The Reality of Racism

So . . . this might be a long one.

I’m a conservative and I find myself increasingly concerned about how polarized our nation is becoming.  It seems like lines are being reinforced between “us vs. them” rather than a goal of unity.  One area that seems to be polarizing is that of racism.  Don’t believe me?  Then how do you feel about such things as . . . Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, Affirmative Action, Ferguson, and the list goes on and on.

One conservative voice that I like quite a lot is Ben Shapiro.  One of the arguments that he makes is that institutional racism is no longer a reality.  Here is his argument.  When I listen to his very rational argument I think, “How can those people on the other side argue against this?”  Thankfully, I have a neighbor/friend/colleague who does disagree with Ben Shapiro and he is willing to argue with me over lunch, on the sidewalk, or even in the church.  And you know what?  He still loves me as a brother in Christ, it is a beautiful thing.

Our many discussions led to a discussion that we had at our church on racism in our community and our country.  You can find some video and audio of our panel discussion HERE.  I think I finally have a better grasp on the idea of institutional racism in our country and maybe I can help people like Mr. Shapiro, myself, and others who want to identify the problem.

The treatment of people of color in our nation’s history has been abysmal.  Think about it, it was less than 60 years ago that black people were not allowed to use the same water fountains as white people.  They had to use different bathrooms, go to different schools, use different entrances and exits to buildings . . . WHAT?!!  That is the epitome of institutional racism.  And as we rewind the dials of history the treatment only gets worse by orders of magnitude to the point where the dignity of a person was nothing more than that of a domesticated animal because of slavery.  Slavery was legal in the United States (1776) until 1865.  So, if we put all of this together, what we have is about 200 years where our “systems” (government, business and commerce, education, housing, etc.) treated people of color, specifically African-Americans as dramatically inferior.

But isn’t all of that over now?  It is literally illegal for our systems to continue such treatment.  Racism is now largely abhorred by society in general.  Of course racism exists and will always exist because people are flawed beings and there will always be hate and ignorance, but “institutional racism” is dead.  Racism is no longer accepted.  Good has won the day . . . hasn’t it?

The answer, I think, lies somewhere in the middle (as it usually does).  I do believe that institutional racism is over, a thing of the past.  And should it rear its vile head again, our culture will chop it down once again.  So what is Colin Kaepernick going on about?  What is Black Lives Matter talking about?  Do police really profile black people?  Is that why “African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites?

The left would cry “RACISM!!!” and the right would cry “STOP COMMITTING MORE CRIME!!!”

Let me just get quickly to my thesis instead of trying to build my case.

I think racism is an injury or an illness that our country is recovering from.  And like any trauma the body endures it will take time to heal, time that is often painful.  Rehabilitation is not easy.  So while the bone has been set we still need to heal and build up strength.  Men like Colin Kaepernick and organizations like Black Lives Matter have every right to cry, “RACISM!” because the effects of 200 years of abhorrent institutional racism are still with us.  It takes longer than a single generation to recover from a devastating economic gap; or education gap; or a breakdown in the family.

The truth is, institutional racism caused severe damage for hundreds of years in our nation, and the pains of that damage will take a long time to be alleviated even after the problem has been addressed.  I think we need to do a better job or working together to bring the body of our nation to good health.

As a nation, we need to be extra sensitive to the wound that racism caused.  Imagine if you spent your whole life without the proper use of your right arm.  Of course your left arm will be stronger and have more advantages than your right (that is the essence of white privilege).  But if the malady could be remedied then you would have to do the hard and painful work of rehabilitation.  Institutional racism may be remedied in our country, but a large and significant part of our body still deserves the appropriate attention and care until the damage and effects that centuries of institutional racism caused are also remedied.

For a long time institutional racism was not an excuse for the lack of advancement for people of color, it was the reason.  Let us strive to not allow it to become an excuse.  May we ALL do the hard and sometimes painful work of rehabilitation until “we live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin by by the content of their character.”

I will close with the following idea.  I believe that the greatest pathway to true rehabilitation and healing is in Jesus Christ.  Faith in Jesus is to lead us to care for one another regardless of race.  Faith in Jesus is to lead us pick up our mat and walk and not continue in infirmity.  Faith in Jesus gives us a forward vision to complete unity one day.  Dr. King put it this way:

. . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.  This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.  With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Regardless of if you accept the existence of institutional racism, the pain caused by it still exists.  Let us strive to alleviate this pain by lifting each other up and striving for the victory that so many have fought for us to have; a victory that began in that great work of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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The Importance of . . . Your Butt

I recently preached a sermon entitled, “Posterior Elections.”  Posterior, according to Mr. Webster means, “the part of the body above the legs that is used for sitting.”  So, from here on out let’s just be honest, when you read the definition above you instantly thought the word, “butt.”  Because, hey, that’s “the part of your body above the legs that is used for sitting.”

I am beginning to understand the importance of that word more and more as it relates to church.  Our church has had a lot of new faces lately and it has been great.  But our attendance has leveled off even as we have new faces.  The reason is that some of our regulars aren’t so regular anymore.  And I get it, life happens.  But where you plant your butt on a Sunday can have powerful implications for the life of your church and the health of the Kingdom.  Not only where, by WHY your plant that posterior is just as important.

Let me give you an example.  Recently my wife and I went out on an early Friday afternoon date because she had the day off.  We went to the 11am showing of the new Avenger’s movie (by far the most popular movie at the time of this writing).  There were 8 people in the theater.  It was AWESOME!  We could pick our seats, the theater was silent, and we could  really enjoy the show which is why we went to the theater in the first place.

Church shouldn’t be like that.  I have come to believe that the size of the audience (or crowd) really matters at church.  BUT, the size of the crowd only matters when each individual in that crowd is coming to not just “enjoy the show/sermon/worship” but to JOIN the show/sermon/worship.

So here’s my point: you matter, and your church attendance matters.  I believe that a church experience is all the richer when more people come to actively participate in the community of God, the church; and actively join together in worship to an Almighty God and fellowship with each other.  I’m not saying that small churches (like ours) don’t experience that great and exhilarating presence of God, we do.  I’m simply saying that every time you skip church you cost yourself an opportunity to be blessed by the experience AND because you matter, others forfeit the blessing that you could have been to others had you been there.

A Man, His Wife, and His Lord

On Saturday night/Sunday morning I was up late working on my stuff for Sunday.  Then I got an email: Floyd White had passed away, joining his wife who had died just a few short years ago.

Floyd and Mary White were instrumental to the foundation of Bethlehem Baptist Church which later became Fair Oaks Church, which is now Expectation Church.  I was ordained and sent by that church along with three other families to plant Exponential Church in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  And so, by extension, Floyd and Mary White were instrumental to the foundation of Exponential Church.

I knew Floyd.  He was the model of a man that lived to please his Lord and best friend, Jesus.  Part of that was being a godly husband and father to his wife and children whom he loved dearly.  He always faithfully attended and served at church.  He always encouraged my wife and me.  He was simply the kind of man that all Christian men should aspire to be.  Paul the Apostle said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Floyd could have said the same.

I knew Mary too.  She was always with Floyd at his side.  She was the kind of woman that the Bible says to honor and the kind of wife the Bible teaches.  Every week she would find my wife and give her an envelope stuffed with coupons because she knew that my wife was a coupon shopper.  She would give us advise on church planting like keeping a diary (part of why I write a blog, though I am not very good at it) and simply enjoying the process.

I don’t know everything God will say when Floyd joins his wife and his Lord in His presence.  But I have to believe that he will hear, as Mary did, the same words I desperately long to hear some day:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Oh that I could be a man like Floyd, a man that longs to serve and live well.

The video below is a couple of years old but it still made me cry.  You should watch it:

History from Exponential Church on Vimeo.

 

Q&A – What is the difference between the soul and spirit of man?

Ok, so this question is one that has been debated for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Even Plato (not a Christian) chimed in on this one.  In the Christian worldview there are really two camps that I know of.

DISCLAIMER: This is a classic philosophy question.  I’m not a philosopher.  I’ve got books on my shelf that I can dig into and really research this question, but to be honest, I’m not going to.  This is just going to be a quick, cursory opinion.

The fist view: Man consists of his body and soul/spirit.  That is, soul and spirit are interchangeable terms.  In this view the soul/spirit of a person is the reality of a person apart from their physical body that survives after the death of the body.

The second view: Man consists of three parts: body, soul, and spirit.  The body is the purely physical where the soul resides.  The soul is the real “person” of each of us.  That is, you ARE a soul but you HAVE a body.  The spirit of a person is the unique means by which God connects to each person.  The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says it this way, “While soul in the NT [New Testament] normally means an individual spiritual entity with a material body so that a person is thought of as body-soul, spirit is the special gift of God that places one in relationship to him” (Osterhaven, p. 1129).

I lean far more towards the second view.  I believe that each of us has a soul, created by God long before we were ever born (Jeremiah 1:5).  God created a body for that soul that was and is just as unique (Psalm 139:14).  Each person (body and soul) is entirely dead in their spirit until Christ makes them alive by His Spirit, the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:1-10).  Those who are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ will dwell forever with God and each other in Heaven.  They will be given new bodies to dwell in, these bodies will be real and physical while at the same time capture that same spiritual connection that has been made alive through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:1-57).

While this does not do complete justice to the discussion, hopefully it will help to have a beginning understanding of our body, soul, and spirit.

1 Year

DadMe

Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad’s passing.  So, in honor of my pops I would like to share a few life lessons that he taught me.  (Note: This is in no way an exhaustive list.)

1. A tool on the ground can’t fall.

My dad was a licensed contractor in his retirement.  I grew up on many a jobsite with him and never paid attention like I should have (I regret it now, I could have learned a lot more than I did).  On one of our projects I kept dropping everything: place a drill on a step ladder – fell to the ground; place a circular saw on a table edge – fell to the ground; place the drill on a new header – fell to the ground.  Finally my dad said, “Son, just put it on the ground, it can’t fall then.”

Sometimes it’s better to take a few extra seconds and forfeit a small measure of convenience in order to save yourself a headache (or damaged tools or floors) later on.

2. There’s more to the story.

My dad always told us this growing up.  Pretty much it boils down to this: don’t be so quick to judge others, especially those in leadership, or situations as they are happening.  There is always more information that you simply don’t have and others may.  So don’t be so quick to assume you know everything or you know what’s better.

3. You’d better be able to answer with the Bible.

What this one means is simple: if you are going to be angry at someone or with a situation you had better make sure you are on sound Biblical grounds.  When I was in high school I got bent out of shape over something stupid and got angry with my parents.  That’s when my dad taught me this lesson.  He calmly explained to me that if I was going to be angry with them I should be able understand and express my anger on Biblical grounds.  Often we are sinfully angry.  Are you angry because you weren’t chosen for something and someone else was?  That’s called envy.  Are you angry because someone wronged you and has yet to be punished for it?  That’s called un-forgiveness.  Are you angry because mom and dad won’t let you do what you want to do?  That’s called dishonoring your parents.  So always check your anger against the Bible.  There are right times and ways to be angry.

That’s it for now.  I hope you learned a little something.  I think about my dad everyday and it makes me miss him.  But I know he is exactly where he wanted to be ever since he came to know Jesus as his savior.  He’s home and because of God’s promises I know I will see him again someday; I’m sure he’ll have a lot more to teach me then.

Q & A – Besides leading a Godly life and sharing the gospel, do you think every Christian has a specific calling from God?

ABSOLUTELY!!!  I think Scripture and logic verify this idea that God has a specific purpose or calling for each and every one of us.  And before we progress with an answer to this question let’s clarify one important aspect of this question.

Leading a Godly life and sharing the gospel are huge, worthy endeavors that are enough to live a purposeful life.  So if you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you are living out God’s calling on your life ask yourself, “Am I living a Godly life as led by the Holy Spirit and confirmed in the Scriptures?” “Am I actively sharing the gospel with integrity between my words and deeds?”  If you can answer in the affirmative to both questions that I would wager that you will feel fairly confident that you are living out God’s calling on your life.

But does God have a “specific” calling for each and every person?

According to Scripture?  I believe He does:

There is simply too much infinite wisdom and intentionality in the character and nature in the God of the Bible to suggest that God created a human being with no specific part to play in His design.

Logically, I think it also abundantly clear that each person has a specific, God-given purpose.  Look at the uniqueness of each and every person: fingerprints, the blood vessels in your retina, DNA; each of these are entirely unique for every single person that has been, is, or will be.  Have you ever considered that?  Internally and externally, you are entirely unique.  In my estimate (for whatever it is worth) it is incomprehensible for a God to create you with complete uniqueness without a purpose as unique as your design.  The logical trajectory of your design is that God has a unique purpose for you too.

Now for the crux or the matter: how do I know what His purpose for me is?  Only God knows that and we are allowed the privilege of a life in seeking Him out to fulfill that purpose; enjoy the pursuit.  If it helps, I preached a sermon on finding your calling, you can find it here.

Q & A – Not that we need answers from science but I notice more science proving God. I’d like to know you’re thoughts on that please.

I love this question (or request rather).  I completely “nerd-out” when considering the interplay between science, theology, and God.  This is the second time I’ve set out to answer this question, the first time I got to nearly 700 words and decided to start over.

I actually do think we need answers from science.  Science is a beautiful thing and I believe that it can be a powerful instrument for worship.  I don’t think God has created this infinite and complex universe for us just to see it and say, “Oh, that’s nice.”  Instead, I think God is honored when we look at each successive layer that science allows us to see as we delve deeper into creation.

Also, I don’t think that science can or ever will “prove” God.  In fact, I don’t think God will allow it.  Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  If we could prove that God created the universe then it would not longer require trusting faith.  I think God desires faith because He desires a genuine relationship with us.  In the presence of absolute, empirical truth the need for trust is completely diminished and so the quality of relationship.  That said, however, I don’t think that science contradicts God as many have suggested.

As science develops I think it increasingly points to the presence of an infinitely intelligent God.  I know that many scientists might claim that the construction of a god is the result of ignorant minds trying to explain unexplainable phenomena, but I believe that it is irresponsible to completely accept that.  Of course ancient cultures created the notions of deities to explain natural phenomena (Zeus and lightning, Poseidon and the seas, etc), but just because such logic has been used for some does not mean that same logic applies to all.

Science does not erase or rationalize the necessity of a creator God.  Science is just a process of seeking truth and if all truth is God’s truth then why can’t science be a means of seeing God’s hand in our lives?  That’s how I see it.  I look at the beautifully elegant constructions found in mathematics and physics and I know that absolute truth is a reality and that such truth cannot be the consequential results of chance.  Science points me in the direction of God, faith proves God.

 

Q & A: Can the Trinity be found, mentioned or proven anywhere in the Bible?

Ok, this is a good question and one that cannot really be answered in one blog.  The answer, thought debatable by some, is this: explicitly, no; implicitly, most definitely.  Now, let me explain:

The Trinity is that God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each person of the Trinity is unique and separate from the other, but each is also fully God and God is one.  In short, ONE God exists in THREE persons.  I know this sounds tricky and it is because we are talking about the composition of an infinite being and we are doing so from within the context of our own finite minds.

A jewel of Christian theology is a book called, Christian Theology by Millard J. Erickson.  Here are a couple of things he said about the Trinity, “In the final analysis, the Trinity is incomprehensible.  We cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity.  When someday we see God, we shall see him as he is, and understand him better than we do now.  Yet even then we will not totally comprehend him.  Because he is the unlimited God and we are limited in our capacity to know and understand, he will always exceed our knowledge and understanding” (p. 363).  And he said, “The Bible does not explicitly teach the trinitarian view of God, but the teachings that God is one and that three persons are God clearly imply this view” (p. 346).  So, while some people question the Trinity, approaching the doctrine of the Trinity is simple.

Let’s ask a few questions:

Is God one and only one God?

Yes.  Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Is there God the Father?

Yes.  1 Corinthians 8:6a “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist. . .”

Is there God the Son?

Yes.  Keep reading from the passage above, 1 Corinthians 8:6b “. . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

Additionally, Jesus invoked the name of God for himself in John 8:58 and called for God to share His glory in John 17:5, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”  This is important because in Isaiah 48:11 God says, “My glory I will not give to another.”  If Jesus is not God, then the Bible is thus filled with contradictions and Jesus would be a vile man because he claimed divinity and allowed others to worship him (Matthew 2:11, 14:33, 28:9, 28:17, Luke 24:52, John 9:38).

Is the Holy Spirit God?

Yes. John 4:24a “God is spirit.”

So what we have is ONE God; God in the personage of the Father; Jesus the Son, who is God; and that God is the Holy Spirit.  Thus we have the ingredients of the Holy Trinity that we do not understand.  Stated briefly:

The Father IS God.  Jesus IS God.  The Holy Spirit IS God.  The Father IS NOT Jesus.  The Father IS NOT the Holy Spirit.  Jesus IS NOT the Holy Spirit.

How does this work?  I don’t know.  I can’t understand all of God but that is the picture the Bible paints.  Look at Geneses 1:26 – 27, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . So God created man in his own image.”  Ever wonder why God refers to Himself in the plural here?  Could it be that He is One God that exists in three persons?

How does any of this make sense?

Well, it is hard (or rather impossible) for us to fully grasp or understand.  But here are a couple of analogies that, while not sufficient, might put us on the right track towards accepting this theology of the Trinity.

Water.  Water is water, it is always H2O but it does exist in three states that are unique from each other.  Ice (Solid) IS H2O. Water (Liquid) IS H2O. Steam (Gas) IS H2O.  Ice IS NOT a liquid.  Ice IS NOT a gas.  Water (liquid) IS NOT a gas.  One substance that exists in three states with each state unique.

People.  I am a son, husband, and father.  I am one person, but each of those relationships is entirely unique.  To my mother I am not a husband or father.  To my wife I am not a son or father.  To my children I am not a husband or son.  One person that exists as three relationships with each relationship unique.

God is one God that exists as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit; each one unique.

So while the Trinity may not be explicitly mentioned in the Bible it is certainly proven by the Bible.

Forgiveness Heals . . . You

As a pastor you would be surprised how often you have to deal with people leaving you.  That’s because, regardless of what they say, every pastor (and their family) feels as though every person that leaves the church is leaving them.  You may have heard me say it before, we take it personally even though it’s usually not.

People leave churches for all kinds of reasons.  Some reasons are good, some are not so good.  Some reasons are selfish, sometimes the reasons are found in God’s calling.  Maybe the pastor said something, maybe someone else said or did something.  The point is, like the great Floyd White has said, “Church is a train going down the tracks.  People get on, people get off, just keep the train going down the tracks.”

I’ve seen lots of people come and go at the churches (only two) I’ve been a pastor.  Some people I barely knew, some were the closest of friends and confidants.  It’s sad how someone’s exit can leave a stain on all the time that led up to their departure.  But I’ve come across a piece of advice that is too good not to share.  I learned it from my pastor’s wife, Karen.  (As a side note, pastors’ wives are generally the smartest people in the room; my wife is certainly no exception).

A few years ago my wife and I went to dinner with Pastor Stokes and Karen.  The times we get together are great and, as we often do, we were discussing ministry.  The topic of people departing came up and Karen’s wisdom was profound.  She simply said, “I refuse.”  That is, she refused to be angry, bitter, or resentful.  She simply said, “no” to those feelings.  Instead, she chooses to embrace forgiveness and recall the good.  I’ll never forget that dinner (it was at Bob Evan’s, one of our go-t0 places) because I cling to that wisdom.

As you go through life, you are going to have great times with people.  You will overcome obstacles, adversities, and hardships with people.   You will enjoy successes, triumphs, and victories with people.  You will work hard with people and laugh with people.  Some of those people will remain life-long friends.  Some will fall out of touch.  Some may depart from you on the best of terms and yes, some will even depart from you on the worst of terms.  But no matter what, remember the good moments of life lived with those who have departed from you and refuse to cling to the bad.  Allow forgiveness to heal the pain of a painful departure and pray for their best moving forward.  Great advice from an incredibly smart lady.

Why Financial Peace University?

Next week our church will be starting a journey called Financial Peace University where we will be learning about handing money in a God-centered, Biblical way.

So why Financial Peace University?

I believe in it.  FPU is not some great mysterious financial equation that will help you get rich quick.  It is simple education and common sense.  My wife and I have always been good with money.  But after we moved to Port St Lucie and started Exponential Church we fell on some financial hardship that we were not used to.  I would occasionally miss paychecks, my wife was having trouble finding a job, and we were now with four kids with at least two of them in daycare.  Things were getting tighter for us than they ever had.  Our credit card debt starting rising (we used debt to help make ends meet), we were forced to reach out and ask our parents for help, and gracefully, Expectation Church (our sending church) helped make up missing paychecks.  But we hated the financial position we were in.  It felt like a sad, depressing prison.  We were constantly crying out to God.  We didn’t want to win the lottery, we just wanted to pay the bills without having to pick up the phone or go into more debt.

That was when my wife started reading Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money (it is included in FPU).  She prayed, read the Bible, read the book, and talked to me about how she wanted to change how we did finances.  So we changed.  Many of our changes were small changes that added up.  But it worked for us.  It is a slow process that you have to be committed to.  But at the end of the day, we are now completely debt free (except for our mortgage), we are building an emergency fund, we have a budgeting process that works for our situation, and we have life insurance.  The long and short of it is this: it works.  If you stick to the baby steps in the process and make the appropriate sacrifices, it works.  And the best part?  We don’t feel like we are chained by our finances any more.  Finances are still a reality in our lives, but now we can actually experience the great blessings that God has always been pouring out.  Often I simply overlooked the blessings because I was too focused on the hardship and making excuses.

I want the people in our church to experience that same financial peace.  I want our people to be able to give more if they have a heart to give more.  I want our people to do things God’s way in their lives, including finances.  And most importantly, I want to see the people of Exponential Church introduce people to Christ so they will introduce Him to others.  Finances can either be a great help or hindrance to that vision.

If you’d like to join us in Port St. Lucie for FPU you can register HERE.

Also, we have scholarships available for the class HERE.