Thursday, September 26, 2013


    I have been on the road a lot over the last month, and while I have been on the road it seems the world has too, but there is a question as to where it leads.  How do we look at life?  Is it that all of history moves in a linear line toward its ultimate conclusion?  Is it that we as humans move along our path, or make our path, through the world and through time?  Is it that we stand still and waves of events sweep over us, or else wash us away in their wake?
    I am a believer, and I believe in One sovereign hand who controls time, and events, and history.  He  creates, shapes, and controls it so that it comes out just as He wills.  While believing that I also believe that I along with all the rest of us are totally responsible for the paths we choose, the lives we lead, the decisions we make, the trouble we cause.  I believe that we can do good, and that we should, and are created for that end.  So, I believe in a Sovereign preordaining God and lives that make a difference.
    These two simultaneous beliefs allow me to relax, and not worry, or fear that events might overtake and overwhelm me.  They give me confidence in the ending.  They also give me incentive along the way to shape the road I travel, to push in certain directions, to take responsibility for my own walk.  As I look back I am amazed at Someone controlling even the misdirection, the wandering, the stumbles, and using them to create a certain destination.  I realize of course that I don't know all of what lies ahead, I don't know the hills, valleys, obstacles that I may face.  I don't know the cliffs or sudden drop-offs, the rocks on which I might fall.  While I move so does the world, along a certain path, though often in total ignorance of a divine plan.
      I am afraid that in the face of "bad news" and sudden disaster or movements that seem to lead to the death of culture we believers abandon what we know to be the truth of  "all things working together for good, to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)  We sometimes  feel as flotsam in the current because sometimes the events are so big, the results so disastrous, that we make no effort to swim for reason, but only to stay above water.
    I went to a conference in New Orleans and arrived early.  The hotel was just finishing a conference before ours would begin in a day or two.  The conference we encountered was the National Conference on HIV/AIDS.  I am sure there were many kinds of folk at the conference, many heterosexuals, many researchers, with probably a myriad of views about homosexuality.  There was no doubt there were more homosexuals than I have ever seen at one time in one place.  Now, I got along fine with everyone, but being a very conservative committed Bible believer this was hard to handle. Whatever my theological, philosophical, and political opinions Jesus calls me to love people.  Yet, it was hard to handle because the homosexual movement seems to be so strong, the promiscuous licentiousness of our culture, the desire to have sex without guilt, without repercussions or responsibility, is so prevalent in our society.  The demand to redefine marriage, the redefining of family so there isn't any.  The current of current events that have led to this have felt like a water fall, and makes swimming against the current feel useless.
    I read that the one percent, or whatever the top "haves" might number, just got richer and the poor are poorer.  I read that even with "Obama Care" the poor in my state will be left out of the coverage they could have had if our state had cooperated.  I see the homeless on the streets, I see men who are not homeless pushing shopping carts of discarded metal to recycle it, not because they are environmentalists but because they are hungry.  My observation is that the poor, the working poor, the trying not to be poor poor, are drowning, and getting loans from sharks that make them sink even further. We hear the news that the Congress wants to cut out a lot of money for food stamps. It feels hopeless, and the poor feel hopeless.
    The prisons are full, the schools don't teach, there are not enough jobs, and the jobs that are offered can't get a family through the week.  If the Muslim terrorists don't kill us then the angry crazy man with a grudge or a psychosis will bring a shotgun to work and kill us, and if he doesn't then someone wearing certain colors will drive down the street and shoot our children.
    Why call for justice in such a stampede of idiocy and nonsense?  Why practice mercy when someone else will steal, abuse, or crush what you give or those to whom you give it?
    I have managed to sound like Ecclesiastes.  The validation of justice is not that I achieve it, and not even that I attempt to create it, but that it exists as an existential drive in the human heart and  is demanded by the One who made it exist in the first place. To admit the thirst for justice, and the human ability to perceive injustice, is to admit there is a God. The flood of evil, injustice, violence, poverty, and sorrow in the world doesn't diminish the power of mercy, or the need to love it, but only makes it more necessary, only more insistent.  If I don't believe there is Someone who controls the outcome and that things will be made right then the news of the moment or the decade will cause me to despair.  The odds seem too stacked against us, against the Biblical call for a life of morality, justice, hope, order, and restoration.
    It is senseless and selfish to hide in a illusion of personal safety, prosperity, health, and happy possibility, while the world goes to hell in a hand basket all around you.  Yet, that seems to be the strategy of the uninvolved, the unengaged, and in this I include the white middle-class Evangelical and the African American Prosperity Gospel aspirant adherent.  There is a rush it seems to denial.  Some seem to live their lives as if they swim in their own backyard pool, thinking they are safe, while the river of humanity is smashed against the rocks.
     We are all in the same river, and the danger is real, but we do not have to be adrift.  Danger and hope, destruction and salvation, acted upon and acting; real life needs not to be simply endured, nor should we attempt to evade its trouble with a life of pretend, but it needs to be faced and engaged. Our challenge is not only to float in the river, but to swim, and to change its course as God enables us..
    I am an optimist because I believe in final endings that are controlled by a loving, all powerful, and purpose driven God.  I am an optimist because I believe that effort, action, and work toward the things which reflect the character of God have eternal purpose, not simply momentary efficacy.  I am an optimist because I believe in final victory in which evil loses, good wins, justice prevails, the poor are lifted from the ash heap and are made to sit among princes.  I believe that in the midst of the torrent there is not only a rope of grace extended, but a grace that controls the river. I believe that facing, engaging, and fighting for those things now makes a difference, for myself, for the few I can help, for my children and others who watch my life.  Maybe even to change the current course of a river to the place of still waters, instead of a tide of events that wash many out to sea.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


    Recently I was asked to speak at the African American Leadership, Development, and Recruitment weekend.  This conference was held at South City Church (PCA) and Covenant Theological Seminary.  This was the third annual AALDR weekend, held on Labor Day.  The first was at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, the second at Reformed Theological Seminary, and the third one was at CTS. 
    I have included my outline here and I believe you can go online and hear the plenary sessions and workshops at the Covenant Seminary website.  I will add some notes here to give you some idea of what I tried to speak about.

   We need the kind of freedom that the Apostle Paul speaks about in I Corinthians 9, where he says "though I am free and a slave to no man, I make myself a slave..."  Without that freedom our ministries are held back or inhibited, but when we are really free in ourselves, spiritually, in our personalities, we can finally really serve people (as we serve Christ).
  I spoke of four cultural issues, or one might describe them as phases, that people in cross cultural situations might experience.  I discussed this primarily from the point of view of the those in the "sub-dominant" or minority culture.  These phases are similar to what missionaries tend to go through, except that Western missionaries don't usually have the same threat to their core understanding of themselves as those whose ethnic or cultural group has been oppressed, or who live with a constant challenge to an attack on their cultural selves.


A.    Culture Shock

B.    Cultural Fatigue

C.    Cultural Alienation

D.    Cultural Confusion
    This dynamic can come from individuals who are in a time of ethnic or group shame or loathing, rejection of their own ethnic culture, a desperate desire to be accepted and assimilated into the majority culture, possibly living in denial about the reality of racism, and a disassociation from other individuals if there is any suggestion of racial or ethnic solidarity.

A combination of these issues can cause a kind of Cultural Trauma,

Leading to a reflection of PTSD (Anxiety, Fear, Sudden Anger, Transference, Social Inhibition.)

Spiritual Identity can liberate our cultural identity. 
   This is our great hope, that  we who are in Jesus Christ are loved by God in our full selves; our souls, our bodies, our heritage.  That we are sons of God, cannot be separated from his love, that we are righteous in his sight and forgiven.  The confidence we have in his love means that we can repent in regard to our own sins, and see the sins in our own culture(s), and still realize the love of God for ourselves and our people group.

We need a healthy CQ (Cultural Intelligence) to recognize how we are interacting with our cultural environment.


A.    Narcissism*
*Every person struggles with the innate human sin of pride.  It is a constant battle for every self aware person.  Narcissism is way beyond the regular temptation to feel superior to others, or feel slighted when we don't get recognition.  Narcissism is when there is never enough of you, never enough notice of you, the constant dynamic of having to speak or write about yourself.  It is insatiable, and makes people really want to avoid such individuals.  The more they trumpet themselves the lonelier they become.  We will speak about the danger of hubris when we come to sin issues.

B.    Man Pleasing
          This is a constant struggle for pastors and it carries with it the seeds of compromise and a loss of integrity.
C.    Competitive Insecurity
   Many pastors suffer from this, and it is a life of constant comparison and a feeling that we are never good enough unless we can outdo others.
D.    Manipulative Control
    This is where pastors start using guilt to intimidate people, leverage them to obedience (not to God but to their opinion) and spiritually abuse people.  It is a desire for control.

We need a  healthy EQ (Emotional Intelligence) to recognize ourselves.  Character can trump personality issues.
   One great hope for those of us with personality disorders is that we can still walk with God, and that though we are plagued by our fallen personality and tendencies we can still have some measure of victory over ourselves and the Lord can still use us, and many with these tendencies have been powerfully used of God.

  I think I will let these words preach for themselves.
A.    Dishonesty

B.    Fear

C.    Bitterness

D.    Self-Indulgence  (LUST!)
Sometimes when pastors become "full of themselves" i.e., filled with hubris, they set themselves up for sexual sin.  It is at this place that our success becomes our enemy, we begin to act as if we are not held to the same rules as others, that we have license to indulge ourselves because we are so special, helping so many people, etc.  Hubris is a swelling up of ourselves and it usually leads to a great fall.

Grace from the Holy Spirit is the engine of godliness in us.


A.    Correcting Bad Theology Is More Important Than Winning Souls.

B.    That Protecting Yourself Is Necessary or Possible.

C.    That The Authentication Of Our Ministry Has Something To Do With The Way We Compare With Our Peers

D.    That The Things We Do Are As Important As the Goal

(Studying/learning, Pastoring, Defending Theology, Serving, Polemics, Participating In and Perfecting Church Polity & Discipline, Writing, Preaching, Innovating Liturgy, Innovating Discipleship Techniques or Small Group and Body Life Strategies, Perfecting Evangelistic Techniques, Family & Children Ministry, Counseling, Justice, Mercy & Development Ministry – and all the other things we can find ourselves busy in)

We must not fail to keep the end in view:

1.    The Personal – to know Christ

2.    The Product – to win as many as possible.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus enables us to finish the race by helping us reorient ourselves to what is important to Him.

   Well, that about sums it up.  May the Lord help us to take heed to the ministry that we have received, that we fulfill it; as the Apostle Paul challenged Timothy.