Gospel

Trayvon Martin, Justice, and the Church

justiceIn my forty years here on earth I feel I have witnessed two major landmark incidents involving racially charged accusations of white against black / Caucasian against African American injustice. In both of these situations, it has become very apparent that more than ever in this country we are fractured along racial lines. Accompanying these tragic incidents were riots and threats of riots, death threats, police negligence, alleged injustice, racial profiling. Both situations have caused societal reckoning and individual soul-searching. So much time has gone by between these two events, we would think that issues of race, social inequalities, and injustice would have long been identified and corrected in our society and culture; especially when it comes to racial divides. These two tragic events are the Rodney King beating (The beating in 1991.The riots after the trial and acquittal of four LAPD officers in 1992), and the Trayvon Martin shooting death (The shooting death took place in 2012 and the murder trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013). I call them tragic, because human dignity was lost and human life succumbed to the recklessness of sin, death, and Satan. At the end of it all when someone is beaten or dead, a man loses his freedom even though he is free, and everyone hates each other, and revenge is executed - NO one wins.

This blog post is NOT about whether someone is guilty or not guilty (I do have my personal opinions about both incidents). This blog post is about the response of the Church and every Christian regardless of your opinions of whether justice or injustice has occurred.

When tragic events like this take place people almost always we see three things to happen:

Blame: When something tragic happens people want to blame someone or something for the pain and confusion caused. We want to point fingers because we believe that this will alleviate any anger, hurt, or confusion that we might be experiencing. Blame might make things right, but it never brings about the end it only prolongs the issue, circumstances, and feelings.

criminal_justiceJustice: We want things made right don't we and we want people getting what they deserve. It seems to be a human condition. Since we were little and old enough to interact with other people, we have sought justice. Whether it's issue with our bratty siblings, encounters with our classmates on the playground, or coworkers who don't carry their share of the work load; we want "things made right or for them to get what they deserve." The problem with justice is that it can neglect the very things we all seek for ourselves like understanding, mercy, forgiveness, dignity, and love. Justice never makes things completely right; and getting what one deserves almost always is never a good idea for all involved, because it never leads to closure, it only leads to more desire for justice, hate, division, and ultimately revenge.

Revenge: The only thing revenge does is fuel the cycle of anger, hate, division, pain, and confusion.. Revenge never satisfies. Revenge never quenches the desire or need to make things right. Revenge is incapable of making things right; it can only perpetuate the tension of people getting what they deserve - it is cyclical. Revenge ultimately leads to destruction and death.

So what do we do when there are events and circumstances where justice is needed or injustice prevails? As Christians our understanding and response should be one of peace, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. We follow and serve a God and Saviour who both deserved justice and had injustice committed against him. Yet he neither sought justice while he was here on earth, nor did he complain or cry about the injustice committed against him (Isaiah 53:6-8; Luke 14:43-65 & 15:1-37) .

lent-400WHAT DO WE DO... We are called as people of God to not live in anger, instead we are to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness to everyone we encounter (Ephesians 4:1-32). And we need to be aware of our words and actions. We need to live with wisdom and prudence. We are not to react foolishly or contrary to the ways of God, but make the most with our time here on earth. The Apostle Paul said it this way, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16).

We are to serve as the reconcilers of cross-cultural divides and be advocates of forgiveness and healing for a society that is racially and culturally polarized right now (2 Corinthians 5:14-21 & Philippians 2:1-8). The gospel message is that Jesus through his death on a cross and resurrection, brought peace between God and man. We are also called to live in peace with each other and to demonstrate peace to those who need it (Ephesians 4:3; Romans 12:18; Colossians 3:15; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1-3; Hebrews 12:14-15; & 1 Peter 3:8-12). Our message is one of peace through Jesus (Acts 10:36). I could go on an on, but I believe you get the point. Followers of Jesus are to be peacemakers.

What God requires of us is to be His people who act justly, love mercy, be humble...

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

Catch the line about justice. We don't seek justice, we act justly. To seek justice is to make everything right, but to act justly is to respond and interact with others through just motives and actions.

I know it is hard in our humanity to want justice when injustice has occurred. From a Christian perspective and as God's people we must not seek to be judge, jury, and executioner. We can trust that the one who created all things will in the end administer a righteous justice. Jesus will give to each person what they deserve, perfectly and absolutely. (Hebrews 1:1-12; Revelation 19).

I pray that the Church will be the demonstration of love and forgiveness during this time of pain, sorrow, and frustration, disappointment, anger, confusion, and pride. I hope we reveal to people a God who is just, but at the same time is merciful. Through His grace we have all escaped what we all justly deserve and instead have received forgiveness and restoration.

At the end of it all when someone is beaten or dead, a man loses his freedom even though he is free, and everyone hates each other, and revenge is executed - NO one wins.

BUT grace and love triumphs over all.

This Week's Top 5...

SONY DSCIf you missed a read this week… Here's the Top 5 most read posts for this week: 1. When is being selfish in the church okay...

2. You're more beautiful than you think you are... 

3. I just can't get rid of this burr under my saddle...

4. Monday Mashup

5. What's On The Other Side Of This Life

Thanks for reading this blog. If your not a subscriber to this blog, I want to encourage you to do so. You can follow along or subscribe here... Please, comments and feedback about this blog are valued and appreciated.

Image is everything...

Image is everything web logo1I've been kind of dwelling on this "image is everything" thing this past week. I had a conversation with a friend the other day where we talked about things that really matter to God. What we both came to an agreement on was the fact that churches and "we" Christians sometimes put more value into causes, programs, movements, pioneering, and innovation rather than dwelling with HIM. I think this is because all of these things whether good or bad give us a better image or appear to entice excitement and mass numbers. In many ways in the church we have bought into the lie that "image is everything."

Being a disciple of Jesus is not about writing books, teaching at conferences, creating causes so people will be excited about church or Jesus. It's not about pioneering or starting movements through our innovation. DON'T get me wrong I know these things can help the mission of Jesus. It's just that sometimes these things take the place of what we are really suppose to be about. It's about abiding in Jesus and going where he is already at. We are then to be obedient to what the Holy Spirit is moving us to do, which is to love God with all that we have, and loving our neighbor they way God loves us, which is sacrificially through grace and forgiveness. Jesus wants us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Ed Stetzer aptly stated, "Too often we pull our cultural values into our grid for measuring church success..." While his context for this statement is talking about church size, I think it could be equally said for how some in the church value appearances or image over people and relationships. Read the whole article here: Rethinking Small Churches by Ed Stetzer

The culture values outward appearances. Success can be only ankle deep as long as it looks and tastes good. That's probably why we are a fast-food nation and why many of us can't wait for the release of the Twinkie next week.

I am not saying that image and outward appearances are all bad. These can be the very things that get a person interested or coming back to find out more about Jesus. In some ways we need to pay attention to image and outward appearances.

What I am saying is that when these things become the measurement of success for the church and for Christians, then we have a huge problem. When we critique a preacher on the delivery of their sermon instead of if they mentioned Jesus at all in their message and preached the gospel. Or if we become so Type-A about whether we kept our people in service too long or the flow of the worship service didn't go right or as we had planned. When these things become the standard bearer for success then we have stopped dwelling in Jesus. If you want to know the end result of this way then read John 15:1-8... Good gospel preaching, causes, programs, movements, pioneering, and innovation should move you to the neighborhood.

I like how Eugene Peterson said about Jesus in The Message, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood..." - John 1:14

People > causes, programs, movements, pioneering, innovation, sermon delivery, tight rock concert worship services... The church's mission is people and sometimes people get messy, life gets messy and all we really have in the end is LOVE. Causes, movements, and programs will never take the place of a life spent abiding with Jesus. We must reveal to people a life that is dwelling with Jesus not our latest shiny new ministry toy.

Honestly "image is NOT everything." The heart of the matter is "what image are you displaying to people..."

When is being selfish in the church okay...

(This post has not been edited for errors. These are my raw, honest thoughts.) Okay here you go...

One of the hardest things for me to hear and something that is really bugging me is hearing people talk about the church as if it is something that is consumed rather than something to be actively living out in our lives and community. I hear from ministry friends from all over the country that share in this frustration.

I get sad when I hear people church hop because the church community/family they have been a part of is no longer meeting their needs or no longer is the cool flashy place they can invite friends to. I guess in reality they really don't see church as a community or family, instead it is place to meet personal needs and desires... We people abandon a church for these reasons they show their true colors, they were only seeking to be a part of God's kingdom for selfish reasons i.e. "what can I get out of church." They are like the kid in high school who only hangout with certain people because it will benefit them socially, but once that person(s) can no longer benefit them they move on to a different friend or group...

I also get frustrated when people leave churches because of conflict they have with a pastor, church staff, or another believer. How can we expect to rule and judge alongside Jesus if we can't even settle hurt feelings, disagreements, character clashes, disputes, and the like amongst ourselves, the body, house, bride of Jesus? I think the Apostle Paul said something to this affect in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. When someone abandons the church they were a part of for these reasons, they are like the kid who doesn't like it that the pickup game of football isn't going their way so they get their football and go home...

The problem is that our North American culture allows for this kind of flippant Christianity, and our churches do as well... I dont judge a person's desire to keep from going to hell, but I do judge their selfish and consumeristic motivations for being a part of the body, the house, and the bride of Jesus.

DON'T get me wrong! Sometimes the only solution to a problem is to leave and find another church to be a part of, that is not what I'm talking about here. I am referencing people who for selfish-consumeristic motives leave churches.

The solution (Your are correct to assume that I have already premised the former is incorrect, unhealthy, and not what God wants His Church to demonstrate to a world that needs His grace and mercy)... Well there are many things that can be done to help the situation, but lets just take a glimpse of three ideas for this blog post... Abide in Jesus (John 15:1-11 ESV), Love one another (John 15:12-17 ESV), and do good works (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV). If we do these things then it becomes hard to be selfish and have selfish-consumeristic motivations, and people might actually stay at their church and BE the church. To answer the question in my title of this blog post - I'm not sure it is ever okay to be selfish if it blemishes the church...

Okay and done...

What's On The Other side Of This Life

journey Journeys are not something to be taken lightly. I remember when my family went on a journey to Joplin, MO it began over twelve years ago. We left all that we had and all that we had known back in Sonoma County, CA. We journeyed through the Southwest part of the United States on our way to the heart of the country. My wife and I had never ventured that far out of our motherland before, so we took as much safety and precaution as we knew how; and hit the road with our three little kids in-tow.

We saw beautiful country along the way, desert, mountains, high country forests, and big open blue sky. It wasn't before long that we found ourselves on winding detours, tornadic storms, and even experiencing bad gasoline for our van. In between the serendipitous and tumultuous moments we found a rhythm that centered us back on the purpose of our journey...

We were headed to Joplin, MO to attend Ozark Christian College and prepare for fulltime vocational ministry. Or more precisely, we were moving out of and with the overflow of our love and passion for God and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit - we were being obedient because of love and devotion, not because of obligation and duty.

 

The real purpose of the journey was to grow deeper in our love and passion for relationship with the Father, it was not the destination to the college nor the vocation of ministry.

 

The Journey Is Still Going...

In many ways the journey is still going. We have moved geographically again on this journey and have found a home Colorado just like we did in Missouri, and the journey could very well pick us up and change geography again; who knows... However, what is still on going is the internal part of the journey, and this is the hardest part of the journey, moving through the constant ebb and flow of understanding our relationship with God, keeping our passion for Him, and obediently living out our love and devotion to Him.InnerJourneys

Too be very frank. Changing geography isn't hard to do! Moving from Northern California to Southwest Missouri and then to Northern Colorado isn't that difficult to adjust too. Leaving friends and family is hard, but eventually you make new friends and thanks to Facebook and vacations you can still see the people you love and care about...

What's hard is keeping focused on growing deeper in our relationship with God... Let me be even more upfront. I mess-up my relationship with God sometimes. I let everything else take precedent over this relationship, things like the type of ministry job I have, money, pleasing people and being who they want me to be,making a name for myself or for others, cars, electronic gadgets, vacations, things to complain about, ideas, philosophies, ministry methods, what we're having for lunch or dinner, and the list could go on...

 

I've let all these things whether good or bad corrupt the rhthym and purpose of my journey... The reason for the journey isn't the journey or the desitnation, the reason for the journey is the person we are on the journey for. I am learning not to take journeys lightly, but to cherish every moment and keep focus on the one who was the reason for the journey.

A good friend of mine, Brian Mavis, shared with me a prayer that I am going to pray first thing every morning, that's if none of these other things get in the way...

Here it is:

"I will live every day as if it is my last, knowing by God's grace and love the Savior waits for me beyond the grave." -- Chuck Colson

Ugh! It's so easy to forget that there is something else on the other side of this life.

People > Programs

neighbors street sign

"Be the prepared to be the answer to someone's prayer." - Ramin Razavi

I heard this quote from one of my coworkers a little while back, and it sent off a flood of thoughts about neighboring centric ministry vs programming centric ministry... People > Programs.

The reality is people seek connections and relationships not programs. Programs are tools that help facilitate these connections, and programs can be an answer to someone's prayers, but the purpose is to connect people to people who are made in the image of God. People are the purpose (and in someways the mission = Church) and people make the mission happen. Programs can connect people and programs can meet tangible needs, but programs don't love, programs don't cry, laugh, or show compassion. Ramin mentioned that we must follow Jesus' example and words of "Seeing the people around us..." Really seeing them not just noticing them, but look deeply into the people around us and compassionately move beyond our programs and be able to adapt what we are doing to adequately meet people where they are at. Many times we move people to our programs when we need to relocate ourselves to where the people are - we need to be in their dirt and messiness not the other way around... People > Programs.

Jesus was so good at this. He took every moment to look and see the people around him. In Matthew 9:35-38 we get a glimpse of this when he saw the people around him and he had compassion on them... He stopped and in the moment he saw the people deeply and had an emotional and intellectual reaction to them. He was moved to do something about the people around him and he lead his followers to do the same. In order to do what Jesus demonstrated and instructed us to do, to love God, love our neighbors, and to love one another, we must be in the moment and embrace the relationships around us. Once we do this hen move to bless them in the ways the Holy Spirit instructs us to do.

As leaders, we see our programs connect people, but so often because of this *success* our programs become our mission, NOT the people we are trying to reach and connect to Jesus. In order to prevent our programs from becoming our mission we need to become more people centric and less program centric. In a sense, our programs can become a burden to people, because inadvertnetly there are times we make people feel guilty for choosing our programs over being in their neighborhood and hangingout with their neighbors. This is unfortunate. It can cause people to operate freely uder the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and miss the ministry that God has for them. We take them out of their neighborhoods and distract them with participating in our events and programming…

2987611025_b9a279bba1I must state here, that I am not against programming, because programming helps us meet the felt needs of people (See Acts chapter 6). What I am saying is that our programming needs to be more than just purposeful, it needs to be focused and strategic - moving people to love God, love their neighbor, and love one another. It must free God’s people to be in their neighborhoods to connect and minister the gospel to those that live around them. Can the Church stop trying to be a buffet restaurant and distract God’s people from getting a clear picture of the mission He has purposed us to do? We must free God's people and give them the ability to love the people around them... People > Programs.

*Post adapted from a March 2011 blog post I wrote about neighboring*