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The One Thing My Mother Would Not Let Me Become

I’m in Northern Ireland at the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention. I first had the privilege of serving these dear saints back in 2008. I guess I didn’t scare them off because they’ve been kind enough to bring me back this year. This mission convention has been going on for nearly eighty years, attracting missionaries from around the world and participants from across Northern Ireland. The fellowship is warm, the singing joyful, the call to mission zealous!

I thought I’d come to Northern Ireland and have something of a respite from the news and opinions concerning Ferguson. But, as it turns out, events in Ferguson have been a significant part of news coverage across the pond, too. So my friends in Northern Ireland have asked me what I thought. They’ve taken a genuine interest. And as I’ve talked and they’ve listened, some have confessed that the situation somewhat confuses them. The closest analogy would be the “Troubles” between Protestant and Catholic, but nothing quite like the racial picture of the U.S. seems to fit their experience. When they ask me to explain, I take a deep breath trying to figure out where to start, and quietly acknowledging to myself that I don’t know everything.

The Beginning of My Suspicion

But for me it started at my parents’ dining room table. I must have been about the age of my son, around seven, when my parents started what felt like a campaign of encouragement. They’d repeatedly tell me, “You can be anything you want to …

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I Wonder If Seeing Really Is Believing

I don’t even know how to write this post.

So I’ll be brief.

Last night I read with much appreciation John Piper’s comments about police restraint. If you haven’t, you should read it, along with posts from Bryan Loritts and Al Mohler and Rachel Held Evans. I didn’t follow the link Piper provided to the actual footage of the other shooting he mentioned. I thought it was perhaps the edited footage from a news segment or something.

This morning something led me to watch the footage.

I’m sitting here weeping, so I’ll let the footage speak for itself.

Please be warned. It’s a live cell phone recording of police 9 miles from Ferguson shooting and killing another unarmed African-American man who has apparently committed a petty theft and who acts in a defiant manner when police officers emerge from their patrol car with hands on hilt. UPDATE: Police maintain he was brandishing a knife. This is not a television show. This is real life.

This video does not suggest this is what happened in the case of Brown and Wilson. I’m not saying that. Perhaps it is; perhaps it isn’t. But I wonder if seeing this unfold before our eyes will help us believe that it’s time for leaders to speak out about the statistics and the multiplying incidents that prove a pattern of unfair and severe treatment. This punishment does not fit the crime. That, too, is a virtue and promise, a public trust, that is supposed to undergird our criminal justice system. …

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Why We Never “Wait for All the Facts” Before We Speak

Predictably, I’ve received a bit of pushback on my post yesterday calling for leaders of the evangelical movement to organize themselves to provide theological and practical leadership on issues that affect the marginalized and oppressed. Why such a call should ever receive pushback is itself worth pondering, but I want to focus on the chief reason stated for the pushback.

It’s essentially this: “We should not pass judgment on Wilson until we have all the facts.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that in the last couple of days, I’d at least be able to satisfy someone’s Starbucks habit for a week.

The critique has the semblance of wisdom, in fact, some people even call it such. They say that speaking out is “foolish,” rash, inconsiderate of Officer Wilson, even contributory to racial animosity and strife. We would be wise to be silent, they tell us. They’ve always told us that. “Just wait. Time will tell. Justice will be done.” And they tell us this as if they don’t have any assumptions of their own, as if they’re the objective bystanders, as if being “dispassionate” is a virtuous response when someone in any circumstance is killed, as if their rational powers are untainted by what they’ve seen or heard or untarnished by their own experiences, as if there is some moral neutral ground on which to stand, and as if their silence isn’t itself a statement.

To all of that, I want to say several things.

First, I’ve read and …

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Is It “Goodbye Evangelicalism” or “We Evangelicals Join You in Your Suffering”?

When James Cone wrote A Black Theology of Liberation in the late 1960s, he was attempting to provide a theological framework for understanding and guiding the feelings and actions of African-American protestors. He wrote in the wake of a deadly riot in Detroit. He felt a burden, a heavy weight to say something meaningful as a Christian. He felt, as many had before him, that if Christianity had no answer for Black people caught in the roiling cauldron of Jim Crow segregation and state-sponsored terrorism then Christianity had no credibility whatsoever.

I wish the evangelical church felt the same way that Cone felt. Though I find Cone’s answers unbiblical and untenable, he at least raised and grappled with legitimate questions of justice from the vantage point of the oppressed. And until evangelicalism finds the courage and the love to enter those questions with empathy for that vantage point on a quest for better answers than Cone’s, then evangelicalism as we know it is dead.

I’m not talking about the “evangelicalism” of progressive Christians who seem to rarely preach and emphasize the biblical gospel while championing every cause, the “evangelicalism” that has no evangel. I’m talking about the “evangelicalism” of “Bible-believing Christians,” of “gospel-centered people,” of “conservative” movements that pride themselves on not being “those liberals.” I’m not talking about your local church or my local church as much as I’m talking about the movement as a whole, at its highest levels. I’m talking about the “movement evangelicalism” that I run in. That evangelicalism is dead.

Or, to …

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Coming (Back) to America: My One Fear

When my wife and I announced we would be moving back to the States to plant a church in Southeast DC, we met three reactions. People who loved us over these past eight years and appreciated our ministry expressed their love and sadness that we were leaving Cayman. Those same people and many others then quickly sent us tremendous amounts of encouragement, prayer and practical help. Then there were those who had a question. They asked, “Are you afraid?” or “Do you have any fears?”

My elders in Cayman asked that question. The elders here at CHBC asked that question. A few individuals asked that question. And some people have worn their concern on their faces.

When asked the question, I’d usually pause. Not because I didn’t have an answer, but because some fears feel too real when you give them words. So I’d pause. Then I’d say two things: “Truthfully, the Lord has kept us from any fears that we can discern about planting the church or living in Southeast. If I have a fear it would be one thing: bringing my son Titus to the United States. He’s so tender and innocent and the States can be very hard on Black boys.”

That’s my one fear. This country destroying my boy. Ferguson is my fear. I could be the black dad approaching a white sheet stained with his son’s blood. I could be the husband holding his wife, rocking in anguish, terrorized by the ‘what happeneds’ and the ‘how could theys,’ …

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Coming (Back) to America: Accents

My wife and I were taking the long way to an errand the other day. The long way to an errand is, in the language of frustrated wives, a husband who is lost. In the language of navigator husbands it simply means “I missed my turn” or “Your directions weren’t clear.” Or it could mean, “DC streets make no sense at all. You can see where you want to go but there’s literally no road that gets you there.” You see, husbands are never lost.

At any rate, on the way back from the errand we talked a little bit about how the kids were adjusting to the move. We’re both overwhelmed at God’s rich grace to us in the move back to the States. Aside from a lost passport and a shipping container that seems to be powered by men with oars, we’ve seen nothing but blessing from God and His people. And we’re having a great time seeing the country through the eyes of our children.

The girls commented the other day that “everybody sounds alike.” We hadn’t noticed, so Kristie asked what they meant. They meant everybody sounds alike. To them, everyone has the same accent.

The last eight years in Cayman has meant interacting with people from all over the world. The Cayman Islands is easily the most diverse, multi-ethnic community we’ve ever lived in. At 22 x 7 miles and 55,000 residents, this island nation is home to over 110 nationalities! And because it’s a small island, it …

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The Problem with Seeking Converts by Saying As Little As Possible

“In the twentieth century the church has tried to see how little it could say and still get converts. The assumption has been that a minimal message will conserve our forces, spread the Gospel farther, and, of course, preserve a unity among evangelicals. It has succeeded in spreading the truth so thinly that the world cannot see it. Four facts droned over and over have bored sinners around us and weakened the church as well.”[1]

 

[1] Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1970), p. 45-46.

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Are We Christians Good Neighbors?

Mrs. Bea was my mother’s best friend. The two of them used to laugh together as if they were the only two in the universe. They spent a lot of their free time together, which was easy since they lived half a block apart.

Mr. Fred was Mrs. Bea’s husband. Everybody in the neighborhood called him “neighbor” because he greeted everyone with the same question: “How’s my neighbor?” He was the kind of man who would interrogate strangers who happened on your property and didn’t look as if they belonged. He would repair a door or mow a yard without being asked. He was a neighbor.

I played with Bea and Fred’s five children. We did everything from ride our bikes together to play basketball or stickball in the neighborhood park to chase one another in frenetic games of tag or hide-n-seek. We children were neighbors, too.

I thought about Bea and Fred last week as I prepared to preach Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the so-called “good Samaritan.” I prefer to call it the parable of the godly neighbor since Jesus tells the story to a religious man who asked in a self-justifying moment, “who is my neighbor?” Here’s the parable:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and …

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5 Strategies for Ministry in a Cretan Context, 5: Do Good Works

In today’s Christianity, commanding people to “do good works” sounds rather weird to most and even dangerous to others. We’re allergic to anything with the word “works” in it. We’re living in an increasingly antinomian age, or at least an increasingly anti-imperative age. We don’t like being told what to do and we’re pretty sure anyone who tries must be “a legalist.”

We wouldn’t know how to handle a letter from the Apostle Paul. We also wouldn’t know how to lead the church in a Cretan context.

For Paul writes:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful …

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5 Strategies for Ministering in a Cretan Context, 2

A little while back we began a brief look at the book of Titus as a window onto biblical strategies for ministering in a context similar to Crete (see here). As Paul describes the situation, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’” (Titus 1:12). Titus has to plow the hard soil of unregenerate hearts in a culture of dishonesty and fleshly living. How do you labor in such a climate?

First, Paul commands Titus to appoint solid leaders.

Second, those leaders must rebuke people so that they’re sound in the faith. Paul writes:

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, that they may be found in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (Titus 1:10-14)

I wonder if we ever hear church plant strategists emphasize the ministry of personal rebuke as an effective strategy? I don’t think I have. But it’s part and parcel to ministry in a difficult context. How else will the corruptions of a fallen culture and fallen heart be addressed?

I suspect most of us are more inclined to finding what …

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