Friday, July 08, 2016

Racism, Tragedy, Empathy, and Prayer

So much has been said; opinions given, like buttons of approval, comments of disagreement. Trying to add to the conversation feels unnecessary at best and taking advantage of controversy for the sake of "likes" at worst.

But, I sit here distracted as I try to study and craft the sermon for this Sunday.  There is rich truth found in the passage and I look forward to preaching it.  Yet, all I can think about is how to help those God has placed under my care think about and act on the tragedies of the past few days.  

I've seen the video of Alton Sterling's death.  I’m not an expert on police tactics.  Nor, can I see or know everything that happened in that moment.  I’m not a judge, a prosecutor, or a jury.  But, I am a Christian.  I’m a Christian that is called to weep with those who weep.  Christians, of all people, should take on the role of empathy and understanding.  

I can’t imagine being a police officer who knows they have to make split second life and death decisions.  I can’t imagine carrying the weight of the ability to take life to protect others and my own. I’m thankful that men and women take on this God ordained role daily for our protection and the keeping of peace.

I can’t imagine being a black man who bears on his shoulders the weight of history - whether we like to admit it or not.  His father or grandfather was probably alive during the Jim Crow era.  That matters. There is likely an automatic suspicion of authority passed down from that experience.  I can’t imagine the panic Sterling probably felt in that moment that may have caused him to act irrationally.  

I can’t imagine being a black person viewing the video and experiencing a gut wrenching, unexplainable, tension running through their body thinking “here we go again.”

I can’t imagine being the parent of a black child, wondering if their child will respond "correctly" if they encounter the police.  In college I was pulled over because my car resembled one that had been stolen.  My friend, who happens to be black, was sitting in the passenger seat.  When the officer came to the window my friend leaned forward so he could see the officer and hear what he was saying.  The officer's hand immediately went to his holster, telling him to lean back.  I know the officer didn’t know why he was leaning forward and was acting to be ready just in case.  But, I wonder if my friend didn’t hear the officer say “lean back” and bent down further so he could hear what he said.  Then what? Innocent situations can become dangerous really quickly.  We’re simply ignoring reality if we can’t understand the fear that creates for parents of black children.

I can’t imagine the pain and heartache the families of the Dallas police officers are experiencing today. They were doing their job, planning to have dinner with their families the next day, but were killed by someone foolishly attempting to oppose injustice by acting unjustly.  

If all we do is blindly take sides and line up on one side or the other yelling at each other, then we won’t ever make any progress.  Instead, we have to try, as best we can, to understand why these things happen and try to prevent it from happening again.  Facts matter, but so do history, experiences, and emotion.

Therefore, as Christians we must strive to empathize with the pain and hurt so many are feeling today.  Weep with those who weep.  We must pray for God to bring comfort and peace to those in pain.  We must pray for those in authority, asking God to give them wisdom as they investigate this case and bring justice where necessary.  We must pray for police officers who risk their lives daily.  We must pray for Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to have wisdom as they seek to continue to train officers on how to handle stressful and threatening situations.  We must pray for empathy and understanding concerning experiences that are foreign to many of us.  We must pray that racism, in all its forms - conscious and unconscious, comes to an end.

One day King Jesus will come, bringing both justice and lasting peace.  Until that day we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Summary of The Gospel Coalition's Church Planter Book Recommendations


The Gospel Coalition posted an helpful article asking 20 church leaders what three books every church planter should read.  (TGC Asks: 3 Books Every Church Planter Should Read)

I thought it would be helpful to see it in a list format with links.  So, I put together this basic pdf document summarizing all of the recommended books.  The 4 books that were mentioned by more than one pastor are highlighted.  Of course, I would encourage you to look at the article and hear each man explain why he felt a particular book would he helpful.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Advent Day 25: Jesus Came to Come


 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again 
and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also"
(John 14:3)

Jesus came to crush the head of Satan.
Jesus came to serve.
Jesus came to make us children of God.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
Jesus came to be our example of humility.
Jesus came to show us the way to the Father.
Jesus came to accomplish the will of his Father.
Jesus came to become a curse.
Jesus came to shine light into darkness.
Jesus came to demonstrate God's justice.
Jesus came to be our Great High Priest.
Jesus came to be our righteousness.
Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father.
Jesus came to free us from fear of death.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.
Jesus came to preach peace.
Jesus came to bring a sword.
Jesus came to call sinners.
Jesus came to give us life abundantly.
Jesus came to give his life as a ransom.
Jesus came to be our example of love.
Jesus came to show us how to suffer.
Jesus came to teach truth.
Jesus came to fulfill all of God's promises.

Jesus came for all these reasons and more.  And, he is coming again.

In John 14:1 he said to his disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me."  Jesus says that our hearts should not be troubled because there are many rooms in His Father's house and he is going to prepare a place for us.  "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:3)

He came down in humble flesh so that he could return in his glorified body to take us to be with him forever.  The fact of his next coming is just as certain as the reality of his last coming.  As you celebrate Christmas today and reflect on the birth of Jesus, be reminded to look to the next time he will appear.  As you look to the manger also look to the heavens.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Advent Day 24: Jesus Came to Fulfill All of God's Promises


For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. 
That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 
(2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV)

The Bible is filled with promises from God.  Various individuals have attempted to add up all the promises that God makes in the Bible and have come up with widely varying answers; anywhere from 3,000 up to 8,000.  The final count depends on how some verses or statements are interpreted.  

Whether the right answer is 3,000 or 8,000, the reality is that God made thousands of promises in the Bible.  In 1 Corinthians 1:20 Paul makes an astonishing claim.  Every single one of these thousands of promises find their yes in Jesus.  What does that mean?  And, how can that be?

When Paul says God's promises find their yes in Jesus, he means that apart from Christ the promises of God would never come to fruition.  Every promise God made in the Old Testament was made knowing that Christ would come in the flesh in perfect obedience, laying down his life on the cross, and victoriously rising from the dead to sit at the right hand of God the Father.  And, it is through this glorious work of Jesus Christ that all of God's promises become yes to you and to me.

Therefore, Paul says it is through Christ "that we utter our Amen to God for his glory" (2 Cor. 1:20). When we say Amen, we are saying "so it be" or "it is so."  The only way we can say  "so it be" to the promises of God is through Christ.  Apart from him there would be no "it is so."

Though it's difficult to wrap our minds around, at Christmas we are celebrating the coming of the fulfillment of all of God's promises.  In the child that laid in a manger, thousands of God's promises found their fulfillment.  So, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas tomorrow, let us praise God that we have received our yes in Jesus Christ!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advent Day 23: Jesus Came to Teach Truth



[37] Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world
—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
 (John 18:37 ESV)

Just about everywhere Jesus went, he taught.  That's what he spent the vast majority of his public ministry doing.  He was a teacher.  Yes, he healed lots of people and even raised some from the dead. But, if we were to try and calculate the amount of time he spent on any given activity, it seems that teaching wins by a long-shot.

Mark 6:34 tells us that when Jesus came to the shore he saw a large crowd and, in that moment, his heart was filled with compassion for them.  He saw them as sheep without a shepherd.  How does he respond?  Verse 34 says that he began to teach them many things.  Jesus' compassion drove him to teach.

Jesus was passionate about teaching because he held the words of truth we all needed to hear.  In fact, in John 18 Jesus says, "for this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37).  Once again, we see that there were a multitude of reasons Jesus came to dwell among us.  It wasn't just to die on the cross, but also to spend three years teaching truth.

And, he taught like no one else had ever taught before.  At the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we're told, "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matthew 7:28-29).  His teaching wasn't dependent on any outside source.  He is the truth, therefore he doesn't need to footnote his sources.  He is the authority on every subject.

Jesus, being God, could have imparted information in any way he saw fit.  He could have miraculously transferred knowledge into the head of his followers with very little effort.  But, he came to make disciples by teaching.  God continues to desire that disciples be made in the same way: through teaching.  Therefore, the leaders of God's church must be teachers (1 Tim. 3:2). Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that he gave teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry. 

Teaching is central to God's work on earth. Jesus proved this by spending three years teaching; for this purpose he came into the world.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent Day 22: Jesus Came to Show Us How to Suffer


[20] For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? 
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. [21] For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, 
leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 
(1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV)

Suffering is difficult in all its forms; emotional, physical, or mental. Though we do our best to avoid suffering, all of us will face some degree of it in our lives. It's unavoidable. Therefore, because it's inevitable for a Christian, we need to be sure that we suffer in a way that brings glory to God.

The temptation when we suffer is to shake our fist at God and declare that we don't deserve what we're going through; that he is treating us unjustly. Others give up on God altogether believing that God, were he real, would never allow such suffering to occur in the first place. So, how should a Christian respond? Should we be angry or bitter with God? Is suffering evidence that God doesn't really love us? Does it show there is no all-powerful, loving God? Should we complain and grumble?

Apart from God's Word, these questions would be difficult to answer. We would be left scratching our heads trying to understand how love and suffering can possibly come from the same source.
In Christ, however, we see the answer to all of these questions. Jesus took on flesh, and all the weaknesses that entails, in order to suffer for you and me. He dealt with hunger and fatigue. He felt physical pain. He experienced emotional hurt - Jesus wept. And, of course, he experienced the mockery and humiliation in his phony trial and beatings. He suffered intense physical pain in his crucifixion. Yet, 2 Peter 2:23 says, "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

Jesus didn't complain. Jesus didn't grumble. Jesus didn't see suffering as his Father abandoning him. Instead he continued to trust his Father because he knew that His Father was in control and that whatever happened was for the glory of his name.

Jesus is our example of how we are to suffer well. We must keep trusting our gracious Heavenly Father. Romans 8:28 tells us "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." This is why James is able to say, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (James 1:2-3).

Jesus knew the Father was at work in his suffering, therefore he continued to trust him without wavering. In the same way, we can be confident that God is working for our good, and His glory, in our suffering. Therefore, we are called to follow Jesus' example of suffering.

Because Jesus came in the flesh and suffered as we suffer, we can never shake our fist at God and say, "You just don't understand." He perfectly understands because of his miraculous incarnation. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).





Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent Day 21: Jesus Came to Be Our Example of Love


[9] In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 
(1 John 4:9-11 ESV)

If you do an internet search for "What is love," your results will be filled with all kinds of philosophical pondering.  You'll read statements that sound profound, but ultimately have no meaning.  Everyone has an opinion about love, from actors to authors, from scientists to scholars.  

Currently, a lot of research is going into trying to understand how the brain creates feelings of emotion.  Scientists are trying to see what chemical and neurological interactions create the emotion we call love.  Their goal is to try and remove the mystery of love and show that it's nothing more than an evolved neurological response to a specific set of external observations.  Their view of love will make marriage proposals just a little less romantic, "My neurons consistently fire when I'm around you, therefore it seems logical that I should spend the rest of my life with you.  Will you marry me?" That doesn't sound like love, does it?

When left to ourselves, humans will come up with all kinds of definitions of love: scientific ones, selfish ones, and philosophical ones. But, in Christ, God has shown us what love is.

1 John 4:9 says "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him."  The love of God was shown to us by sending Jesus to dwell among us.  He loved us by sending his son to be the propitiation for our sins.  (Propitiation means that he satisfied the wrath of God in our place).  And, he did this not in response to our great love for him, but simply because he is love.  Romans 5:10 says that God did this even while we were his enemies.

God defines love for us.  1 John 4:11 says that if God loves us this way then we ought to love one another in the same way.  Therefore, love is more than an neurological evolutionary response that just happens based on certain circumstances.  When we are called to love our enemy or love those who don't love us or love the unlovely, we're not acting on chemical reactions.  We are demonstrating the love God has already shown us in Christ to the watching world.

When Christ arrived as a baby, God showed us what sacrificial love really is.  He showed us that love is more than just an emotional response; it's a willingness to love those who don't deserve to be loved.