one of his disciples.  Jesus could have called legions of angels to utterly obliterate every foe that was before him.  Jesus, with his right hand, could have ended it all with just one word.  But instead….our Lord said this:

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:32-34).

What do you need to let go?  Why are you holding onto this?  Just let it go.  Move on.  Forgive them.  Don’t let them still consume you by allowing this anger to burn in your hearts.  Let it go.  Be free.

God’s Roth IRA

January 13, 2011 — 2 Comments

This quarter I am actually participating in a class instead of teaching one and I find myself with a group of men ranging from 30-70s.  We are studying the book of 1 Peter and we came across a verse that struck a nerve with me.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  (1 Peter 4:8)

The context for this verse is that the audience Peter addresses is encountering or will encounter immense persecution.  Peter, above all, wants them to learn how to “be church” together and a way they can do this is to love each other deeply as the new NIV says.  What concerns me is the phrase “love covers a multitude of sins.”[1] The last verse in the book of James is strikingly similar:

“…remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20)

Without getting into the Greek and becoming too technical I just want to pose a theory to you that may or may not be right.  I think what Peter and James probably mean by this statement is that by loving and restoring people God forgives their sin either because of their repentance (James) or their response to love (Peter).  However, a different theory I want to pose to you is on the part of the person loving and restoring.  When a person seeks out and loves then God seems to cover their sins as well.  It is like a ROTH IRA.  A ROTH IRA is a tax-deferred savings plan that is an excellent option when one wants to retire at the age of 65.  In a different way God’s ROTH IRA is moments like James 5:20 and 1 Peter 4:8 where he looks at all of the people we have restored and loved and then looks at our sin and says, “I have forgiven you because of all of the love you have done.”  God is the only one who covers sin and the work that Christians do by serving and loving is only done through the death of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I understand that.  But there is something incredibly redemptive about serving people and helping to save people.  I am not saying we should sin all the time and one act of kindness is going to cover all of our sin (see Rom. 6:1) rather I am saying that when we are doing discipleship correctly then our lives will not be lived with moments of love and service rather our lives will be lives of love and service.

What do you think?


[1] Simon Kistemaker (James, Epistles of John, Peter and Jude, p. 167) believes that James and Peter both are alluding to Proverbs 10:12 which says “love covers over all wrongs.”  It is a possibility worthy of merit but perhaps this is a response to the firsthand testimony of Jesus who exemplified love in its fullest sense on the cross both covering our sins and saving us from death.

 


I close this series with joy filled in my heart anticipating Christmas day.  I long for the time with family, the meals, the happiness, the presents but also the knowledge of why we are there.  “Advent” is a word that comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming.”  It is the Latin translation for the Greek word parousia which is used in the New Testament most often to describe the Second Coming of Christ (see 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11).  Apparently advent was started in the 18th century to recognize not only the birth of Jesus but also the coming of the Lord.  We live in a tension right now that all Christians live in from the time Jesus ascended in Acts 1 until the time of Jesus returns.  The tension is entangled in mystery and wonder knowing that God has wrought a day in which the Lord will return and we shall be like him and dwell forever.  But not yet…not now…not here…not long.  The advent season is about recognizing and celebrating the birth of Jesus but paradoxically anticipating the return of Jesus.  The fact is…Jesus is here and there are implications for you and I.  To really celebrate Christmas is to subvert the consumerism that society puts out and to make it more than simply “HAPPY HOLIDAYS.”  I saw last night where the ACLU sent memos to Tennessee schools warning them of celebrating one religious holiday to the exclusion of others.  That’s fine but the celebrations typically seen are incorrect for the real point of advent is to show that everywhere and anywhere Christ is the Lord who was born of a virgin from the seed of David.  Caesar was not Lord nor is the president today.  Our idols of power, freedom, pride, consumerism and safe-living all miss the mark for the only true Lord in this world is and was Jesus Christ.

So celebrate appropriately.  Decorations are only a hint of the beauty of Christmas as we celebrate the coming of God himself.  We celrbrate that JEsus is Lord.  We anticipate that one day all wrongs will be right and that true peace will reign at the coming of our Lord.  We long for that day but know there is much work for us to do while injustice and evil still reign.  Jesus, we welcome you in our lives as Lord.  Thank you for coming down to this earth and relinquishing your God-abilities to be human.  We recognize the work of your Father as the work we adhere to.  Forgive us this season for our consumerism and allow us to celebrate what is most important beyond the toys, decorations and false narratives sent by society.  Allows us to celebrate you.  Thank you for coming.  I love you.  Reign in my life and let my breath breathe the air that comes from only you.  Amen.

Below is an advent poem by W.H. Smaw and then a couple of songs I thought were worthy of note.  Peace.

I am. I was. I will be.
I am not coming soon I am here.

I was born on a cold night in a cold place
Unnoticed, unheralded by cold people
Who turned my mother away.
On that night were you listening?
On that night the “least of your brothers” was me.
Now do you see, do you hear and do you care?
I am not coming soon I am here.
In your life do you see me
In the ragged men and women
Who search the cold street
Looking for my reflection in your heart?
Do you hear my voice in
Their muttered plea or in their tear?
I am not coming soon I am here.
Do you hear me when your friend turns to you
To ask forgiveness and trust?
Do I not forgive you always?
Do I not give you a merciful ear?
I am not coming soon I am here.
In this season I was born unto you
Fulfilling the promise of God’s care.
Look for me, listen to me…
I am not coming soon I am here.