Monday, December 31, 2012

My Wish Is That in 2013 You Would Catch Fire!

    This is written as the clock runs out on 2012.  I write on a theme that I am sure I have broached several times before but as we face a new year it comes back to mind with renewed vigor.  The context for my subject begins with your relationship, my relationship, with Jesus Christ.  The context could equally be the point of authenticating your life, or giving it meaning, or doing something worthwhile before you die.  The passing of time gives urgency to that thought.
   But I want to begin with Jesus, because it is my understanding that He is what gives our lives meaning, and He is the One who gives them possibility.  Now if Jesus is not God, if he is not the Christ who is come to save us from our sins, then the issue of giving your life purpose and meaning is still relevant.  If He is the Son of God, and if He is therefore equal with God, and if He and He alone is the way to salvation, forgiveness, hope, redemption, and heaven, and if He is the center of all things than nothing else is relevant except as it relates to the Son of Glory.  So, I write upon the theme that since Christ is the meaning of our lives (or else you are wasting yours) then the question arises as to what will you do for Him, how will you live for Him?
    The Gospel of grace does not make this an irrelevant question, at least it didn't for the Apostle Paul, who seemed to live his life as if every second counted and how he lived it counted.  If your understanding of grace is to live without urgency or purpose, but just enjoying His imputed righteousness, then I don't think  you understand grace or righteousness.  Pardon me for having to make a digression about this but I am afraid one might fall into the trap of creating a false choice between a life of intensity, and a life of dependency on grace.  I don't think you can sustain a life of spiritual or ministry intensity without depending on the grace of God to help you live and give you victory, but intense you should be.   This is not the same as a life of anxiety or works righteousness or falsely trying to make up for  your own inadequacies, or trying to prove something to yourself or your parents.  Real grace should wash that out of your system.
    The Holy Spirit has to be the One who constantly helps you figure out the difference, and constantly helps you repent when the focused life and strong work effort are done in the flesh.  It means staying in the Word, staying broken in your need of Him, taking life from the Vine in Whom  you live.  A life of intensity certainly doesn't mean a life without Sabbath, or without joy and enjoyment.
    My message today comes as a preacher who loves the Reformed Faith, and to some degree understands the priesthood of every believer, who appreciates in some measure the value of all honest vocation in giving glory to God, who to some degree understands the issues of giftedness and calling.  I also have some understanding of the failure of many in the Reformed camp, especially pastors and teachers of theology, who have failed to light a fire in the hearts of our young people because they model a theology that it says it doesn't really matter what you do, that the calling to the ministry is no more significant than any other calling, that time is not a matter of life and death. 
   So this is my New Year's message, and that is that time does matter, what you do or choose not to do does matter, and it matters for the souls of men and women, boys and girls, and it matters for cultures, and nations, and the Will of God.  It is as if we have settled for all practical matters for a theology that is simply about our quality of life, the raising of our Covenant children, our materialistic comfort, our security.  Anyone who shakes the tree too much becomes suspect, and we suspect their Reformed credentials.
    There may be some who have honest theological difference here, but I suspect most live the life they live not because they are theologically convinced nothing is urgent, that God does not bring judgment (at least they live as if it is certainly not imminent) but rather, and forgive me if I am too blunt, but because they are too self centered, too lazy, too cowardly.  One other category may be helpful, but you will forfeit that after reading this, and that is some are just too ignorant.
    I have spoken with some who have wondered if God were calling them to "risky" ministry.  Should they go into military chaplaincy, should they plant a church in the inner city?  I am non-plussed when I hear them excusing themselves because such ministries would affect their quality of life, their time with or absence from the children.  Is it wrong to ask believers what price they would pay, would sacrifice would they make, to answer the question posed to Isaiah, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"   So that they might say, "Here am I, send me!"
    The Lord is closer now than when we first believed and we are to redeem the time because the days are evil.  We live in an age of such "grace preaching" that if God were judging our nation or the world no one would admit it because they don't want to give God a bad reputation.  Paul says because He feared God he tried to persuade men.  Maybe we all need such a fresh vision of hell, a fresh vision of damnation, a fresh understanding of bondage to sin, that we would be on fire for God before our neighbors are on fire for eternity.
    Whatever job you do I hope you do it for the glory of God, and I hope your life is a strong witness to the love of Jesus in you and through you.  Yet, let me say that I don't know if you can do anything more meaningful in life than to give your life to full time ministry.  I am not advocating a Church dominated by and for clergy.  I am advocating a holy vocation that affects individuals, families, and communities more than anything else one can do;  if it is done right, if it is holistic, if it is truly Biblical, if it is Spirit filled, if it is one of compassion and love, if it is passionate, if it is prophetic in its call for justice and mercy. (I can just hear some hating this idea, but I won't abandon or soften it so we can all justify our middle class ambitions).
    I am calling for a change in our Reformed culture that gets in touch with the urgency of the Gospel of the Kingdom message, that has a missionary mandate, that has evangelistic fervor, that has a passion and love for the people, all because some men and women have met Jesus and their souls caught on fire and they can't for the life of them have that fire put out, and nor would they want that.  May the rest of your life count, for the One who gave that life to you, and gave it back again.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wishing All Christians Could Experience Church Life That Makes A Difference.

    As I reflect on my years as a pastor I think about what binds and bonds a church community together.  As Christians in the church we make covenants with each other, we confess common creeds, we take membership vows, and if we have been members of the same church for some years we have "gone to church" a lot, together.  Some of us have gone to the same church and sat in the same worship services for years.  Yet, some of us have experienced little community between ourselves, and our relationship has been thin.  We may have common memories of something the Pastor did or said, but for too many of us it is like all having seen the same movie.
    Cults go after this lack of community and hold up the idealism of what church ought to be and their challenge is appealing.  There are of course some who have lived in legitimate Christian community, and there are many wonderful things to say about that, as well as some very practical difficulties.   Yet, it seems to me that the common church goer has missed out on many of the things that are available to make their church life richer and fuller.  Some of the blame for this lies with the member but unfortunately I would have to lay some of the blame on many pastors who have failed to provide for their people some things that can make life in the church intensely fulfilling.
   Of what have your memories been made; from family, from neighborhood, from school?   When you sit down to reminisce do common stories of church life come up, do you have any?  If you don't then this is a symptom that your church life has been relatively empty of experience that grips you.  Now I certainly believe that a strong Christian life means you have spent numerous hours in worship, and that in worship you should have been focused on God and His Word.  I hope that the Word has just washed over your soul and that the knowledge of it has permeated your mind.  However, I also think that if you haven't experienced your Christian life in meaningful community in the body of Christ your theology is not as practical as it should be, and you are probably not as thankful for "church" as you ought to be.
    I am not so much speaking here about emotional interaction in worship, which is a valid subject in itself, but about a lifestyle of love, sharing, fun, common reflection, discussion, challenge, and mission through the agency of the church.   One of the things that really drove this home to me was my experience in the Army.
    During my time as a Senior Pastor I was also an Army Reserve Chaplain.  Every month I went away for a week-end, every year I spent at least two weeks with my unit in the field.  When I was mobilized for war I spent months on end with those same folks.  Time with people, common experiences with people, cemented our relationships and memories together.  No, time by itself didn't bind us together, many of them were not believers, and not really my friends.  I would say some were actually opposed to what I stood for, and didn't like me.  Maybe if were honest I could say the same about some of my church members, but thankfully not too many.  The time spent living together combined with friendship did create a bond.
    My point is that I realized I was growing closer to my soldiers than many of my church members, and that for one simple reason, I spent more time living with the soldiers for two weeks than I would ever spend with some of my members.  I remembered that as a young person growing up in a church I had become close to the teens in my youth group, and to the adult leaders, because we spent a lot of time together in mission, on evangelistic trips, on retreats, in camp
    I have too often felt sad for some of the youth and members of my church because as the years went by they consistently opted not to experience mission, ministry, or devotion in meaningful time spent together.  Some of their "options" were due to conflict with school activities, sports, or just because they looked upon the activities of the church as another social option.   Church members, families and parents of youth who could have, and in my opinion should have, steered themselves and their families into experiences of substance with the church neglected it and thus today have no common memories of mission, of sacrifice, even of conflict with other believers in the midst of trying to get ministry and mission done.  That conflict is great training for realizing the power of God's grace in the midst of spiritual warfare on the mission field.
   Those who have committed themselves to being part of a church plant team, or the initial core group, also get to participate in some intense experiences that will forever color for them what church is supposed to be; shared hope, shared sacrifice, shared fear, shared prayer, and shared victory.
    One of the reasons for this may be a lack of leadership from pastors who have little sense of mission except to think that the mission of the people they pastor is simply to listen to him preach, or defend theology, or be proficient in the courts of the church.  Some pastors can't seem to read the Bible, then look at the world (their neighborhood, city, nation, or the nations) and put the two things together so that they could coherently tell their people what needs to be done.  I wish I could say that I was as successful as I should have been in inspiring my people to be caught up in such a passion for the Kingdom of God that all of them experienced what it means to be in a church that is obedient to the Great Commission, obedient in practicing justice and mercy, and collectively being that city on a hill whose light must not be hidden under a bushel.  I think I can say the opportunites for experience and memories in following the Lamb were at least provided.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


    I would love to see, and hear, a national conversation about guns.  I am afraid however it will take the pattern of most of our national conversations, which are not so much conversations but the staking out of positions and then stating, publishing, and screaming them at each other.  This is exactly the way we have handled the Obama presidency, with its attendant situational conflicts, such as the fiscal cliff,  homosexual marriage, religious rights when it comes to women’s health insurance, and now guns.
    I suppose our conversations could begin with the understanding that not everyone in the conversation will agree with the other parties involved.  I am not sure how one gets the other party to listen, except to go into a conversation committed to doing just that for oneself, and humbly asking the other party to try and do the same.  I am afraid the conversation about guns will suffer from the same extreme position taking that has been evident with just about every other social issue in this last generation. It is something we have just got to change, or else every social and political issue becomes a matter of winners and losers in terms of ideology, but not necessarily in terms of society.
    Previously I have written about the gun violence that affects the inner city, about gangs, and how such violence is a national moral issue, not simply a racial or neighborhood problem.  Recently I noticed an article in our daily paper, from what was the traditional Conservative side of the editorial page, which celebrated the fact that overall violence had gone down in our community at the same time that we had an alarming increase in shootings and murders in the inner city.  This Libertarian editor suggested that we basically create a “red light zone” where things like drugs, prostitution, and the attendant violence of the inner city go on without bothering the rest of the city.  This position I personally take to be immoral, even racist, and an abandonment of striving for the common good.
    Politics has ceased to be the art of the possible and become the art of the intransigent, waiting until the sentiment is swung so the other side can be buried and their voice no longer heard.  Now I do believe that some things are right and some things are wrong, I usually try to hold my convictions out of conscience, and not opportunity.  It seems to me that no one really believes anyone does that anymore, it is only leverage for power, only testing the wind to see which way it is blowing, waiting until personal ambition can be realized.
    It might be a good idea to start with the assumption that though there will always be opportunists, and those who seem to betray their own conscience, many people in positions of influence actually do have opinions of conscience.  They are sincere, and even though in my opinion they are sincerely wrong, we get nowhere by simply ignoring them.  I would add that we get nowhere by refusing to listen to their arguments or concerns.  I think this is even more important once your side has power in their hands.
    Politicians are great at stating that we should put politics aside and do something for the good of America, and what they mean of course is that the other side should put politics aside and help our side, which knows better what is good for America, to get on with it.  One would think crisis would push us towards listening, toward meaningful dialogue, toward a commitment not to leave the room until we have some solution.  But no, our leaders have decided they don’t represent the American people, but their party, their constituency which they have helped to gerrymander so that the electorate they represent is actually their ideological base.  They have failed to represent all of their people, they have failed to represent all of our country.
    Politics always represents great opportunity to do something good, if not great.  It is especially important in a democracy to protect the poor and the helpless, to guard their rights.  Did I read that right, as it flashed up on the television screen, that we lose ten thousand people a year to gun violence?  How many of them are children?  How many of them are folks gone to the other life by instant surprise who had nothing to do with the perpetrator?  How much shock, grief, and mourning must there be from those who loved the victim?
   So what will we do, what can we do as a society?  I say take your pre-conceived convictions and carry them to the table, and put them on the table, and listen to the other side, and agree that something meaningful will be decided before you leave the room.  We will never completely agree with the other, I assume, but surely there is something in a national conversation about guns and violence with which we can agree. 
   We just had a shooting in a school.  Maybe we should have a very practical curriculum about guns and violence in schools.  It might be a good thing to start talking to children in as many places as we can about the potential for harm, and death, from guns and a gun culture.  Maybe we should have a national concern about violent video games, and kids who become isolated.  Maybe we should have a conversation about how divorce and abandonment of children is creating a generation that seeks self-actualization through a false sense of security through the power of violence, with the illusory instant gratification of making believe one has a gun or actually using a gun.  So much of this national scourge is simply due to the absence of fathers.
    Maybe we need to realize that trying to save money by closing down mental institutions has unleashed a wave of individuals who continue to demonize and terrorize their own families.  Maybe we need to realize that guns in responsible hands can protect us from those with guns who have evil intent?   Maybe we should realize that regulations about some guns, about some ways of buying them, about some of those who want to buy them but shouldn’t be allowed to, might be good for all of us?
    As someone who enjoys the freedom to own a weapon, as someone who has enjoyed using them, as someone who knows there are moments where they can be rightly and justly used, I think we need to have a talk, and we need to talk until we have some positive things we can agree on.  Let me make it even plainer, if you are a member of the NRA, call your national office and tell them to shut up until they are willing to go have a meaningful conversation with our national leaders.  Not abandoning their principles, but finding out where we can all agree and then doing something together.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Radicalizing the Middle Class.

    I remember in Seminary, after I had preached my Senior sermon in Chapel, one of my professors gave me a low grade for it.  I went to see him about it since all the other professors had given me fairly good grades on it.  I wasn't sure if his concern was about my exegesis, my hermeneutic, my structure, my delivery, what?  It turned out he didn't like my application.
    He told me my indictment should have been against the rich and not the middle class of which he was a solidly established member.  In some ways I think his comment was probably one of the best compliments ever made to my preaching, no matter the grade it was obvious I had struck home.
    You might be wondering about my taking on an economic class in a sermon.  Let me assure you that I don't think there is anything innately evil or sinful about having money, being rich or middle class.  In fact it has been my goal to help every poor person I know to become middle class, at least.  I would wish all of my church members, all or my family, all of my friends to be millionaires, and to at least tithe faithfully.
    However, as I read the Bible I realize that God calls us to a deeper level of commitment and sacrifice than I believe is generally seen in today's Evangelical church.  While I see that I also see the great and dismal disparity between the people of the suburban/hipster urban middle class church and the poor in our country.  It is not just the disparity in income or life style, it is also the choices that those who can afford to make those choices continue to make.  The choice to isolate one self from the poor, to isolate one self from communities of need, to protect and isolate our children from bad schools and bad children, to focus our congregational giving on our own church buildings and trappings, to continue to give our congregations more toys, more ambiance, more convenience.
   It is as if we are corporately banging on the gate of Eden to get back to an idyllic life, to somehow realize the Millennium through affluence. 
    I am writing this soon after the massacre that took place in the suburban community of Newtown, CT where so many children were killed.  It was a horrible thing on a horrible day and my comments here are not meant in anyway to diminish the evil and pain of it.  But it might teach at least one lesson, and that is that there really are no safe places.  My call is to the people of God's Church to go ahead and risk what might come to you anyway, to pursue those who need you instead of running away from them.
    Why not go after (rebuke, condemn, etc) the rich?  OK, if you are rich consider yourself gone after but I would venture to mention that we seem to have a lot more middle class church members than we do rich ones, and it is not just your money that I seek.  I want your body, your skills, you social skills, your connections, your energy and physical strength, your education.  I want them to be shared with the poor and not just indulged for yourself.
    What about my quality of life, what about the the responsibility I have to raise a Covenant family, what about the freedom to enjoy my hard work and that I was diligent, or my parents were thrifty and stayed together in marriage and gave me the blessings of a decent life?  Why should I have to share with those who parents were unfaithful, who produced illegitimate children, with those who did not discipline themselves to study, did not finish school, and refused to learn how to work hard?  Why can't I find a decent neighborhood, don't I deserve it if I have worked for it?
    I have no practical arguments to make, only Biblical ones.  I only have models and examples of Jesus, I only have the concern of God.  I condemn no one for hard work or effort.  I condemn no one for thrift, for self-discipline, for faithfulness in marriage, for study and achievement.  In fact all of these things are necessary for the poor to eventually truly change their lives.  I only wonder who will teach them, who will model for them these things, who will be able to help them change their value systems or to value what is better than simply trying to survive day to day?
    I think the Evangelical middle class is too secure in its justification of self-centeredness.  What you deserve is not the same as what you should do, or how you should live, not if you have decided to follow Jesus.  Doesn't he call on us to give up ourselves, to take up our cross, to lay down our lives?  If the argument against this is that we all can't be heroes, and that the normal Christian life should be church attendance and faithful service in the choir, and that it is even wrong to load ourselves with guilt about trying to change the world then somewhere I think we read from different Bibles. 
    I don't think the answer to poverty is the work of a few brave inner city martyrs, who sell out their lives to live among the poor and become professional Christian radicals.  We need some of them, but even a few of them can be irritating.  We need a generalized radical attitude among ordinary Christians.  We need whole congregations who desire to include the poor among their ranks.  We need middle class churches willing to share their budgets with inner city congregations; not to give them pretty curtains, but help to feel the needy among them.  We need tutors, we need mentors, we need those who will create industry and business that is labor intensive, we need friends of children who will help them through their lives.  I speak to black and white Christians here, since we have plenty of both races who are middle class and have become irrelevant in their life style for changing anything or anybody.
    I understand that a process is necessary, that first we have mercy tourism, "mercy drive-bys" as it were in which Christians get a taste of different communities.  If our mercy efforts remain that then it is voyeurism, and not ministry.  We need to grow from mercy involvement, to mercy effectiveness, to developmental change.  This has to be done with submission and respect to indigenous leadership and not with paternalistic and patronizing attitudes.  It has to come with sharing of our resources.
   The Lord calls on Pastors to command those who are rich in this present world to be rich in good deeds.  Only Jesus can call on a rich man to sell all that he has and give to the poor, and to follow Christ.  I have been happy to know a few rich folks who are extremely generous, who take their discretionary wealth and target large sums of it to help the poor and to facilitate ministry among the poor.  Most of us don't have that kind of money.  But we all certainly have some discretion, about our money and about our time, and about where and how we do ministry.  I think we all will have to think beyond just the discretionary to the sacrificial if we are really going to spread the Kingdom among the poor.  This is as true for the rich as for the middle class. 
    Radicalizing the middle class means middle class people begin to understand ministry to, among, and for the poor is not optional.  Preaching the Gospel to the poor is not optional, it is the commission of Jesus.  Loving them and defending them is not optional and not a life style choice, it is obedience.
Oh, there it is, being radical is simply being obedient to the One who bids us to come and follow Him.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Will We Be Safe From Our Enemies?

In Zechariah's Song, which is in the Gospel of Luke chapter one, verses 67 to 79, we hear the father of John the Baptist prophesying about what his son, and about the Messiah for Whom his son will prepare the way, will do.  Actually one could say that it is really and actually about what God will do for Israel, for His people, for us.  "Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us-..." it says in verse 71.  "To rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days," it says in verses 74 to 75.
    I think of the history of the Jewish people and how much they have suffered.  I think about the slaughter of children, in Bethlehem by King Herod, and in Newtown, CT, and in all the stupid acts of genocide and war in places like Rwanda, Liberia, Eastern Congo, and it hurts me to use this phrase in describing places where children have been butchered and murdered and that is in this little abbreviation, "etc."
   Et cetera is a blasphemous and obscene word to describe a continuous string of such monstrous reality.  Unfortunately we are reduced to that reality, that this is one of many heart crushing shocks, and it leads me to ask where the salvation is that Zechariah sings about?  Is this a mystic inspiring hope to push us all on to a better day, that if we just keep believing and hoping we might someday see this actually happen?  Is it like the sentimentality of Christmas that so many secular artists sing about, that there is some kind of sweet and heart warming magic on Christmas day that will make everything all right?
    I think Zechariah serves us well to remind us that we do have enemies, that there are those who hate us, that we often live in fear.  I don't like fairy tales that create illusions of safety.  I don't like the denial of poverty, hatred, racism, and the murder of innocents by using banal sentimentality.  Since the world cannot come to grips with a real God, but hides itself in fairy tales like Santa Claus, elves, and good feelings of holiday, it cannot help but produce more God denial in the face of tragedy.  "How could there be a God and let evil like this happen?" they wonder.  So they create ostrich holes of sentimental belief in nothing but phrases like "believe in yourself" and "children are the answer" and "we are the world."  We are the world all right, and we rape, kill, and murder each other, and the babies too.
    Yet Zechariah is used as a prophet to promise us salvation, and he uses an interesting phrase in verse 77, "to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins."  I think the people of the world, the Jews, the oppressed, the fearful, and those fed up with the reality that none of us are safe from madmen, want salvation; salvation from all the violence and the fear that it causes. This I think would most likely include all of those paying attention to reality.  I want to live without fear, to be rescued from the hands of my enemies, and from all who hate me. 
    But the "knowledge of salvation" might be different from simple salvation.  Since John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, called the Christ, and this same Jesus was crucified and not spared from violence or the hatred of his enemies, how then can he save me from fear, hatred, and the hands of my enemies since he couldn't save himself?  I want a bigger gun, a stronger door, and a safer neighborhood and here I am offered the "forgiveness" of my sins.
    The Gospel reality in its clear eyed view of the monstrous nature of people says the knowledge of salvation comes through the forgiveness of sins.  So people are not naturally good and we are not harmonious in the world but both the victims and the victimizers at the same time.  If there is sin that we must be forgiven for then we must be sinners, and if one reads the Bible clearly then one sees that sin is punished by death and must always be so, and if we are to be forgiven someone still must die for our sins, and that is why Jesus indeed did come, to die for our sins. 
    It would be nice to believe that we are not the sinners, not the violent, not the depraved.  We don't need forgiveness but protection, we don't need someone dying for us but fighting for us against those other people who somehow became evil and just how that happened we are not too sure.  God seems sure, He is sure we are the problem and not just victims.  So he provides salvation by coming to die for our sins and forgiving us, and in that he gives us a "knowledge of salvation" that it is and must be something more than protection from evil, since this world seems to have so much of that.  It is, and this is more permanent and extensive than temporal security, salvation from God's judgment on us personally, and a taste and a  part of that judgement is living in such a screwed up world that is broken and full of potentially dangerous, catastrophically dangerous, individuals, tribes, nations, and governments.
    Where then is the hope, where is the good stuff that Zechariah seems to promise?  It is in the reality that though I am in a "world with devils filled (which) should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us."  The knowledge of salvation is not a mystic hope, but a sure foundation that even though we must suffer in this world there is something beyond the misery here which in God's mercy is not all the time, not in everyplace, but enough to brace us to the reality of our own evil.  The knowledge of salvation is that God does have mercy, he does forgive, and eventually for all those who have received that knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins real and existential shelter in the arms of a loving Father who may let our enemies take our lives in this place, but ultimately cannot take from us that which is eternal.  My ultimate eternal hope is that even though worms destroy this body I shall see my God, and that someday upon the earth I will be revealed as a son of God, my enemies vanquished, and I will be finally and eternally safe.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wear It In A Bad Season!

  My daughter looked at the sweatshirt I was wearing.  It was new and I had just purchased it from Cracker Barrel.  It was a Tennessee sweatshirt with the orange T, which means I am a fan of the
Tennessee Vols.  When my daughter saw it she said, "Oh, you're wearing that in a bad season."  Though some parts of the thought were sad and painful to contemplate she meant it as a compliment.
    Yes, that's right, I am not a fair weather fan.  They are the team I have celebrated, and cheered for, and moaned and groaned about for years.  I am honest enough to admit an abysmal record, bad decisions on the part of Athletic Directors, Coaches, and players.  I have sometimes despaired of what was going to happen, what I knew would happen on certain Saturday afternoons.  I have not abandoned my love for watching them and cheering them on, and I am delightfully surprised when they do some things well.  I have not switched teams, and I don't call the talk shows and rant about how stupid everyone else is but me.
    All of that to lead up to the question of loyalty when it comes to my denomination.  I am one of those people who belong to the Presbyterian Church in America.  Before that I was ordained in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.  In 1982 the RPCES joined the larger PCA and so I carry around with me the identity of a PCA Teaching Elder.
    If you knew me and my life and background you might wonder why I am in the PCA at all.  I certainly wasn't born into it.  I grew up in the inner city, and I am not suburban.  I am not even hipster urban, more ghetto than anything.  I am white but I married a black woman, and there were not a lot of inter-racial couples when I was ordained period, but especially among the conservative Presbyterians.  I planted a church among the poor, in the city, trying to reach black folk and there were not a lot of folks doing that when I came in.   There were folks who thought it a waste of time, an aberration, and suspect as to credibility as a real church.
    Not everyone thought that of course, I have had great friends, champions of what we were doing and wonderful supporters who wanted us to succeed.  There were some racists who avoided us, denied us opportunity to speaking engagements, support in missions, and sometimes just the denial of the friendship of a colleague.
    When I was first saved no one told me of all the bad stuff of Christianity.  I didn't know anything about racism in the church, I didn't know anything about religious wars, I didn't know anything about hypocrisy and legalism and self-righteousness.  I didn't know about sexual abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse.  I was so naive that I thought Jesus loved me, had died for sinners, and everyone needed to come to know Him like I had come to know Him.  I thought Christians were heroes, people who would risk their lives around the world to tell people everywhere about Christ.  I thought Christians fed the poor, didn't hold any one's race or economic status against them but welcomed them all.   That is what I experienced in the Christians I had first met.
    The Black Muslims brought racism to my attention.  They told me I was preaching "the white man's religion." " Where did they get that from?", I wondered.  I would find out in my reading of history, in my watching the Civil Rights movement unfold before my eyes, and through my own experiences.  I remember when one of my older brothers in the Lord who had gone into ministry came home from his job for the holidays.  The Rev. Elward Ellis was a Chaplain at Norfolk State College, he was African American.  He told me that day, "I am so tired of having Christian piss thrown into my face."
    He was in an African American context where Christianity was being challenged on its historical legacy.  It was like asking the question, "why would you be a fan of a losing team?"  I admit I have less hope for the Tennessee Volunteers than I do for the Church of Jesus Christ.  I am an optimist and I believe someday, maybe before I die, Tennessee will have a winning season, an SEC Championship. and a BCS Bowl victory.  Yes, I hope for the day when Tennessee kicks the stuffing out of Alabama, Florida, and reigns as national champion.  Tennessee, at this writing, is a long way from that.  I wonder if they tell freshmen in Knoxville, "don't have hope, be cynical, mock your school, in fact think about transfer because we have had some bad history here?"
    Christianity in all of its traditions has some bad history, and certainly the PCA does.  Ah, maybe we could say that not just about our denominations but also about ourselves?  Since none of us has represented Jesus perfectly, and actually sometimes downright shamefully, does that mean our Savior doesn't deserve loyalty?  It is silly of course to demand that anyone joining our denomination, or even confessing themselves to be Christian, should know all about our mess before they take up with Jesus or us.  Most of us know fairly little about history when we enter into any relationship, we usually take it from what we see before our eyes and feel from the relationship as to whether or not we can trust it.  Can you imagine marrying someone and then finding out they had somewhat of a sordid past, maybe even sexual relationships before the one with us, and then telling everyone you meet they should know how wicked our spouse has been?  Probably not a good way to examine the past, not kind, not helpful to marital unity, and fairly hypocritical too.
    Maybe I flatter myself but I think I am fairly cynical, bluntly honest, and believe in calling things for what they are.  I have no interest in "white washing" (no pun intended but it is understood) the PCA, nor my own congregation, and not even myself.  I think history is important, for everyone, and young pastors of all ethnicities ought to know as much of our history as they can, and not just the rosy parts. I like to ask candidates if they know the racial history of our denomination.  This to find out if they in fact are racist, or if in fact they care about such Biblical concerns as justice and mercy.  Yet, I don't think it loyalty to tell the kind of athletes who would turn the team around they should go join another team because we have had some bad seasons.
    Sometimes loyalty can be hard to find around the PCA.  We have some ready to have heresy trials for those who differ on fairly insignificant matters.  They threaten the unity of the church.  We have some who want to abandon the church because women aren't ordained, and go to denominations where they don't seem (to me anyway) of being very active in winning people to Jesus or impacting the culture for Christ.  This to me is a threat to the unity of the church.  There are some who seem to rub our sins, our bad seasons, in our face so that those who might bring about positive change decide not to join our church.  This too is a threat to the unity of the church.  I imagine it must be hard for someone with Heisman Trophy potential to be on the same team with someone whose mistakes make the team lose, or look foolish.
    Is the Church of Jesus to be like that, so we go where the money is, where the best have gathered, where everyone agrees with us, where we will suffer no embarrassment?  Get a clue, if it ain't come yet it will, and sometimes for shameful things you can't imagine and your name will be tied to it.  I wear the shirt, in good seasons or bad, and it doesn't have a Tennessee T on it, but a Cross on which my Savior died, and in private or in public I will wear it with you who have named him too as your Lord.  I think it fair for all of us to ask that we be honest about our faults.  I think it fair for all of us to ask each other to be open to rebuke and correction and humble enough to receive it.  Loyalty doesn't buy silence or a failure to purse righteousness.  But, if you will put up with me, and own me as your brother, I will own you too.