Unseeing the Seen

eyeballThere is a book I own that if I glance at the cover, I invariably see a crow. I have seen that crow since I first saw the cover on Amazon.com, but once I bought the book, I realized it was actually a picture of a lion interposed on top of a lamb. It has taken me a very long time to “unsee” the crow and see the lion and lamb, but the optical illusion still catches me off guard every now and again.

One of the challenges about ministry in a “churched” culture is that so many Christians can’t unsee certain things. Their minds have been trained to do ministry through 20th Century tactics and to view their culture in 20th Century terms. Expensive events are expected to generate converts, Sunday School is the expected means of discipleship, and comprehensive life stage programming is the assumed status quo. Veteran churchmen and women see the crow.

Problematically, a church that seeks to be relevant to its current context, may decide that Sunday School is not for them a scalable means of mission and discipleship, large events are costly on tight budgets and only produce emotional highs, and generational programming undermines the mentoring necessary to grow young men and women in Christ while also giving the people an identity rooted in life stage rather than in Christ’s work on the cross. Maybe they see the lion and lamb.

How does a church that has unseen the picture people are used to seeing help along those who haven’t? Patiently. As new visitors ask about Sunday School, cast the vision for your incarnational, missional community groups. When they ask why you don’t have evangelistic events, point to the people being saved by interacting with your people in community, in coffee shops, in homes. When they ask why you don’t have a young marrieds group tell them stories of older couples mentoring newlyweds. But be understanding; it is difficult to unsee what has once been seen.

Some people will only want those ministries they grew up with. Be willing to let them make their way to a different church. Some will want to stick with you, but need time to figure out the implications of what you’re calling them to. Be ready to explain, but don’t waste time being defensive and divisive or arrogant (1 Timothy 5:1, 1 Peter 5:5). At the same time, be bold about the vision God has given you.

The temptation for both sides, though, will be to make methodology a thing of first importance. But as the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church, the Gospel must retain that slot (1 Corinthians 15:3-11).

Resting in Christ

Napping Child

Awhile back, I asked my friend Travis Eubanks to share some thoughts on rest and the Gospel and he wrote this blog post that I took forever to put up, but that I appreciate very much.

“Our obedience has its origin in God’s prior action, and forgetting that truth results in self-righteousness, pride, and despair.” ― Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life

By recognizing Jesus as my only claim to righteousness, I am not constantly burdened with trying to achieve that righteousness. Through the completion of his atoning work on the cross, I am free to rest in Jesus.

I started exploring the concept of rest, especially in regard to questions I had about the Sabbath, several years ago at Texas A&M University. My mentor, Garry Nation, gave me the excellent advice to read through Hebrews 3-4 to learn about God’s rest for us through Jesus’ righteousness.

As I explored Hebrews 3-4, I found that Jesus’ righteousness and his perfect work on the cross is the completion of the Sabbath, allowing me to rest perpetually in his perfection. I even found that the Hebrew word for Sabbath refers to rest through the completion of work, which opened my eyes to the meaning of that rest and Christ’s fulfillment of it.

Now that my Father views me in robes of Jesus’s righteousness instead of in the sin that he continually cleanses me from, what impact does that have on me? I can enjoy video games, TV shows, smoking a pipe, and drinking a beer instead of being constantly burdened by my conscience about whether or not my actions are creating my own righteousness.

I no longer think thoughts like, “How many hours have I read my Bible and prayed today? Is it okay for me to watch this TV when I could sell it and make food for hungry people with it? Should I own a home when others are too poor to afford clothing?” Living out of that self-righteous mindset drives us toward a monastery living style where we believe that making ourselves more miserable is more honoring to God. Realistically, that mindset spits in Jesus’ face saying that his righteousness is not enough. However, the Holy Spirit does lead us to be self-sacrificial sometimes, not for the sake of our righteousness, but for the sake of the lost that he loves.

If we live out of Jesus’ righteousness, we experience the freedom of the Holy Spirit to enjoy the gifts God gives us while also giving generously and loving the people around us.

Dr. Travis Eubanks holds a Ph.D. in RF and Microwave Engineering from Texas A&M University, works at Sandia National Labs, and serves Mars Hill Church | Albuquerque as a Community Group leader.

For a sermon I recently preached on Sabbath, listen here.

Moments of the Minor Key

CelloCloseup3

We started Lent with Ash Wednesday two weeks ago. On Tuesday, a friend of mine buried his father. I attended the service a day before my church read Psalm 51 and confessed our sin that had enslaved us to death. In a few days, I will perform my first funeral for a family member. Sure, there are lives to be celebrated, but if we only live in the major keys, we gloss over the depth of human experience. We ignore the sadness that inhabits this world as a consequence of our sin. We ignore that God has told us, “You return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3:19b) ESV.

I do this myself. I try to drown sorrow, anxiety, or frustration in another glut of Netflix episodes or refresh my social media accounts as though another picture of another kitten will make the pain of loss, hardship, and sin go away. Many drown their pain in misappropriated sex or too much alcohol. Perhaps another window has a porn site open. Go ahead and close that tab because the cheap reverb will not remove from you the pain of losing that relationship, that family member, or your job. Some will use a cheap religion that pretends as though our hardest moments aren’t real, that we can whisk them away with a few cheap phrases and declarations. You can stop that because our pain is real and our sadness is deep.

The real tragedy of trying to live only in the moments of the major key is that the minor key reminds us of our need: our need for a Comforter, our need for a Rescuer, our need for a Savior. And since we have Jesus, who died the most minor key moment that ever occurred at the cross and who rose from the grave in the most major key ever, all our minor keys will be taken away forever! Until then, my worry for many of us, is that we try to substitute cheap, tinny majors for the awesome crescendo that is to come and in the process lose sight of the end of the story.

Face your minor moments and sing your minor songs knowing that Jesus holds the day and his victory song will beat even Brahms’ best triumphant scores. He will wipe away all your tears.

I want to end on this prayer that acknowledges our need for a Savior.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. - The Book of Common Prayer, 1979

Image credit: Georg Feitscher via Wikimedia Commons

Trayvon Martin Cannot Be Dismissed

Trayvon MartinI once had a friend who hatched a plan to sabotage my relationship with my girlfriend. When I confronted him about it, he told me that it was “water under the bridge”. Do you see why I might be frustrated? He sinned against me and then minimized my pain by telling me it was “water under the bridge” when he had no right to make that declaration.

When white folks get on Facebook or Twitter, or plain old-fashioned run their mouths and say things like, “The Trayvon Martin case isn’t about race,” or “people should get over it” then they are doing what my friend did. They are making a declaration they have no right to make.

The Trayvon Martin case is a complicated mess. Maybe Zimmerman was justified. According to a jury, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove otherwise. Maybe he instigated the incident despite the police orders to stand down and bears culpability for Trayvon’s death. I don’t know and the really hard thing about the case is that no one really knows. But that does not mean this case does not have profound implications for race relations in America or that the hurt felt by African-American community deserves dismissal.

Trayvon’s death and Zimmerman’s trial and subsequent acquittal did not occur in a vacuum, but rather they occurred in the United States, a country that for many decades chose to keep men and women in bondage as a source of cheap labor; a country that failed to implement the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill to protect black men from mob violence; a country that segregated black students into lesser school; a country that tested the effects of syphilis on black servicemen without their knowledge or consent; a country that didn’t provide enforcement for the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution for a century after their ratification; a country that acquitted the murderers of fourteen year-old Emmett Till; and a country that disproportionately incarcerates black men. The death of a seventeen year-old human being who happens to be black should not be a time for white people to be defensive, but a time to mourn with the African-American community at large, to acknowledge the messiness of this case, and to desire for Trayvon Martin’s family peace and healing.

But instead, I see white folks on Facebook cracking jokes, minimizing the Martins’ pain, and trying to justify Zimmerman’s highly questionable actions. Disturbingly, some of these people are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever happened that night, consider what has happened to the African-American community, many of whom worship the same Jesus we worship, or we desire they might. Given that Paul says in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ (Gal. 3:28), let’s take Paul’s admonition to mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15) as Tricia Newbell helpfully reminded us today.

Trayvon Martin cannot be dismissed. The water is most definitely not under the bridge. His parents cannot be swept under a rug. George Zimmerman’s life is most likely ruined and he will need forgiveness for blood shed just as we all do (Acts 5:30). And no amount of social media posturing by defensive people will help this country heal. Rather, acknowledging the very real pain of Trayvon’s parents and the African-American community in general, and graciously applying the healing power of Christ Jesus to this messy situation as his grace has been applied to us, will bring us closer to each other rather than widening the divide. As Carlos Griego, a church planter in Rio Rancho, New Mexico tweeted, “Know someone who is outraged about #JusticeForTrayvon? Listen, listen, listen. And listen some more.”

What was your reaction to George Zimmerman’s acquittal? How can you mourn with Travon’s family no matter your feelings on Zimmerman’s trial? How would you mourn the loss of your seventeen year-old son?

A Church and Its City


Albuquerqe, New Mexico, Central Street, Route 66
I recently crowd sourced blog ideas by asking Twitter what it thought I should write about. That probably was a bad idea, but @jwhetst asked, “How does a church become so connected to its community that they cannot bear to live without it?”

Honestly, I don’t know. Not for your city anyway. Cities are as diverse as the people that fill them and so are the methods by which a church may connect in a deep and sincere way with the cities that it serves. But there are several principles that can be helpful to remember in any context.

1. Worship Jesus. That may seem for some to go without saying, but that’s the problem. Many “churches” don’t say it. Jesus should always and verbally be the center of our worship. When we lose sight of Jesus, we begin to slide into worshiping the city or culture and say all sorts of nasty things about Jesus, stripping him of his deity, power, resurrection, and calls to righteousness for the sake of tickling ears. For the city’s sake, a church must always be willing to be hated for Christ’s sake (Matt 10:22).

2. Find something your city needs and fill that niche. Paul would confront local idols in Athens (Acts 17) or raise money to minimize the pains of famine (Acts 11, 1 Corinthians 16:3). Puritans entered London by the droves to comfort plague victims even though their presence was illegal. Mars Hill Church | Albuquerque calls for men to be entrepreneurs and good husbands and fathers because Albuquerque is dying for lack of good dads that are married to the women with whom they have children and is in economic malaise. Redeemer Christian Church in Amarillo, Texas is working to support the growing refugee population. In Austin, Texas, The Austin Stone Community Church wants to see every foster child cared for by Christian parents. You’re city may need to be confronted for it’s idolatry of money and the physical form, and your church may be the safe haven for people who can’t live up to the cultural standard, like the church in Orange County my friend just moved to pastor. Missiologists call this opportunity a “bridge” that the Gospel can walk over, but don’t let this little mission distract you from the bigger mission of glorifying Jesus. Refer to step 1.

3. Fight for your city, not against it. By virtue of valuing Christ above all things, we at odds with our culture, cities, and their idols. But we can be at odds in a way that is inviting or is repulsive. We can invite people into our homes, feed them good food, give them good drink, and provide for their needs and then speak really clearly about Jesus, his grace, and his subsequent demands on our life. Or we can be lazy and grab a bullhorn and sign and yell at our city like a bunch of guys I won’t give web traffic to, but shaming sin into secret is not the same as preaching the gospel. If we do that, we aren’t saddened by our city’s sin. It causes us to be proud and that’s no better. Instead, be the weird people who talk about Jesus as though he’s more than a good teacher and believe in normative biblical sexuality, but at least they’re fun to be around.

In short, there is no pre-set way to connect your church to your city, but there are principles. And remember that your city can always bear to live without you. They may even think it would make it easier for them if you’re gone. But they can’t bear to live without Jesus even if they think they can. If you stop proclaiming Jesus, then why even bother?

What needs does your city or neighborhood have that you can meet? What idols are prevalent that keep people from worshipping Jesus that you must confront?

For more on how your church can serve your individual community, check out Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congrations by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer or Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini.

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John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ

My conviction is that the better you know the supremacy of Christ, the more sacred and satisfying and Christ-exalting your sexuality will be. I have a picture in my mind of the majesty of Christ like the sun at the center of the solar system of your life. The massive sun, 333,000 times the mass of the earth, holds all the planets in orbit, even little Pluto, 3.6 billion miles away. So it is with the supremacy of Christ in your life.

John Piper in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ 

Fireworks and Freedom

Capitol, American Civil Religion

Ah, the Fourth of July… Explosives, high cholesterol meats, hitting Englishmen… It’s a truly American holiday. And in less than 24 hours, we will be joined by picnickers all around the country to light things on fire and ingest charred animal remains as an assertion of US supremacy on the North American continent over the forces of King George III of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also pretentiously long country names.

All of this has, of course, entered into the annals of the American Civil Religion. It’s a thing. Trust me. We sing songs of deliverance (“Star-Spangled Banner”), divine blessing (“God Bless America”), and American glory (“America the Beautiful”). Toby Keith will even sing about how us Americans will put a boot somewhere unpleasant. We deify our heroes, (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln), we read our holy texts (the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) and recite the national catechism (the Pledge of Allegiance).

It’s all very weird when you think about, but all civil states have mechanisms to ensure the loyalty of their citizenry. We’d all be singing “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Brittania” if our guys hadn’t won the war.

What’s really disturbing is that some churches have seem to have bought into America worship. This weekend they’ll put on as much pomp and pageantry as Easter, with red, white, and blue bunting and recitations of the Pledge and color guards and the like. I once sat in a service where someone sang a song the Statue of Liberty, a deistic figure invented by French revolutionaries.

I don’t want to rain on your Independence Day parade, but if your church is worshipping the Statue of Liberty and not Jesus as the true liberator, their priorities may be misaligned. Since they look to America to be the guarantor of their liberty, when their ‘liberties’ are threatened, they will freak out because their god is being challenged. When the culture of America shifts against them, they will lose stability because the haven’t found it in Jesus. But you, dear blog reader, don’t have to worry. No matter the turn of events here in the U-S-of-A, can trust that Jesus has bought true liberty for the captive and isn’t abandoning you (Galatians 5:15).

With that encouragement, go forth, blow stuff up, eat food on paper plates, and celebrate International Hit-A-Brit Day. Gently though. Y’know, ‘cuz they helped in World War II and all.

On your way out, enjoy this speech from the greatest American president, Thomas J. Whitmore

The Repentant Misogynist

Adam and Eve, MisogynyHow would you describe the complaining of the prophet Jonah? Would you say he was whining? Like, maybe, a little girl? Congratulations! You’re guilty of misogyny! Don’t worry though, you’re in good company and together we can, by Jesus’ grace, repent and grow.

I made the same mistake at a Re:Train session on biblical interpretation when I had unfortunately been elected to speak for my cohort. Dr. Justin Holcomb took my statement and turned it into a teachable moment, rebuking me in front of 120 people for my offense. There are likely two types of reactions to this confession and I want to respond to both.

First, some of you – men, mostly – will be wondering what the big deal was? Why would a pastor feel the need to interrupt and correct a guy for saying Jonah was a little girl and why would I feel the need to write about the incident? Simply put, I had taken a sin, namely not trusting in God’s sovereignty and complaining about the situation instead of praising him, and I had put that on women as a whole as though only women ever lodge complaints or act in a childish manner toward God. Clearly, this is wrong. Men and women both are capable of dishonoring God and it was the male federal head of the human race, Adam, that introduced sin into his progeny (Genesis 3). By blaming women, I was guilty of misogyny, or a hate toward women. Guys, let’s be like Jesus and instead of stripping personhood from women, be willing to die for women (Ephesians 5:25).

Second, some of you – mostly women – will not be terribly excited to forgive me. Perhaps you will see my sin in this issue as just another attack in the “War on Women”. I ask your forgiveness. My sin against you was terrible. I played into Satan’s scheme from the garden, by allowing a wedge to be driven between myself and my sisters in Christ and women in general. Perniciously, this would also include my wife and daughter, both of whom I love very much.

Second, please don’t see my sin and raise it with another. It would be very easy to take the wickedness of other people and use it to justify your own. It’s easy to find a misogynistic jerk such as myself and use that man’s sin to justify a whole host of crimes that are rooted in our parents’ sin in the Garden, including reciprocal hate, murder of the unborn, or seeing other women as traitors if they chose to be stay at home moms.

And Dr. Holcomb, thanks for calling me on the carpet.

Men, what women do you need to apologize to for minimizing their personhood? Women, how can the men in your life (co-workers, husbands, father, brothers, etc.) respect you better.

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Explicit Gospel

In our age, science and faith have become pitted against each other, like yin and yang, as if there is no overlap, as if we must choose one or the other. The Scriptures don’t present truth that way though. God owns it all and is so high above our brightest minds that they seem brain damaged in comparison.

Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson in The Explicit Gospel

Charismatic…Kind of…

Snakehandling, Charismatic, PentecostalI was raised a Baptist and my wife was raised weir- I mean, Charismatic. That means I didn’t drink and she spake in tongues. We weren’t even really allowed to date for fear that I might, I don’t know, take the Holy Spirit from her. I’m not sure in retrospect. Maybe it was just that I was kind of a jerk about some things.

The spiritual gifts debate comes down to a common disagreement about how to interpret 1 Corinthians 12-14. Many people read the chapters and see that there is something about speaking in tongues and so they huddle up and shout unintelligible babble at the ceiling. Honest impression? Many folks try to out “tongues” one another. Something about the performance environment incentivizes the more ostentatious practitioners. I’ve even sat in sermons where the pastor skipped the parts that say it should only be spoken with an interpreter (1 Co 14:2) or that clarity is more important than tongues (1 Co 2:14).

Now to be fair, guys from my side of the coin can be relentless nitpicks. I have to avoid Internet forums where people fight over theology because God meant that to be done in long books or deep conversations late into the night over beer through the misty smoke of pipe tobacco, not in short tweets, Facebook posts, or angry bitter forum threads about whether you have to be baptized to take communion. (I’m going to pre-empt you by pointing out the irony that I’m writing this in a 500 word blog post.)

What both sides have done is lost the forest for the trees in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul isn’t making an argument for or against tongues anymore than he is making an argument for or against knowledge and learning. The thrust of his argument is that the Corinthians have lost sight of what exactly it is they are to be about: love for the sake of Jesus’ glory. We’ve all heard 1 Corinthians 13 read at weddings, and I guess we isolate the “love chapter” to concept of romance forgetting that Paul is openly rebuking (in love) the Corinthians for trying to exercise any “gifting” without love for their fellow believer and unbelievers alike.

By being neat-nick jerks, or trying to out Holy Ghost each other in a game of spiritual one-upmanship, folks seek to build themselves up, neglecting the building up of the whole Church (1 Co 14:4).

Final point, brothers. Ever thought about the root of the word “Charisma?” It’s the Greek word, charis, or grace. Let’s have some for each other as Jesus has had more than enough for you and me.

How have you been unloving to a brother or sister in Christ? (Admit it, we’ve all been there.) How can you make amends? Has someone ever been unloving to you? How can you lovingly forgive them and ask them for repentance? If you’re not a Christian, what do you think of exchange between different groups of Christians?