Thursday, November 8, 2018

I WANT TO BE FAMOUS


“I want to be famous,” he told me.  Now this was in a prayer session, and he obviously saw it as a struggle, but nevertheless it was a vivid and naked confession and I think it is right on target for many young men in ministry.

   How many times have I sung the hymn, “Father I Know That All My Life” and in it is the phrase, “content to fill a little space if Thou be glorified?”  I sing it with conviction and passion because that is not a normal part of my desire.  I think I was actually saying, “Lord, I want this to be true of me but I don’t think I am content to fill a little space.”  I wanted to be famous too.

    I have a firm theological conviction that our mission is to make Jesus famous, not ourselves.  Yet, as with many pastors and church planters, my conviction is not always as the same or consistent with my emotion, personality, and nature.  We struggle with ambition, with ego, with competition.  Our identity is tied up with our reputation, with whether or not anybody knows our name, and how we compare with our peers in being given opportunity, or even respect.  I believe in humility, and yearn to have others mention me as an example of it, just as long as I am mentioned.

    Recently, in a workshop taught by Mark Reynolds of City to City, he quoted from a book on leadership a fascinating phrase, “the suffering of obscurity.”  It just rang out to me as a common problem among striving church planters and pastors.  It really does feel like suffering, as envy often does, and isolation, and loneliness.  This led me to think and ponder on the reality of the struggle of ambitious young men in the ministry.

    As someone who has been involved in cross cultural ministry and has sought to recruit and encourage minorities coming into my denomination I have seen how this very issue of significance play a role in the attitude men have about their place, or lack of place, in the PCA.  The Presbyterian Church in America is a great leveler when it comes to fame and significance in the ministry.  It is not an easy place to “make your bones” or a name for yourself.

   Sometimes I get the impression from some of these young men that the secret to being significant is to know the right people, to have someone open doors, and if one does know the right people than success comes a lot sooner than otherwise.  There are always men who seem to demand to be let in, to positions of influence, to places on the dais, or committees, or speaking opportunities.  Of course the reality is that any man ordained in the PCA is already a fairly successful and significant person.  One has to have finished college, graduate school, taken arduous theological exams, and be hired by some ministry.  On the other hand, these men are a dime a dozen, and the PCA is one place where no one thinks that any other Teaching Elder is that important, or more important than others, unless he has earned it.

    That is another question, how does one earn importance?   Usually the common and mundane answer to that is from successful experience, from building a church or a ministry.  Some think it is through academics, another degree, maybe writing a book.  Actually for a young man to write a book that anyone believes is important means they really would be exceptional, like Calvin.  Books are always being written, and most are forgettable.  Some men think the way to importance is in the courts of the Church, to fight battles over governance and the Book of Church Order.  This notoriety is usually seasonal, say at General Assembly, and such notoriety makes some more infamous than famous.

    Why doesn’t anyone else recognize me as an expert?   Our role as preachers give us a certain sense of authority, and we begin to expect our opinions should be taken as profound, yet we keep not being invited to preach at the big churches, at the big conferences, and we keep not being quoted.  How many years does it take to get some traction?   What is the architecture of significance?  Some despise our company because they will never be famous here, so they jump to other Evangelical camps where the cult of celebrity and charisma is common and strong.

   I agree, reputation and significance comes faster in other places.  Presbyterianism seems to be as fast changing as the movement of glaciers while young men see themselves as agents of change, movement, and creativity.  I have watched men grow old griping about how no one pays attention to them and I am saddened for their bitterness and disappointment.  I don’t want to be one of them.

   What is the good word about all this?   Just a few thoughts and it starts with this, if we don’t find our significance in the blood and righteousness of Christ we are looking in the wrong places.  If we don’t seek the glory of Jesus more than our own than we are glory thieves, idol worshipers, and ingrates.  If we don’t find our identity in being a son of God, seated with Christ in heavenly places, and a joint-heir with Christ we are settling for cheap change.

   At the same time if we don’t recognize the natural and innate need of young men to feel like they are making a difference, that they are making an essential contribution, then we are mistreating them.  We are wasting precious resource, energy and fruit.  If we continue to frustrate them by not being their advocates, champions, mentors, and cheerleaders than we are failing not only to serve them well, but failing the future of the church.  Every pastor needs to open doors for young men, to praise them, to give them space and a place to make a contribution.  We need to challenge them, but we also need to hear their voices, and ask them to meetings even before somebody elects them to such.

    One last word, the best way to feel important in this denomination is to have friends.  Presbytery won’t give it to you, General Assembly won’t give it to you, even if you enjoy them.  You need friends, who love you, who are loyal, with whom you hang out, go on vacation, and call you up.  You need an older man in your life who believes in you, and I confess sometimes we don’t get that from the Ruling Elders who make up our Sessions. 

   Would it not be wonderful if we all could fill little spaces and be satisfied, if we were being faithful to Jesus in that place?  It will take much spiritual work in our hearts before that restlessness is settled, so may the Lord convince you that he loves you, and may he convince you that in the end, that is more than enough!
END.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

RECONCILIATION AND THE LAW OF PRAYER


Lex Talionis versus Lex Orandi.
  Say what?   These are Latin phrases standing for the Law of Retaliation versus the Law of Prayer.   I had never really thought about them in regard to racial reconciliation until I was listening to a lecture about Cyprian, a Bishop from North Africa, who had to deal with whether or not the Church should forgive those who had betrayed their faith (lapsi) during a time of persecution and made sacrifice or burned incense to the Emperor of Rome.

   We know the Law of Retaliation in terms of “An eye for an eye.”   The Law of Prayer is the one found in Mark 11:25.  In this passage Jesus is teaching about prayer. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  Or, as when Jesus taught his disciples to pray what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” he adds, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15.

    The Bishops of North Africa came to a decision about demanding “penance” for those who had betrayed their faith, but they also came to the conclusion that eventually they had to forgive them and receive them back into the Church.  Some of the Bishops had lost all their property, some had been in hiding during the persecution, some had been tortured and had not given in to the demands to deny their faith.  They had lost family and friends to the Roman persecution and seen fellow Christians slaughtered for their faith.  It must not have been easy to forgive these traitors.  There was another group of Christians (Rigorists) who felt that those who had betrayed their faith should never be forgiven or brought back in the Church.

    I confess that I have a problem with the teachings of Jesus about forgiving others, especially when I am praying or before I pray.  My problem is not with his authority, or the truth of it.  My problem is I don’t want to do it.  These are usually simply personal issues of offense; someone who has betrayed me, slandered me, said something mean to me or about me.  They have hurt me, and I can’t seem to get over it or shake it.  Then Jesus says, “when you stand praying…”  Which of course is every day for me, every day I come before the Lord to pray, or if you think he is speaking of formal worship then I have to face the issue every week.

   So how about those who bear the scars of racism and racist attacks?  How about those who have experienced loss due to prejudice and bias, or have been and are insulted, or who feel the suffering of their people as a minority in a majority world, read and hear a long history of oppression, see present instances of ignorant, mean, and harsh hostility based on race?  Suppose these people who have experienced suffering or are sensitive to this suffering are indeed Christians, and suppose some of the racists also call themselves Christians?

   It is one thing of course to call sinners to repentance, no matter what those sins might be.  This is what believers and the Church of Jesus Christ should be doing against all sin, racism and injustice included; calling for an end to it, calling for repentance for it, calling for evil and sin to stop.  What happens when there are people who do repent, at least in owning up to their sin, who are sorrowful for it, who confess it?

This is exactly I think where Cyprian found himself, trying hard to believe these people were really sorry for what they had done, trying to figure out how they could move toward repairing the damage, prove their loyalty, and make their way back into fellowship.  I think it reasonable for those of us who have been racist in our hearts and actions to bring forth fruit worthy of our repentance, and do the demonstrable work of pursing reconciliation- and not just ask for a “make me feel better” card.  I think Cyprian and the other Bishops were also trying to figure out a way inside themselves to let the bitterness go, to truly and completely forgive.

   The hurt inside us makes Lex Talionis seem so reasonable.  Justice demands a payment, a recompense, a pound of flesh.  Forgiveness often seems like a miracle, and it seems that way because it really is one, a miracle given by God inside our hearts and without which we can’t really claim to know God, or to love Him, not really.   We either forgive or we don’t get forgiven, and that to me seems really harsh of God and I personally wish he would cut us some slack about hating people and be more understanding about it.  I suppose a father who gave his only son to die for and completely forgive his enemies has a right to expect the same from us.  The really good news in the theology I believe is that not only does he demand it, but he provides miraculous grace to do it.  Lord, give us more grace!

Monday, October 1, 2018

THERE HAS GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS...

   I feel caught between a rock and a hard place in the conflict between sympathy for the victims of sexual assault or abuse and the rule of law.   Many of my friends cast this current conflict at the hearing for the Supreme Court in the light of power versus victims.  Many people are simply saying, “believe the victim!”   Others are reminding us that a person is considered innocent until “proven” guilty.

   I want to do both.  If someone is indeed a victim I want to believe them, love on them, protect them, and even avenge them.  Whatever in my feeble and inept ways I can I want to be there for them, try to understand, listen, and weep with those who weep. 

   In my own family I have seen someone ripped apart by the abuse they suffered, and I admit that I will never adequately know how that has affected their fears, feelings, self-image, confidence, sense of security, and ability to trust.  I have marveled at how they have clung to the grace of God, and by the power of God have been able to give of themselves, have courage, and even speak frankly about the effects of abuse on their life. It is undeniable to me that abuse radically shapes a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

   Some may say that the hearings are not a trial, so it is okay to bring accusations without proof or corroboration.  I have seen this kind of equivocal situation in the context of the church, usually in the case of church member versus pastor, or elder.  There too it might be looked at as a victim versus power.  When Ruling Elders of a church allow a member to come to a Session meeting and bring accusations against a pastor, or even another member, without witnesses or proof, but solely in the name of keeping the peace by allowing someone who feels aggrieved the opportunity to vent their feelings, it is not only destructive and detrimental to the protection of the church and its authority but simply wrong.  Equivocation between parties is not justice, though it might appear to be so by adjudicators thinking they are keeping the peace.

    There is a movement to erase all boundaries of protection for a person's reputation in the name of giving comfort and safety to those who claim to have been abused.  Ultimately this is corrupting to the rule of law and is more akin to lynch law where the mob makes decisions on their emotional response to a situation.  

   We obviously have a dilemma, as a society, when it comes to such things.   How much time should we allow victims to bring forward their stories?  Is it ever too late to bring something up from the past, especially if it is some kind of sexual abuse?  My answer would tend to be that there should be no time limit, but there should always be the limiting factor of who is told, and the limiting factors of standards by which people are believed.  We have to protect children, or those abused as children, and women, and we have to give them a way to bring their story and accusations forward, while at the same time not giving way to a flood of hysteria that takes away all safeguards for people who are innocent of those charges.

    We don't have to look far to see the danger, first in the Bible with the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, then to the stories of black men lynched at the word of white women that were later found to be lying, and even to present day as men are finally let out of prison when DNA proves they could not have done the crime for which they were incarcerated.  

    I feel ashamed as an American to see all this played out at the Senate hearings.  I am ashamed that the Senate would ever let someone step forward to make an accusation about someone without corroboration, prior to their public appearance.  This is equivocation of the worst sort, with political gamesmanship and the weaponizing of public opinion. 

     I am ashamed of teen-age drinking parties, where parental supervision seems to get lost or be abandoned.  I am ashamed of men who try to rape women, and most especially of those who sexually abuse children.  I am past shame and into anger when it comes to and kind of religious authority using their position to sexually abuse children.  I am ashamed of myself when I think of where, and how, I learned about sex and what I wanted and tried to do and get away with in my teen years.

   I am grateful for the cross of Christ where I found forgiveness and the power to be delivered from really intense sexual bondage.  I am sad that our society seems to know so little about forgiveness, or grace, and can't seem to provide either one to victims or perpetrators.  I don't think this reality TV has helped us very much, except to realize that there has to be a better way for the Senate to advise and consent to the President's choice.

   

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

ENTANGLING ALLIANCES


Someone has asked my opinion on local churches cooperating or interacting with other organizations, and possibly other ministries.  What principles should we keep in mind, what practical issues might develop, and what are some of the perplexing perils in fulfilling our mission?  I will try to integrate some of the “perplexing perils” (PP) as I articulate principles and practical issues.  Here is a start to discussion.

PRINCIPLES
   I write from the perspective of someone who was an urban pastor trying to reach and minister to poor people, and in a cross-cultural context.
1.     Know your own identity and mission as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is unique, it is essential, and it must not be compromised as to its Gospel message, call to conversion and discipleship, and moral and ethical integrity.
(PP-If you care about the social conditions surrounding you the temptation might be to think the Church and its message are neither relevant nor practical enough to really help people.  Other social agencies may ridicule your call to faith as proselytizing and reject your involvement.  We must not be intimidated by the weight of social pathology nor by the social activist-despisers of our religion. Even (many) non-believers expect religious leaders and institutions to be moral and ethical as a standard of behavior, it is an important reputation to keep.)
2.    Remember that preaching and teaching (Grace, Gospel and Bible truth) are life giving and life enhancing moments to individuals, families, and thus the whole community.  Preaching Biblical sermons that meet real human needs are not irrelevant to the life of the community but essential to human flourishing.
3.    No interaction, collaboration, or cooperation with other institutions or agencies should move the church from its primary mission of proclaiming the Gospel and its care of souls.  This must be consistent throughout a congregation’s “owned” ministries.  The local church must protect its freedom to speak from a religious, spiritual, and dogmatic perspective within the realm of its own ministry.
4.    The leadership of a local church must consider the reputation of other institutions, agencies, and individuals when it considers an agreement or cooperating partnership.  There are some arrangements which are essentially neutral, and others which are compromising of reputation, and still others that are enhancing of reputation.  Leadership has to be wise and prayerfully discerning as to which is which. The attitude of the church should always be love, even when trying to protect its testimony, and should always have an attitude and practice of loving kindness even when it must keep distance from some involvements.  [I have probably taken more risks than others in such involvement, but tried to be bold in my witness at the same time.]
5.    The local church has to be mindful of the involvement of their pastor with other institutions and agencies, his reputation, his time commitments, and his freedom to serve Christ in every situation he formally and professionally places himself in.  (PP-when does a pastor represent only himself, or is representing his congregation?  He always represents God, or else shouldn’t be a pastor.)
6.    Local churches can interact with other ministry, institutions, and agencies in various ways and for various purposes.  A key principle for the local church is to know how this particular involvement moves the mission of the church forward, or is it a diversion of focus and resources? (PP-most non-profits want money and people from local congregations but not all of them further the mission of the congregation or enhance the ministry of the church, and some do not want any spiritual input from Christians.)
7.    While local church involvement in other institutions can be by way of volunteer hours, financial support, facility cooperation, etc. the practice of resource investment (especially that of church member man hours) must be weighed against how it brings people to Christ and into the membership of the body?  This principle must always be balanced against any other purpose, no matter how well meaning.  Ministries of mercy, helps, kindness, or any other noble or good thing people can do, as we “do good to all men,” are not a substitute for being “fishers of men,” but all can be a means to that end if we are intentional about it.
8.    It is good for church leadership to regularly, on some periodic basis, to reevaluate the stewardship of the resources of the church (especially the volunteer ministry hours of the membership) as to whether they are effective for…
·       The name recognition of the church
·       A proto-evangelism of the community
·       Direct evangelism of the community
·       In conflict with the functioning of the worship and activities of the church, including the shepherding of the children of the church.
·       The bringing of justice and mercy to the community in the name of Christ.
·       Doing what must be done to help the people of the community survive and thrive as an act of love.


PRACTICAL ISSUES
9.    The Pastor especially may be called upon to serve on community boards of various sorts.  He is asked because he is a pastor of a specific church and not usually simply because he lives in the neighborhood.  Some of these activities are neutral, that is they don’t hurt the pastor or church’s reputation.  However, every involvement takes time and pastors need counsel from church leaders to be careful about their commitments. He needs to humble himself to ask others to speak into these decisions so he doesn’t hurt himself, his family, or the congregation.
10.Taking money from anyone, or any agency, that hinders the church’s ministry or message has to be rejected.  Thankfully there are government programs, and grants from foundations and businesses that don’t prohibit churches from their message or ministry, but these must be carefully assessed and evaluated.  Many institutions want to do good, and are willing to do it through a congregation, and these may coincide with a congregation’s own vision and mission for ministry.  Things such as the feeding of children, tutoring or after school programs, sports programs, arts and music programs, health and medical programs, housing, etc are all possible areas of collaboration.  A church has to ask what it wants to accomplish in such programs, and if or when does it feel its primary purpose is being compromised.
11.Once money is taken from an agency with commitments as to its use and reporting congregations must be strictly ethical in fulfilling their commitments and not funnel money into some other use, no matter how seemingly good or necessary that use may be.
12.Congregations have to ask themselves if their building is “holy” and is totally and only committed to their doctrinal identity?  Will the church let a public school rent the building, or use the building for a ceremony?  Will the church let another denomination rent space to worship there, even if there is not total doctrinal agreement? How about a cult?  How about AA or some other 12 step program?  Many Evangelical congregations have rented space from Synagogues and other religious institutions, will we be reciprocal in their hour of need?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

GOD BLESS THE DEACONS!


I like Deacons.   I honor the office of Deacon.  I love the men and women who serve in the ministry of mercy throughout our churches.  May the Lord bless them and give them a reward for what they do.

    Pastors and Elders need to value the ministry of Deacons, and they need to be thankful that they have them.  Pastors need to brag on them and give them honor, encourage the congregation to hold the Deacons up in prayer, and to give them their cooperation as well as the physical and financial resources to do effective work.

   Some pastors simply want the Deacons to protect them from facility surprises, as in maintaining roofs, heating and air conditioners, grounds keeping, snow removal, clean bathrooms, etc.  Some churches want them to make sure there are ushers, money counting, good budgeting, security, and parking lot attendants.  All of these things are important, and the larger and more middle-class the congregation is than the more important these things are going to be. 

   In some of our congregations we have CEOs of major corporations serving as Deacons (really, this is not hyperbole).  They know how to get business done, and the title is nice on their resume for community involvement.   Everyone appreciates a congregation that maintains a healthy, safe, and welcoming facility and has a positive sense of good organization and administration.   I appreciate these things too, but I know that they are not enough if our goal is to be faithful to Jesus and his kingdom.

    Some churches have Deacons and never use them in ministry to the poor.  The pastor and church secretary seem to do all of the benevolence, or else simply bar the door and send strangers asking for help away to other “agencies.”  (Deacons should strongly discourage any pastor from being the “Sugar Daddy” in dispensing aid to people.  Pastors should delegate that direct ministry to the Deacons.) As a former pastor I am very much in favor of having people “wait on tables” as it were so I can focus on prayer and the Word.  At the same time I would very much like to see Deacons mobilize a congregation so that any and every poor person seeking help from our church would be met with love, compassion, kindness, wisdom, prayer, and effective help.

   I yearn to see Deacons organize themselves, train themselves, and create effective ministry plans so that they are able to stay motivated, refreshed, and multiplied so they don’t burn out, drop out, become cynical, or waste their very precious time simply going to meetings.

    So, in this short article may I make one plea…  Deacons, stay humble enough to want to learn how to do your ministry in more effective ways.  Keep asking of yourself, and of your team, “how can we do this better, how can we do mercy so we actually lead people to Christ and bring them into discipleship, how can we do this so people actually come out of poverty?”

    If you ask those questions of your team you will begin to realize you need help, and so you will start praying more, identifying and recruiting more saints with more of the gifts needed to accomplish the mission, communicating more with the Pastor and Elders, and encouraging more financial liberality from the members.

    When Deacons start seeing the lives of poor people being truly turned around they will hopefully begin to have a larger vision for the neighborhood and community.  Hopefully they will begin to be proactive and create ministries and programs that help poor people create strategies for themselves that move them to self-sufficiency. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

MALPRACTICE IN CROSS CULTURAL MINISTRY


FAILING
There are ways we can fail in our pursuit of cross-cultural ministry.  I refer to this as “malpractice.”   I am not speaking simply of not achieving our goals but of going about ministry in ways that actually hurt people, hurt the reputation of the church, and possibly bring slander to the name of Christ.

    Cross cultural ministry has to be defined by the cultures one is trying to cross or bridge. There are ministries that are multi-ethnic, and that is (merely, or only) what they want to be.  Sometimes these groups think of themselves as “multi-cultural.”   That is they don’t really want to “cross” over into someone else’s culture but they do want to have a mixture of kinds of people in their group or church.   They would prefer everybody to be comfortable in “their own skin” and not force anyone to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”

MISSIONAL VERSUS DOMINANCE
      To settle for this model usually means there is a dominant culture for worship, or a dominant culture for leadership, or an acceptance of cultural assimilation in some form.  There is usually compromise on some things, for some time, until some particular thing brings the friction or competition.  The option is always for separation into cultural groups. This is not what I mean by cross cultural ministry, and to insist that this is the only way (i.e., multi-ethnic or multi-cultural) for people to become part of one body is malpractice.

    If cross cultural ministry is more missional, where a person or group intentionally seeks to become like the other, or give up their personal or cultural rights so as to win others to Christ, or to become one in unity, there are some things one should bear in mind to do so with some integrity, honesty, and humility.

   Cross cultural ministry done biblically is intentional servanthood (slavery) to others.   Therefore it cannot be done with arrogance or superiority lest it be malpractice.  We have some powerful spiritual weapons to help us when it comes to culture but I think all of the various pieces of ordinance come under one main heading and that would be love.  Part of love is telling the truth, but one can tell the truth without love.  A scalpel can heal you or kill you, it depends on how it gets used, in what circumstances, and with what skill. Obviously, if a doctor uses a scalpel carelessly he commits malpractice.

SEEING THE LAYERS OF SIN AND SINFUL OPPRESSION
    I will use two scenarios with which I am somewhat familiar.  The first scenario: If I as a white man come into the poor black community (and please notice that I am specifying that there is a “poor” black community as opposed to wealthier parts of the black community) and want to serve Jesus there by serving the people there, then how do I approach it?   The way we approach things begins with the way we see it, and that very act of failing to see things properly, or truthfully, can result in malpractice.   Take the case of a surgeon who is losing his eye sight but wants to operate on my nervous system; scary thought.

    There are debates about what created the poor black community, or the typical inner-city neighborhood.  If I arrive as a preacher and I see pathology, I see sinful behavior, and think the answer is a prophetic voice to call people to repentance for their wicked lives I might be seeing an aspect of the truth.  I can pretty much guarantee you that the people there won’t be feeling much love from me. For me not to love the people to whom I seek to minister means I am guilty of malpractice. At the same time, to deprive the people there of inherent dignity by excusing their sinful choices, of not recognizing individual moral responsibility, and blaming everything that happens in that community on racial history and present racial injustice then I would be equally guilty of ministry malpractice.

    Fundamentalists seem to have gone one way with the blame game, social action folks seem to go to the other extreme of blaming others who are somewhere else.  As someone who grew up in the projects of Newark, NJ I would have to admit that if I had kept going the way I was going I probably would be dead or in prison, or living off what I stole from you, (I might have been a success in crime, one never knows).  I was culpable in my own dysfunctionality.

    My father abandoned me, so my failures must be his fault.  The city was corrupt and the way they administered city housing was corrupt so my failures must be their fault.  The schools weren’t that good so it was the fault of the Board of Education.  I am not reticent to say that some of the blame might belong to them, but my soul and heart’s condition could not have been changed by them.  I am white, and would later find that I had white privilege in other places, but at that time I wasn’t aware of any privilege except to try and earn the respect of the gang I ran with and stole with.  I needed Christ, I needed a change of heart, I needed to be born again and converted, I needed to repent of the way I was living and the way I was headed.

   Did my city need to be fixed?  Oh yeah, it needed justice and just government.  It still does.  Maybe if my heart was changed by grace I might actually get to be part of that change, might help to be a conscience to the forces that make a city what a city should be.   For the church to neglect my soul’s salvation would have been malpractice.  For them not to have called me to care for the values of the Kingdom of God, such as justice and mercy, would have been malpractice.  For me not to have compassion on the misery of the people who suffer from economic injustice (racial and/or simple economic exploitation), or to stay silent about it when I become aware of how it operates, would be malpractice.

   My point is that the way we approach things, the way we see things, has a lot to do with whether or not we are ministering appropriately. I first have to see the city with compassion, the way Jesus did, as sheep without a shepherd.  God had compassion on Nineveh, that wicked city, where people did not know their right hand from their left. The Ninevites were morally responsible for their sins and that is why God sent Jonah to proclaim judgement yet God had compassion on them and recognized their ignorance.

MORAL AGENCY
      Is there immorality in the inner cities of America?  Way too much sexual immorality, pregnancies without marriage, abortions, drugs, gangs, violence and sexual violence, a collapse of family, a satisfaction with ignorance, a loss of aspiration and thus a poor work ethic.  Too deny these things and not see the exercise of personal choice at work, or to excuse them as merely by-products of history or oppression, is to rob human beings of moral agency. To not preach a redeeming character changing Gospel to people who desperately need to be born-again is malpractice.  At the same time to see these things as if they all just happened overnight by the choice of the people and that there aren’t historic and systemic forces that perpetuate it and not seek to change those forces; that would also be malpractice.

   The second scenario: If a white person seeks to be reconciled with black people, to stop worshiping and living in a segregated by choice church and community, and seeks friendships and relationships that are deep, meaningful, and honest then how should that be pursued, and how is that achieved?  If this particular white brother (and let’s begin with the idea that he is saved) comes to a cross cultural church, or a black church seeking to learn, how is he to be treated?

    We go back to what and how one sees as an approach is made.  What are the assumptions we make when someone attempts reconciliation?   If we see this white person as simply a victim of his raising or his culture, that he doesn’t know any better about being a racist because he learned from a racist family, we deprive him of the responsibility of moral agency.  He is responsible for what he thinks, says, and does, no matter where he comes from or how he was raised.

ANGRY VERSUS PIERCING ANALYSIS
    If all we do is bombard people with the rhetoric of angry racial analysis (and I am an advocate for piercing racial analysis), hold them off from friendship until they admit to or make some steps to dismantle white supremacy (or worse not even care if they should make such an effort but just blow them off), mock them for their white privilege, and ridicule them when they seem confused or disturbed by what they are hearing by referring to their white fragility then we are committing cross cultural malpractice as well.  

BRIDGES OR BARRIERS?
    Racial rhetoric carries emotional power, but is not always substantive especially when disconnected from biblical foundations, and not usually nuanced enough to help people know where the bridges to healing might be.  Depending on how it is delivered it doesn't always hint at an invitation to relationship but rather a sad inevitability toward segregation.

   If we allow, and even encourage, people to come to emotional closure over feelings of racial and social guilt without repentance, without pragmatic strategies for peace making, and without commitment to a justice that mends, heals, and restores, then that too is malpractice.   Cross cultural ministry has to face the realities of history, of race, of oppression, or a purposeful racial economic disparity, and of social science statistics in the various fields of urban sociology, the criminal justice system, and the role and activity of the church in that reality.

   It is cross cultural ministry malpractice to simply dwell on the failures of humankind and not to remember that reconciliation is God’s work, beginning at the tearing of our relationship and alienation from him in the Garden of Eden.  It is malpractice to forget the healing of the cross, between God and people, between Jews and Gentiles (and thus all sub-ethnic groups) and our becoming one new man in the body of Christ, through the work of Christ.  It is malpractice to despair of the hope of reconciliation, as if it is an effort on one group to simply feel better about themselves, and not to remember it is given to all of God’s people as a message and a ministry.  It is malpractice to dismiss the reality that reconciliation, especially cross cultural reconciliation, takes a conscious choice to be another people’s servant, and requires a death to self.  It is also malpractice to give up the hope that it is possible, and wonderful, and the future of heaven.

END.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Danger of Following an Ideological Line


    It is hard not to say something about this latest activity by our President, and I speak of the comments President Trump made in Finland about Russia.   I recently heard a lecture by Professor Peter C. Mancall of the University of Southern California (Audible –The Teaching Company) in a lecture on the American Revolution.  In it he spoke about political ideology.  He described it as a road map, a bunch of street signs, which guide our thinking. It explains and seems to reflect a reality we desire. I picture it as one of those single line maps someone draws on a table napkin which seems to correspond to reality but it certainly is not an above the earth view like GPS.  Nor is it like a biblical world view which gives you godly principles.

    I am afraid way too many people are following line maps drawn on a napkin, and they get angry with anyone saying there might be other factors to consider before one continues in this direction. These political line maps seem to compromise virtues such as honesty and honor.  I love my country, and I think every country is important to God.  I believe God is sovereign and he rules the destinies of each nation.  He can use the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, and the Persians to accomplish his will for Israel.  He can use evil men to bring about his will, like Pharaoh in Egypt for Israel, and then destroy Egypt.  He can use good and great men in such a way that they bring their own nation into disaster, even though they were good.

    At the same time God’s revealed will is actually what we have to deal with; that’s the stuff that we can obey or disobey.  God’s revealed will of truth, justice, mercy, and righteousness is our business, not what he plans to do in a hidden way, except that we must learn to have faith when that hidden plan means our nation comes to an end, or disaster overtakes us.  I want our nation to do right, and be right.  I sincerely don’t want it to be destroyed, corrupted, or brought into shame.

   Conservative political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Liberal political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Following their ideology is still only a line drawing.  Yet, adherents seem willing to sacrifice other things to keep following that ideological line.  I am afraid this President may be one of the worst things to ever happen to the Republican Party and the Conservative movement.  In a desperate desire to finally have some conservative judges and conservative influence on law and legislation the Conservatives are selling their soul, and maybe the prestige and honor of the nation with it.

   The victory may be short lived, unless they are willing to use the muscle they presently have to be honorable.  Being a sycophant to this President means you only take your turn waiting to be thrown under the bus, it guarantees you nothing.  One never knows how a narcissist will interpret how sincerely you are kissing his posterior.  Will they hold their President, our President, accountable?   Or are they so afraid of losing what little they have that they condemn their (our) future? I am wondering if our citizens even realize what may be at stake.

   Political ideology is a map to nowhere if it is not a map to justice and goodness.  If it is only a map that prevents the opposite party from influence or participation then it is a map to delusion and confusion.  In their fear of undermining a powerful leader whose agenda they sometimes like they may choke when it comes to recognizing and denouncing a Quisling. We don’t just need men and women of courage in Washington, we need men and women of integrity with enough courage to tell the truth about their own party, and enough of them to finally get good things done.

Please Lord, help our nation, and confuse all tyrants!