Monday, September 18, 2017

I SURE WISH THEY WOULD GO TO CHURCH!

One Sunday I sat around a table with some dear friends who all have adult children.  The conversation turned to the subject of children in the church who were raised in Christian homes and who no longer attend church.  This was not a concern with them not attending “our” church, but the fact that these particular young adults weren’t attending anybody’s church.  Let me state that my concerns here are not universal for this generation, because many of them are as solid in their faith and Christian lives as any who have lived before.

   This was not a conversation solely about a certain generation, but about families and children we all knew.  This was about our pain, the pain of parents who dearly love their kids, prayed for them, taught them, challenged them, brought them to church, gave them the best education we could (and for some that meant Christian schools and Christian colleges).   Now, it seemed that some of these kids were spiritually wandering, living immoral lives, or in outright defiant denial of the Faith.

   I am aware of articles and books about this present generation and how a growing number of their number have decided to stop going to church, let alone how many of them have never come at all. All kinds of folks are weighing into the subject, and some are trying to come up with the formula of how to design the church experience to bring them back.  I tend to avoid these kinds of solutions as they always seem to support the predispositions of the one writing for how they think a church service should be conducted, such as how contemporary worship is being rejected for more liturgical and traditional worship, etc.

   As I travel around the country and meet some old friends and my generational peers I am often told of the pain my friends are experiencing as they yearn to see their own children not only come to faith but to stay in it.  My friends yearn to see their adult children be the godly people their parents have hoped to raise.  They yearn to see the next generation taking their place of leadership in the church, no matter how it worships or where it meets.

   I wish I had the wisdom to analyze the problem accurately and the brilliance needed to show parents the magic words, method, or strategy to bring their kids back to the Lord and the household of Faith. I confess that I don't.  I do have some questions, and some thoughts which I will share with you.  I also know some of these kids are never coming back, but my sincere hope and prayer is that even if happens after my present generations dies the seeds that were planted in them will bear good fruit.

   There are various reasons adult children who have been raised in the church stop going, and stop believing.  Those are two different categories but sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.   As we look at any problem we often look for someone or something to blame.  Whose fault is this; the adult child, the parents, the church, the culture, the age, the Devil?  

   I don’t intend to relieve anyone of their guilt, if they are in fact guilty.  If we as parents have failed we have to own that, and repent, and ask for God’s forgiveness and we need to ask forgiveness from our kids.  If the church has failed, collectively or individually, then those institutions need to own up to it and seek for renewal and revival.  If it is the culture and the spirit of the age then we need to understand it and learn the methods of dealing with it.  We can take it for granted the Devil is involved, but we know Jesus has defeated him.  We just need to learn his tricks and fight him well.

    Who is responsible for adult children of Christian parents leaving the faith and the church?  Well, first of all, they are.  This is a hard reality but if our children are not truly saved then they will go to eternal judgment.  There aren’t any protective parents that can prevent it.  If they reject Jesus, if they deny Jesus, then he also will deny them.  It doesn’t matter if they were baptized as infants, baptized as a believer sometime in their childhood, or prayed the sinner’s prayer in your hearing.   If they are not truly saved, then they are not truly saved.  It is foolish in my opinion to keep consoling them with comments like, “I know deep in your heart you really do believe.”  That might be a parent’s wish but it is not the fruit of their lives, and it is by the fruit we discern good trees from bad.

   I want to be pretty up front with that, and with them, because in an analysis of our parenting some of us may have been too indulgent, and too excusing, of and for our kids.  When they stand in front of Almighty God the parent won’t be there to make excuses for them.  Their choices are their choices and they eventually will have to own them for themselves.  One of the best things all of us can do for our children is to help them understand that, as we should have done many times in their lives.

    There is no doubt some of us have made our children stumble.  There are so many ways we as parents can and have screwed up.  Often trying hard to be wonderful parents we have instead set up our kids for a pretty big fall.   How might we have failed?

     Our parent’s generation seemed to struggle with emotional detachment, being harsh and making their love conditional, and sometimes living a fundamentalist, legalistic, yet hypocritical life; full of self-righteousness while denying the realities of their own materialism, racism, and various other sins.

     Our generation (Baby Boomers) became too permissive, certainly with ourselves.  Our children have seen us in our addictions, our lusts, our anger, our own kinds of hypocrisies while they have seen us go to church but it not seeming to make us very different from people in the world.  Many times we backed off from pushing our kids too hard, and we indulged them at almost every turn.  It was almost as if we and everything in the world revolved around them and existed to make their life happy and fulfilled.   Our self-indulgent congregations reflected our own family life-styles and desires.

    To complicate matters our children entered into a world that does not reinforce absolutes, seems to deny eternal or even temporal accountability.  They entered into a world of intensive and manipulative appeal to the sensual, to self-centeredness, to libertine indulgence without seeming consequence.

    Many of our children who deny the faith are materially successful.  They have the social skills, they have the education, personal discipline and ambition.  These things without Christ are worldliness, but deceptively so, and we parents have too often let them get away with thinking that their progress even without Christ was okay with us. 

    Many of our children have a social conscience, and their peers reinforce the notion that this in and of itself is what makes a person moral, and it also makes them feel superior to anyone who does not care as passionately for their cause(s) as they do.  In an ironic twist the Baby Boomer generation that tried not to be judgmental with their children created a new self-righteous generation. The passion of their compassion is often without any kind of absolute moral compass, they are swimming hard but it is often out to sea and not toward home.

   Religion and dogma are too binding for them, cutting them off from their peers, bringing feelings of embarrassment upon them.  To take the step of radical commitment to Jesus in full understanding of his exclusivity and his claims of solitary access to the Father can be too isolating for many of them.  They don’t want to be more religious and yet less passionate about justice causes, they don’t want to lose the option of a self-focused lifestyle in exchange for the hassle of time demanding church life, church personalities, and church conflict and drama.

    Some of our grown kids have and will struggle with simple rebellion against their parents, and God.  Some of them will struggle with addictions of drinking, drugs, pornography, sexual encounters, and the body indulgence of sports, athletics and exercise.  Some of our kids will struggle with their own educational and material success.  These things are not new to human beings.  Nevertheless, any or all of them of them are the thorns and weeds that grow up to choke out real faith. 

    Now, the good news:  We have the weapon of prayer, and we must not stop using it.  The Word will accomplish that to which it was sent and good seed in good ground will bear much fruit.  The Lord knows those who are His. The battle is not over yet, and we may die before we see the outcome, so we have to put our hope in God’s faithfulness and not in the power of our worrying to make things change.  Failure and brokenness are God’s tools to break the pride and obstinate hard hearts of men and women, and even if it scares you to see your kids go through it, sometimes that is the only way they will reach heaven.

   Your tears are not in vain, but don’t weep in despair.  Keep trusting in Jesus to do the work.   Receive his forgiveness if and where you have failed.  Have confidence in the Gospel you know your children have heard and understood.  Stop apologizing for your faith or your call to them to come to Christ.  Be ready to welcome them home, and assure them of that, while you remind them with gentleness, love, and consistency that they ain’t yet where they need to be.


END

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER ALL THE NAME CALLING!

Lately I have been reading articles by a few Evangelicals who are deeply committed to racial justice.  As I agree and sympathize with much, I do find myself in reaction to some of the things they have said. These ideas, and others like them, spring up from time to time, although often in new phrases and provocative rhetoric.   Some of what they have said is not new, they are echoes of various lines of thinking that have been part of conversations that have been present as long as I have been involved in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. 

   Ah, you will see I mentioned a word that is part of what is at stake in the conversation, and that is the word “reconciliation.”  The phrase “racial reconciliation” is a term that has been at times threatening, revolutionary, and welcoming to people who have been convicted about the racial and ethnic alienation that has been present in our society since the idea of race was constructed to help both Arabs and Europeans feel justified in their exploitation of various nations, namely those nations and ethnicities of color.

   This term is also slammed, shunned, and discarded by some as being either misunderstood or misused, and thereby not radical enough in the quest for justice. Some have postulated there can be no reconciliation since we were never unified to begin with, and though this sounds like it might make sense, the idea discards Adam and Eve and Noah as a unified human race, Babel as the dividing of the nations, and the calling of Abraham as a Jew to divide the world into Jews (circumcised) and Gentiles (uncircumcised).  I take that criticism as a cheap rhetorical trick with no logical foundation.  It also seems to accept the postulation of race as a biological reality and not a constructed one.

     Some don’t like the word “racial” since it was a socially constructed idea to explain “color” in various human beings and to assign them a lower status by white people.  No less a person than John Perkins has recently spoken powerfully against this word since it creates differentiation between people groups, and God is no respecter of persons.  He thinks that our continued use of it perpetuates the differentiation in a negative way.  Nevertheless we all pretty much admit to such realities as “racism” and doing away with the term is not going to do away with racists anytime soon.

    Then there is the criticism of the entire phrase as one seen to be preferred by white people because they see it as an individualized process or event and fail (or refuse) to see systemic injustice in the broader society.  One of the writers I read wants only to speak of “white supremacy,” and feels that is where the onus belongs, on the white community. I certainly sympathize with the need to see justice as a larger issue than simply our personal bias and prejudice.

WHITE SUPREMACY
    White Supremacy is a term that is searching for some consensus.  It seemed to have a historical context in the teachings of the slave justifiers (even among Muslim scholars prior to the Western slave trade) the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and going back to Nazi Germany’s view of the “Superior Race.”   The attempt to dump the guilt of such association  on all white people due to their being in the numerical majority, having inherent white privilege as a cultural majority in a racialized nation, and or being clueless as to what systemic injustice does to people is problematic at best, and frankly, racist at worst.

   Let me be clear, as our former president used to say.  I think white supremacists are dangerous, and the belief in white supremacy is the essential building block of intentional white privilege.  In short systemic decisions to deprive people of color of their rights while seeking to maintain those of whites is due to an evil and deceived thinking that being white is superior and something to be maintained by economic, political, and social means.   The use of violence to achieve and maintain racial advantage has often followed soon after, but not all those who agree with this racist ideology or who passively and/or ignorantly go along and enjoy its benefits are people who would engage in violence. 

  I also believe that racists can be converted and changed, and that the white population that is carried along in the stream of white privilege has a conscience that can be stimulated by truth and justice. This is one of the  historic realities of the power of the Civil Rights movement in our nation, and no matter the mockery by some of the Christian Church the fact is that some of those Christians were touched and awakened to help bring about legal and substantive change in our society.  It did not happen without them.  

   Political ideologues, in their rhetorical world, are adept at polarizing issues, leaving no middle ground, and thereby marginalizing people who are still learning and still becoming conscious of issues.  In their eyes you are either as radical as they are, or you are the enemy.  Taking and using such political device and rhetoric may sound and read as prophetic, but the question remains as to whether or not it is genuinely Christian?  Some of it frankly is bitter, a bit mean, and seems to take delight in making people feel miserable.

   Some of the rhetoric is no better, and serves no other purpose, than name calling.  I suspect some of it is an attempt to feel powerful, a sort of triumphalism, through the use of language. Rhetorical “one ups-man-ship” might make one feel better but I don’t think it convinces anybody but one’s allies.  Instead of seeking peace, which is a Christian duty, command, and practice, it alienates.  I believe one of the worse things we can do is to use language (no matter how lyrical or artistic) that is confused, opaque, and that causes more misunderstanding and less healing.

   One of the realities we live in is that of a demographic white majority in the United States, and lately we are seeing in the white population (both here and in Europe) a strong reaction against and resistance to any changing of that reality through immigration.  White cultural reality is very strong in Evangelicalism, and those minorities which are present in a white Evangelical world are forced to encounter “white normativity.” Whether or not white people in majority or whole admit to the presence of other cultural realities in the United States I think "white normativity" is going to be a cultural reality for a long time to come.  

   Some minority individuals decide that self-segregation is what they would rather pursue for their own cultural comfort, healing, and safety.  They seek an escape from the cultural fatigue and aggravation which seems to be fairly consistent in the education and training of “one more white person,” who has only now realized and admitted there are other cultural realities.  If it is not self-segregation it sometimes seems to be an emotional self-alienation with a lot of complaining.  

    There is a corresponding majority culture reaction by which racial issues are simply shut down, walked away from, or mocked and ridiculed if a white person feels racially aggravated. Too often white people seem to react to racial issues, or even some racial event on the news, as if every mention, achievement, or expressed anger of black folks was taking something away from them.  When that resistance to engaging in a healthy understanding and realization of racism gives up to listening, learning, and hoping then the turn begins; the turn to reconciliation and justice.

   The price to pay for real “reconciliation” is high for each of us in our own ethnic and cultural groups and we pay it in different ways.  I believe minorities pay a higher price but it is arrogance to assume others are paying nothing (though they may not being paying the full price yet), it is disingenuous and dangerous to assume it will cost any of us little.  There is both an illegitimate and a legitimate price to be paid. The illegitimate price of self-hatred and complete assimilation into the “other” while discarding our own culture and ethnic identity pays negative dividends in self, family, and community.  There is only one thing worthy of paying the legitimate price of reconciliation (which is a long exposure to misunderstanding, insult, attacks of various kinds, and sacrifice in relationships,) and that is the pursuit of being the answer to the prayer of Jesus; that we might be one.

     The argument for expanding the term White Supremacy to include the entire white population (and thus take the onus off of specific political and violent groups) as responsible for systemic injustice seems to negate the idea of personal repentance, and personal relational healing, and declare it to be inconsequential as long as injustice continues. In an attempt to thwart individual evasion of institutional racism it makes the personal repentance of racism meaningless.  We agree that change must be pursued in "loosening the chains of injustice and untying the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke," as Isaiah says in chapter 58:6 Change has to begin somewhere, and more pointedly in "someone." From such individuals justice begins to arise, and it must if the repentance and change is real.

     To take the term White Supremacy and make it universal rather than specific to hate groups is to deprive all of us of the vigilance needed to monitor their incipient violence and to be prepared to resist it.  White supremacists must love this universal application and definitive inflation.

RECONCILIATION
   I would like to be one of the few voices lifted up to defend the word “reconciliation.”  Not only do I like it, want to practice it, and have paid some measure of a price to pursue it, but my bottom line is that I think it is Biblical.  It is a word far greater than race, full of grace and mercy, includes all the Gentiles in the Body of Christ (thus including in its central idea inter-Gentile union), and the Jews, and is one of the soteriological effects of the death of Jesus on the cross.

    Reconciliation is not a word to despise for the reason that being personally reconciled (to God or people) does not automatically end systemic injustice, but rather a word that is to be preached!  It is our future hope that Jesus will reconcile all things to himself.  In short, it is a process which God commissioned, a message and a ministry we should all be caught up in and which will not be fulfilled in our lifetimes.  

    To reject reconciliation, and yes, racial reconciliation, and substitute it with permanent guilt until there is complete systemic change, is defeatist, despairing, unrealistic, and ultimately creates more division.  I think it is better to spell out, and preach out, the price of real and Biblical reconciliation; the cost of sacrificially enslaving ourselves to other groups to win them, the cost of suffering with and for them in a true “becoming” with them.

    One phrase that comes up is “white fragility” in the context of conversations about race and injustice. I think I understand the historic dynamic but unfortunately this is a universal human problem, and not simply one that can be assigned to one people group.  It is difficult, as a representative of a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group, to constantly hear the pathology present in one’s own people group carped on by another ethnic group.  Racial conversations are frequently difficult and sometimes feel threatening; the use of blaming and provocative language in the guise of the pursuit of justice (without giving hope) I believe will be self-defeating.

     I have seen this reaction in various groups when the issues of public health and social concerns and "pathologies"are listed by race or ethnicity.  Invariably the argument is made to stop blaming those listed as representative of the statistics (from our ethnic group, or our ethnic group a whole) and attack something else; the system, society, and history that has helped to create those problems.  I’m just wondering if you can feel my love if I keep telling you how bad your people are?

      Can any of our identified racial groups own any of (their) our peculiar or popular sins? It is no doubt difficult. Will our identified racial groups continue to resist group labeling as insulting and demoralizing?  I have a suspicion that they will, therefore such labeling should be used tenderly, strategically, tactfully, and even lovingly in trying to bring about change.  Every cultural group has particular sins that should bring shame to them, and certainly the white majority in this country has earned much of the shame and guilt that generally they don’t like to hear about or embrace. 

     Guilt, by itself, is an insufficient motivator and is quite often the edge of the blade on which people will either divide into denial, anger, and resentment on one side and admission, confession, and a search for restoration on the other. The preaching of the Gospel always contains the bad news of sinful reality, but it is not a Gospel at all if it doesn’t have “good news.”  

     The Gospel, the real Gospel of Christ, is not true to itself if all it does is stick people with guilt and leaves it there.  This is not a way of saying that we shouldn't preach against societal or national sins,  it is a way of saying that with repentance there is forgiveness, there is grace, there is, (watch it, here it comes…) reconciliation.  I see that word as one which has a milestone beginning but continues as a process, both personally, socially, institutionally, and ecclesiastically.

   It is progress when any community faces its reality head on, and in humility and courage seeks to change its culture toward righteousness, both personal and social, in its behavior. As the Scripture says in Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  Does any of this humility and courage happen without change in individuals?  I would submit that it cannot. Does it suddenly happen generally, culturally, systemically, politically?   While some despise the individual aspect of Christian faith as insufficient for corporate change it is nevertheless a historic (societies and nations have changed) and realistic part of the whole, it just has to be preached (consistently) as a beginning and not an end in itself.
END.

    

Friday, August 25, 2017

THE POLITICIZATION OF RACIAL HISTORY AND SPEECH

  Did anything ever really happen in history that all of us could agree on?  Is there anything that has happened at which we could all say, “that was evil, that was bad, and that should never have happened?”  Is everything up for interpretation?   If we agree certain events did happen do we have the right to define and interpret it only from our ideological position?  Do only the victors have the right, and the authority, to write history?  Do the losers have the authority to rewrite it?   Does the majority have the right in their privilege to assess, define, and articulate for everyone, or just themselves, or not even themselves if it offends the minority?

    Is anything really true?   How long are we allowed to keep words and phrases before someone tells us we can’t use them anymore, that they have become offensive and that the way they are used has taken on new meaning and we are no longer allowed to use them?  I confess that sometimes I am a bit confused by the independent and self-authorizing claim to redefinition. I am thrown into asking, “who the hell made you Noah Webster?”

    We have certain philosophical and political dynamics which put us into a veritable sea of a tidal lexicon.  Post modernism has sought to empower people (groups) by allowing them to control their own narrative.  This sounds democratic and just, until of course one realizes that controlling one’s own narrative is no guarantee of honesty, accuracy, or the absence of self-deception. 

   Political ideologues have realized that allowing the simple acknowledgment of historical tragedy forces people into owning shame.  To accept guilt allows the other party power and leverage, especially relating to social issues arising from that guilt.  Therefore it is politically expedient to deny certain parts of history, or to deny the ownership of the guilt of it, and in essence to rewrite it by not allowing it to be discussed in any open and engaging manner but only as vituperative demagoguery.

   All the abuses of fallacious arguments are evident in political discourse today, and much of it centers on race.  The issue of race and the history of race and racism in our country is a subject of much pain, anger, and guilt, or a tortured reactive denial.  The election of President Obama heightened the discourse, and racial feelings were often disguised and concealed behind political sentiments, although not as well hidden as some supposed.  Some political demagogues sought to silence any protest or complaint about racism as simple hucksterism.  Much of the populace became immune to any racial sensitivity, tolerance, or desire for understanding let alone reconciliation.  Certain politicians saw the issue of race as their Achilles’ heel and became hard hearted and steel faced about the subject, building a Teflon heart and a non-stick conscience, and their followers repeat the mantras of denial.

   Where is the great moral center of the country that was shaken by the actions of civil rights heroes and disgusted by civil rights villains, such as Bull Conner, George Wallace, the KKK, and those who bombed Sunday Schools?  That moral center allowed us to make national progress but the prominent political discourse of today is toward extremism and polarization, with an attendant deafness to anything said by the other side.  If people are not deaf they have become deft at redirection, where the deflection of criticism is simply by way of assigning the critic to the camp of some other political party or political person’s worst previous political act or opinion or indiscretion.  It seems to fail the comprehension of some that one could be opposed to certain policies of Trump and not have to be, at the same time, an advocate for the policies of a Clinton or Obama.

   This is not new of course, such radical division helped to create the Civil War, and that conflict continues to simmer in a rather consistent fight to revise its causes and see its main participants as heroes. Certainly it was about land and States Rights, but more accurately and primarily about a State’s right to not only allow slavery but to encourage its spread.  Certainly many of the men that fought for the South thought they were fighting against the tyranny of a Federal government and for “freedom,” while in actuality propping up those governments intent on continuing the chattel enslavement of others.

     Such incongruity is part of the American dilemma.  The Confederacy is full of tragic heroes who were fighting on the wrong side.  No veneration of their personal faith or gentility can wash their hands clean of the blood of their victims, either that of the slaves or of the nation’s soldiers committed to preserving the Union whose majority voted against the wishes of the slave owners. 

    As one pursues the dialogue about race and racial history one sees the ebb and flow of vocabulary, redefinition of terms, and the attempt as it were to create new realities.  There is a white majority, a dominating white culture, in America.  As with all dominant cultures in any society or nation it has privilege.  Some of it is intentional and intentionally protected by various individuals and groups, some of it is a de-facto reality that the majority assumes, accepts, and avoids confronting.  I don't believe cultural majorities can erase all privilege or normality, it comes with being a majority.

     However, when one peels back, as it were, the onion of history it is simply jaw dropping amazing how many economic, land and real estate, and political decisions in our local, state, and national past have been made on the basis of race and for the protection of white privilege.  Some of the benefactors of privilege are oblivious to it as a social reality and become offended, in a very American individualistic kind of way, to think that they are privileged at all. 

     What complicates the European-American experience is the historical social construct of race to create and perpetuate “white privilege.”  If I am not inherently superior to you it is hard to justify my taking your land, and taking you to another land against your will, and making you work for me in perpetuity – which means not only do I own you but I own your future and the generations that will come from you. Such arrogant beliefs of inherent superiority make people bestial. 

    How does the minority, the descendants of former slaves, speak about these things?  How can these things be spoken about and with members of the majority culture?   White dominance at one time forced a black man to hold down his head and his eyes and his only allowed response was a “yessa masa.”  Is the dialogue now only bitterness, is it hate, is it insult, is it condemnation?  If we were not Christians this might be an unsurprising historical outcome.

   Is the discussion in our current era only about white intransigence, ignorance, and the mockery of inept attempts for reconciliation?   Is reconciliation despised both as a process and a goal?  Is freedom become by definition a new segregation with a certain triumphalism and assumed moral superiority, but this time on the part of, and driven by, ethnic minorities?

    So the dictionary changes where (supposedly) racism can only be exercised or practiced by a majority person or institution that holds power, but cannot and will not be owned by a person of color, since by definition of being a minority they cannot actually hold power.   The dictionary changes whereby “racial reconciliation” is a white goal and is now considered a fiction since there was no “conciliation” in the first place.  The dictionary changes where any sociological reflection on minority neighborhoods or demographics that delves into pathologies of such communities is off limits as it produces shame and seems to deny the person-hood of those who live there.  So, the word "thug" cannot be used because it (supposedly) replaces the “n” word.  The dictionary changes as cross-cultural or multi-ethnic cannot be defined as such if a white person is in charge in any meaningful way.

    These are all current examples of problems within racial discussions, and some of it frankly is wrong, arbitrary, illogical, and fueled by an incipient racial agenda rather than a Christian one.  The only way to peace is through truth and love.  Redefining terms as a way of feeling powerful through provocation doesn’t always get us to peace.  Every time I use the word black or white to assign problems, patterns, or pathologies to a certain group it is incumbent on me to be careful and precise about my explanation.

     But not only that, because I am a follower of Jesus, because I am trying to be a peacemaker (which I believe one must be if they are to be faithful to Christ) then I must also be loving, because it is through loving each other that men know that we are His disciples.  This means I must be fair, and kind, and gentle, and seeking always to speak the truth in love.  If I am faithful to Jesus I must be humble, longsuffering, preferring others in honor, and intentionally seeking to be at peace with them.

   Can I not be angry at injustice and sin?  Not only can we, we must be, and this is part of telling the truth.   Yet, the way I tell the truth says much about my intention.  What is my agenda?   Where is the commitment to peacemaking?   Will I achieve it by humiliating or destroying you? Whether one wishes to use the term racial reconciliation or not, reconciliation is a message and ministry from God and through God’s people; peacekeeping is the way to blessing.

    As a believer I am intentionally stuck with a commitment and a submission to the Word of God, the final arbitrator of what is actually true, and right, and good.
James 3:17-18 says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

GIVING AWAY MY DAUGHTER

   This last weekend I, along with my wife, gave my daughter away in marriage.  Actually it was entirely at my daughter’s request and I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.  My wife and I have prayed for her since she was born that the Lord would provide the man for her to marry or at least make her content with His will, whatever God wanted.  I confess I thought she would get married, it was obvious she wanted to be married, and there were times I worried too much about it and had to decide to trust God about His decision for her.  In God’s providence so it has come about.   I am thankful.

    Several people have asked me over this last week, “How do you feel?”   Some wondered if it would be hard for me to stand up there and give the short homily the couple requested, or would I cry as I walked her down the aisle?  There was so much curiosity about (or noisiness into) my emotional state; though it did force me to reflect on what my emotions actually were and was I indeed showing them or not?

    I began to wonder if I should feel guilty for not feeling something tangible or identifiable about the whole event.  It took me a bit to remember something about myself, and that is that I am a person who often doesn’t know how to feel about things, or isn’t exactly sure how he is feeling at especially significant moments.  I have had this problem with grief in losing people I love, or the birth of my children, or even acknowledging or coming to grips with my fears.  When my kids were born women were all over the room gushing and asking how I felt and my reaction was that I had just met this person and didn’t even really know them yet.  

   I kind of feel that way about my son-in-law.  He seems like a great guy, I know nothing bad about him, and my daughter evidently likes him.  I don’t know him real well as of yet, and I am hoping to come to love him and have deep and positive feelings about him.  I don’t know if I would be over the moon about anybody driving off with my daughter, but I am happy he will be paying her bills in the future.  Not exuberant, just satisfied and relieved.

    Now, about my daughter, and I only have one of them, along with three sons.  She is the youngest of our family and the last one to be married.  If you were to ask if she was spoiled I would say, “I certainly hope so since we tried so hard.”  She occupies a singular space in our family, an intense interest and friend of my wife (and most of the women of her family), the one most to be protected and for whom to be provided.

   Yet, we found out early we could not do it, not adequately and not completely.  God took that away from me as her father when I stood helpless watching her go into a seizure.  All my man strength, all my education, all my readiness to do violence to an enemy, whatever money or connections I had meant nothing to what her own brain was doing to her.  The seizures would never stop until we got her to the emergency room so they could treat her.  As she began to grow up it affected her learning and so it would erase all her reading ability.  Her dyslexia meant our local Christian school could not help her.

    Helplessness in the face of something attacking your child forces you into an emotional displacement; is my emotion anger, is it guilt, is it shame, is it sorrow?  I was certainly terrified. I had a sister with a brain lesion and I couldn’t help her either.  My daughter was beautiful, almost as if in fulfillment of a prophecy as we named her after one of the three most beautiful women in the world, one of the daughters of Job.  So all of us in our family became even more protective of her, knowing where she was at all times, and who she might be with, and thinking of her needs.

   Before our eyes God showed us that the good results in her life would not be our fault, not to our glory, nor due to our efforts.   Doctors and medicine helped, good schools, teachers, and her own mother’s home schooling all helped, but it was the Lord’s mercy and grace that healed her and made her well.

     It was grace that gave her grit so that she worked hard, really hard, and pushed herself so that she now approaches finishing her Master’s degree.  It was grace that made her smart, and grace that made her kind, caring for others, delighting in children, concerned for and about the needs of others, intolerant of injustice and racial bigotry, and full of appreciation for things true and beautiful.  Her graciousness to intellectually interact with me is one of the great benefits to me in knowing her as an adult.

  So, I don’t know how to feel about it all.  I think you can tell at least one thing, I am immensely proud and pleased with her.  I count her as a profound friend, and someone who grew into that relationship with me.  Since the time, it seems long ago when I realized that I could not protect her, I had to turn her over to the Lord.  I had to consciously trust Him with my daughter’s life.  That means I don’t feel that I have lost her, but I do feel a pretty consistent amazement that God keeps giving her life, and blessings, and His faithfulness to watch over her.  With all that, I feel pretty good.

   

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Practical Suggestions for Redemptive Ethnic Unity

In light of the recent incident in Charlottesville I wanted to follow up on a friend’s request for a few suggestions concerning the pursuit of redemptive ethnic unity. I define redemptive ethnic unity as the tangible unity God’s people are called to experience and enjoy in the local church. This isn’t exhaustive as each point could be developed further. Hopefully, it will provide a good starting point for those who wish to pursue the authentic unity of God’s people.
1. Begin by asking yourself the following question: Does the church I serve need people from various ethnic groups to demonstrate a biblical, relevant witness to my community, my fellow church members and our children?
2. Remember this is a gospel issue since it's God's express will to bring people from different ethnic groups into one multi-ethnic worshiping community called the church. (Gen. 12:3; 18:18-19; Ps. 72:8-11; Isa. 2:1-5; Jer. 3:15-17; John 10:16; Ch. 17; Acts 2; Eph. 2:11-3:21; Rev. 7)
3. Pray about these things consistently. Through prayer God does some miraculous things in the human heart.
4. Cultivate the practice of thinking redemptively instead of ideologically. For example, redemptive thinking leads us to consider our responsibility to pursue unity across ethnic lines. Ideological thinking can lead to complacency with the status quo. Redemptive thinking emphasizes biblical virtues like sacrifice, love, humility, kindness and compassion. Ideological thinking stresses American virtues like individual rights, fairness, merit and tolerance.
5. Pray about working toward more ethnic unity within your local church. It can do little good and seem hypocritical for us to say that 'all we need is the gospel' if the gospel's power can't begin to reflect God's will in this area within our churches.
6. Read some insightful books on the topic such as Free at Last? By Dr. Carl Ellis, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. Edited by Dr. Anthony Bradley, Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Heal Us Emmanuel, (Edited by Rev. Doug Serven) One New Man by Dr. Jarvis Williams and Winning the Race to Unity: Is Racial Reconciliation Working? Clarence E. Shuler. 
7. Listen to podcasts like Pass the Mic and Truth's Table to gain some solid, biblical insight into these issues.
8. Consider attending the LDR conference. LDR is a yearly gathering on Labor Day weekend that focuses on biblically based redemptive ethnic unity and social justice.
9. Be sure to have actual face to face, and not just Facebook conversations with minorities who tend to have a different view from most people in your church or circle of friends about this.
10. Consider coordinating a church effort to establish a relationship with church of a different ethnicity. You can begin with joint worship services and then move to joint men's, women's and youth retreats. One of the goals is to build genuine relationships with a group of God's people. These relationships will enable you to talk about your lives, our common faith, along with some of the ways we differ in our approach to race.
11. Learn the history of conservative evangelicals on race relations from the late 19th into the late 20th century. It will help to place our current challenges into context. You can begin with books like God's Long Summer (Charles Marsh) and For a Continuing Church (Dr. Sean Michael Lucas).
12. Related to that is the importance of learning about African-American history during this period. The following is a sample of where you can begin: Rev. Dr. King's Letter from A Birmingham Jail, The Souls of Black Folk by Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and the video documentary series Eyes on the Prize. Eyes on the Prize followed the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 through 1965.
13. Check out our art. A people's art is a window into their souls. Read poetry, listen to music, attend theater productions and movies. The following is a very short list to get started. The characters in these stories examine African-Americans as they struggle with issues of dignity, identity and what it means to be human in America. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Fences by August Wilson, Crash, Boyz In the Hood, Precious, Twelve Years a Slave, 42, Selma, and Ragtime (musical).
 14. Finally, remember that redemptive ethnic unity matters to the living God. As such we can trust in Him to do the impossible in this area. Take some time to carefully read Eph. 2:11-4:6. See what the passage teaches about our unity across ethnic lines and then reflect on Paul’s exclamation of praise concerning God’s power to bring it to pass for His own glory. Finally, note how God has determined to receive this glory from His multi-ethnic worshiping community called the church and His Son throughout eternity.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Joyfully in Christ, 
Pastor Lance

Monday, August 7, 2017

RAGING UNBELIEF

Raging unbelief, but I’m not talking about atheists.  I’m not referring to skeptics, agnostics, or any unbeliever who struggles to have or understand faith.  I’m speaking about myself.  I’m classified as a believer, as a Christian, Reformed, orthodox, and conservative in my theological confession.  Yet, it seems God has decided to face me with my raging unbelief.  It is raging because it deprives me of all the things I say I believe and happens almost before I know it.
   
   Most of us know what temptation feels like.  As a male human being I know what it feels like to be tempted to lust.  Actually, quite often in my life I just bypassed the temptation and fell into sin.  I know I must have been tempted but it seemed I just sinned blithely and quickly without putting up any kind of a fight.  I am reminded of the young man described in Proverbs 7:22, “All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.”  Did you notice the, “all at once,” line? 

   The sin I am dealing with lately is not lust, though it is just as bad.  I am tempted not to believe God, and I can fall “all at once.”  I did not recognize my sin as unbelief right away.  I was not conscious of saying in my heart or mind, “I don’t believe you God, I don’t trust you!”  I don’t think I would ever say that directly to God.  It would just shock me to say that.  I think though that is indeed what I have done.

    I didn’t have the opportunity to be raised by my father.  He left my family when I was young.  That made me very curious about him.  Later in life I did get to know him, at least to some degree.  I also was able to get some insight into his life from his siblings and relatives.  I wanted to know what strengths he had, and what weaknesses.  I wondered how I was like him, if at all.  Is there any disposition in my personality that comes from my genetics, any proneness to certain behavior?

    I am not saying here that my dad was all bad.  I am still thankful for his eventual reconciliation with me and the welcome he gave to my wife and children.  However, I found out that my dad took offense at anything he felt was a slight or an insult.  He would cut off relationships and not look back.  Once his pride was hurt he tended to avoid any exposure to getting hurt again.  To others in the family it was almost irrational.  They put up with a lot of his nonsense, but he wouldn’t put up with even honest and well-meaning rebuke or criticism. 

   One of the constant reminders in the book of Proverbs is to listen to rebuke, and those who won’t be corrected are “stupid.”  Proverbs 12:1, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”  Whenever I read such verses I pray that the Lord will help me listen, that I would not resist or run away from correction or rebuke.  Evidently I am still sometimes, often times, stupid, and I need to keep praying.

    Whenever I feel disrespected, dismissed, or “dissed” I tend to withdraw inside myself.  I don’t like it and I have, too many times in the past, covered myself with self-pity, anger, and bitterness.  My ego and pride can be bruised so quickly, and there have been times when I just went into a dark cloud for days over it.  I was too proud to admit it was all about my pride.

   Why should anyone’s insults, or even a totally unintended slight, bother me so much?  I have to admit, (and this is hard because I tend to avoid any kind of psycho-babble description of myself), that very deep in my soul, way down deep in the view I have of myself, I feel worthless.  My inner belief is that I am innately and essentially not good enough, I will never measure up to those who are truly worthy of honor, and I have a desperate craving to be esteemed. Now, I have hardly ever articulated those thoughts about my inner beliefs.  I think I am too arrogant to go there, and I don’t like that description of myself.  It just makes me sound so pathetic.

   I can find no other explanation as to why I get so bent out of shape so quickly over feelings of disrespect.  Maybe I think if I was worth something my dad would not have left me, maybe I have a short man’s need to over-compensate, maybe I feel the shame of my sinful failures (and I deserve that shame), maybe I am frustrated in my ambitions and feel like a failure compared to the achievements of others?  These are all embarrassing but possible emotions and motives.

   Today was one of those days when a phrase jumped into my mind as I prayed for God to straighten out my thinking.  That phrase was, “raging unbelief.”  I tell other people they need to keep reading Romans 8, and here I am acting like none of it is true.  It can happen so quickly, by a phrase or a word, and the Devil pours on the hurt, the sensitivity, and I run as fast as I can away from the truth of God’s Word, and I know if left to myself, I would run right out of and on my family and friends.

    Would I, could I, risk so many relationships, to simply bathe in my own hurt?  I know I could, and I know I would, except that my anchor holds.  It is not me holding onto Jesus but Him holding onto me.

   What have I stopped believing?  To give up and abandon all the wonderful things I believe about God and what he says about how he feels and declares as to my relationship with him is raging unbelief.  I believe my sins are forgiven and that he bore all my shame.  I cannot be blackmailed by any of the truth of my history because it hangs on the cross and is buried in the tomb.  I believe he gave me power to become a son of God because I believed in his name.  I believe I am beloved and a son, and He is my father.  I believe I am a friend of God.  I believe I am an heir, and a joint heir with Christ.  I believe that I sit with Christ in heavenly places and that all creation groans waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, and I believe that is talking about me and my future vindication.

   I do believe Romans 8, and so should every true believer, and most of all when we are tempted to disbelieve because of the worthlessness we feel deep inside.  “What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosenIt is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  Romans 8:31-34


   In the end it doesn’t matter what I believe about myself, someone greater has changed my essential identity and definition, and He calls me to believe that. In the end it doesn’t matter what the Devil says, or enemies, or even friends or family.  It is all about what He has said, and keeps saying.  I’m feeling better.

Monday, July 24, 2017

SENSITIVITY TO RACIAL HURT AND GUILT

On a recent weekend I was forced to remember how sensitive racial and ethnic feelings are within some people.   It was an interesting juxtaposition of one black man and one white man on two consecutive days in two different places, providing not so much a contrast but a similarity.

   I will tell you in brief about the incidents and then seek to draw some conclusions, and I do this as much for my benefit as well as for yours.

   The African American brother is a former drug addict and ex-con, who has struggled much since getting out of prison in being able to find and keep a job.   He was going church to church to find help, and one church finally sent him to a PCA church (almost as a way of dumping him on a church they resented) but it turned out to be a good thing.  The PCA pastor who pursued a relationship with this brother really began to help him by taking him to a potential employer, vouching for him, supplying transportation for him, and befriending him.  So this black man is now a Christian and growing in his faith.

   He had been to places seeking jobs, and felt insulted with what he had been offered, or insulted in receiving no offer at all.  So, now there were a few of us going out to dinner and we went to a restaurant where he had applied for a job and been rejected, and as soon as we entered he began talking about it.  During our time there the all white staff interacted with us, one lady identifying herself as being from the south as she tried to make some kind of connection with a few of us who were from Tennessee.

    At one point this lady came out from the kitchen and asked us if we had any “black eyed peas” on our table.   The one African American in our group, the man who had already felt disrespected by the people of this establishment became angry.  He let it be known to the rest of us that he felt she had said this as a direct comment about himself, and he because so bothered by it he had to go outside and have a cigarette.

    Now, it is unknown as to exactly what she meant.  The best take on it was she wasn’t speaking about the brother at all, and the worse take was she was indeed trying to needle him.  It was not obvious enough for anyone else to feel it was a racial insult, but the brother did.  When he came back in all of us at the table were a little unsure about what to say, how to deal with it, or how to calm him down before things got worse.  He certainly didn’t need any more legal trouble, yet his feelings were raw and real.

   What followed next was a pretty good time of facing the possibility that this was the worst case, and asking the question as to how we, and especially our brother of color, should deal with it.  How do we deal with our enemies, how do we deal with those who sin against us, how and when should we turn the other cheek?  We felt it would have been wrong to be dismissive about his hurt or his feelings. 

    This brother has truly struggled and suffered in trying to change from his past, and has done very well over the last year in working hard to make a life for himself, and to grow in Christ.  Far too often white folks have explained away racial bias and racial insult on the part of other white folks, working way too hard to come up with some alternate explanation or justification for why a white person said or did what they did.  Attempting to dismiss and deflect the legitimate concerns, feelings, and anger of those disrespected adds further insult to injury.

   Yet, some situations are ambiguous, they can be all about perspective and interpretation.  So, our discussion centered on what any of us ought to do, as followers of Jesus, when we are indeed attacked.   It was not about, “don’t be so sensitive,” or “stop playing the race card.”  It was about the reality that the world is truly fallen, full of trouble and danger, and unfortunately, full of obnoxious people who don’t mean us well.  Thankfully he decompressed a bit, and I had one more experience of how one stray word, phrase, look, or attitude can set off a fire storm, even if it is unintended, or especially if it is intended.

   So, the next day I spoke to a bunch of white men.  The crowd was completely white.   I was in fact thanking them for their support for planting a church in a poor, racially mixed community.  I was trying to inform them of how hard it might be, of how long they might need to stay committed, and of how different this church might be from their own.

    Along the way I made remarks about our usual practice in the PCA is to plant middle class churches and not do much evangelism, but to take advantage of new suburban communities and transfer growth, and to give those new plants just 3-5 years to make it.  I also spoke about how, in a mixed community, the worship might be culturally different, and God help me, I mentioned the Regulative Principal of Worship (although in a positive sense but with contextual appreciation, and attempting to be humorous, which sometimes gets me into trouble). 

    Afterwards, one of those white men, came and got in my face.  He was angry and began to rebuke me for attacking the middle class, from whom most of the money would come to help plant this church and I "shouldn’t bite the hand that fed me."  He was offended by my remarks about worship, and he was offended that I assumed their churches didn’t care about racial minorities as they had a few in their own church, and middle class people needed Jesus too.  He also thought I was referring to white southern churches and shouldn’t think the church (here, up North) had the same racial problems.  This was his perspective and interpretation of my remarks, with which in all honesty I could not agree that what he thought I had said I had actually said.  

    What was similar about these two incidents was the emotion of anger, one that had been directed at others, and one that was now directed at me.  Another similarity was the issue of interpretation and perspective. In both situations others didn’t take it the way the person being angry took it.  By way of contrast, one brother seemed to listen and the other didn’t.

     I was a bit amused that the Devil was tempting me to not take my own advice (which was to not return insult for insult), because I do feel insulted when my words are misconstrued.  In God’s mercy I tried to humble myself, listen to his concerns, assure him I didn’t mean to insult (which when telling the truth I sometimes do but by no means maliciously, at least this time) and sought to make peace with him.  I’m not quite sure how it worked out in his heart, but at least he didn’t hit me.

   It might be some people need to wear warning labels over their heads: WARNING –this person might explode or go off at any moment, and your best intentions might be misinterpreted, and you should be careful to remember that some people have a lot of racial hurt and others a lot of racial guilt and they don’t know what to do with it. Others of us need an internal warning that reminds us that there is racism, and some are guilty, and to be dismissive of it makes things worse.

END.