Serving others Posts

One One Year Later – Let’s not give up. – July 7, 2017

A year ago tonight, fourteen people were shot and five Dallas Police officers were killed during a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas. It was the single most fatalities among law enforcement since 9/11. And Dallas was brought to her knees. The peaceful protest had been formed in response to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men who were killed by law enforcement in Minnesota and Louisiana, just days earlier. The sniper said he wanted to kill white people, and white officers in particular.

Like many, my summer evening was interrupted by images on TV, as I watched in horror, struggling to believe that this could happen here in our beloved city. Immediately my mind raced back to a few years earlier when my friend, Pastor Bryan Carter, and I asked the question, “What if Ferguson happened in Dallas? Would we be ready?” The quick was answer, “no”, we realized we were not ready to respond. The greater Church of Dallas was not ready to respond, so it would be difficult for the city to come together and respond in peace with a collective response to bring hope and healing.

The broader church of Dallas, across racial lines, simply did not know each other. We began pulling pastors and leaders together to talk about the racial divide in Dallas and our nation. Over time, we did come to know each other. As a result, we came to love each other. We began meeting, praying, swapping pulpits, serving together, and members of our churches met members from other churches across racial lines. And God showed up. Through Movement Day, Transform Dallas, the pulpit swaps, prayer meetings, men’s and women’s gatherings, our hearts were softened, grace was extended, and we were ready to love others, only after we came to love each other. We learned that empathy truly is the pathway to peace.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

We began to ask : How do we do justice in Dallas, Texas? How do we love kindness? How do we walk humbly? We discovered that humility leads to empathy, kindness leads to progress, and justice leads to healing.

We have a long way to go, but we know this: Racial reconciliation is a result, an implication, of the Gospel. If God’s people love Him and embrace the Gospel and its implications, we will display the Gospel in every aspect of life. And in its corporate expression, its diversity, would reveal the love of God, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 Literally, the “multi-colored wisdom of God” would be on display.

In many ways, by the sovereign Hand of God, we were ready when the shootings took place a year ago. The Church was ready and responded. We came together the next morning at Thanksgiving Square (credit the work of our mayor, Mike Rawlings, who reached out to the faith community). We came together the next night at Concord Church to declare, Together We Stand. In the days that followed we organized a clergy mobilization meeting that continues to meet. Pastor Richie Butler has led an initiative called, The Year of Unity that continues on throughout this year. We have discovered that we need each other in ways we never realized. We’ve learned that we must recognize and embrace the definitive source of our Hope. The Good News of Jesus Christ actively undermines the sins that feed racial strife, and leads to a many-colored and many-cultured kingdom expression of God’s people. If we go at this alone they will not believe. But together we challenge presuppositions and prove that the Gospel makes one what was formerly divided. Our love for each other proves our faith in Christ.

A year later I think progress has been made, but we have long way to go. We must not give up. We must walk in humility, seeking to understand and empathize. We must, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 When someone’s life is taken (black, white, officer, civilian) it is not the time to talk about the “facts”. There’s a time and place for the facts, but it’s first a time to weep. Can we not simply weep and grieve with families who have lost loved ones? Can we pray with them and for them? And when our brothers and sisters are weary and sad, it is time for the entire Body of Christ to respond with understanding, in prayer, and love. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Let us empathize. Let us intentionally pursue one another. Let us persevere. Don’t give up. Increase your ethnic I.Q. You cannot get a G.E.D. if you don’t understand white culture, but you can get a doctorate and know nothing about black culture. Expand your relational world into places where people don’t look like you.

Thank you to my black brothers and sisters who have not given up, who put up with us, who have forgiven us for saying things we did not understand. We are sorry that it has taken such a long time to understand. We are sorry that many of us have not stood with you in the past. It is a new day and many are ready to stand with me, with you, as we seek one nation under God. Even more, let’s be the answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17 – one Church, under God, in Him. Let us not give up. May this anniversary help us grieve, weep again, determining to be the change we want to see in the world. Let us be angry over injustice and yet not sin. May we pause, pray, and remember. And then, let’s finish the work that God has called us to.

 

When Bike Meets Car

There’s an old adage among cyclists: “There are two types of riders; those who’ve crashed and those who are going to.” The longer you ride, the more likely this is realized. I’ve been in a few crashes. While in a large peloton, I went down hard at mile 48 (in the “Hotter than Hell 100”, in Wichita Falls). Miraculously, I didn’t break any bones, though I ended up with the worst road rash I’ve ever had. I finished the race, but later discovered my bike was totaled with a cracked frame. My helmet was cracked as well.

I had never been hit by a car, until a few weeks ago. And when bike meets car, there is no contest. Thankfully, I was not going fast nor was the car, but it was enough to take me down quick and the result was a fractured fibula and three broken bones in my ankle. I’m in week three of a long recovery. Six to eight weeks of no weight-bearing activity and ten weeks before I can drive. I will then be in therapy to strengthen the atrophied muscles, then six months to a year before I’m 100 percent.

But enough with “lesser things”. There’s a much bigger story here, and it’s the story we all find ourselves in. When bike meets car happens on a daily basis for all of us. When expectations meet reality is a daily challenge. When our hopes and dreams are shattered like my right ankle, what do you do? When joy and sorrow collide, how do you worship God? I’ve been holding on to and revisiting Romans 8:28-29. Read it again carefully:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29

Here’s what I’m learning:

  1. God has a bigger plan than ours and it is great and glorious. We often read verse 28 without verse 29 and the two are inseparable. All things work together and it seems most of “all things” are bad But God works bad things into good things. Only He can do that, showing Himself sovereign, all-powerful, and loving. The key is to notice His purpose toward which He’s working all things. His purpose is for us to be “conformed into the image of His Son”. If we have joined Him in that purpose, then we have given our lives over to whatever He deems necessary to see that purpose fulfilled. We are not our own. We have truly become the clay in the Potter’s hands. We are liquid; He is the Cast. We are soft and pliable; He is the Mold. In short, we are the created and He is the Creator. He is God and we are not.
  2. God is big enough for our questions and bigger than our disbelief. When we initially face the trauma of a life disrupted, we are shocked and surprised that things will no longer go along the track we had laid out for ourselves. We need time to adjust to the new plan, regardless of how dark or hopeless it seems initially. In the early phase of a life interrupted, all we have are questions. God is big enough for all of our questions, even if they come to Him out of anger and disbelief. Sometimes we want to crawl into His lap other times we want to beat His chest. He’s big enough for both and our angst does not phase Him for a moment.
  3. Sometimes you can only hold on to what you already know. Even in our shock and change of plans we can trust the God of our experience – the God of the Bible. He is faithful and true and does not change. Clearly, if you have walked with Him closely prior to this sudden change of direction, you are quicker to trust that He is in control and has your best intentions in mind. You’ve seen it before. You know that He is true. If you have not, this phase can be brutal and will set the course of which way you will go from here. This is when you must turn to Scripture and to those who will speak the truth about God to you. Knowing who He is, we know that when you can’t see His hand we can trust His heart. He is at work. Almost always we see, looking back, how He was at work during hard times. The goal of the disciple is to see this gap between moments of suffering and complete trust condensed into real time. We really can trust Him in the moment of suffering and pain. This is worship.
  4. We cannot dictate to God what we want as conditions for our obedience. Our role is to trust and obey. His job is to place us in situations and circumstances by which we are conformed into the image of Jesus. This is His great and glorious plan for us. And the more we trust that it is best to be like Jesus, the more we are ready to embrace whatever comes our way in life. In the end (if you live long enough), you realize you do not control what comes at you in life anyway. You only control your response to it all. And it is comforting to know that “all things” come to us first, through the loving hands of our Father.
  5. Our role is worship, through obedience; His role is to conform us into the image of His Son. I’ve learned it really is possible to worship Him, even through writhing pain and severe suffering. Job, who serves as the constant example of worship through suffering, taught us that there is something better than getting all of your answers. He got something better than answers. He got God. Through worship we get God Himself and discover that He really is enough. As we worship Him through obedience (trusting that He is good, loving and kind), we become more and more like His Son.
  6. The Spirit speaks to us when we quiet all of our intellectual questions and get alone with Him and listen. When we are debilitated (physically, mentally, or emotionally) we find ourselves quiet and sometimes alone. Pain is humbling and sets us on our backs before God. It forces us to “be still” (literally, to “let our hands hang down”) and know that He is God (Psalm 48:10). At some point we must stop asking questions and choose to listen to His Spirit speak. He does so through His Word, so we must stop listening to our souls and start speaking to our souls. And what we speak must be the truth. His Word is truth. When we slow down to listen to Him, He speaks. When we don’t, He doesn’t. Pain forces us to stop working and to stop talking and He speaks to us in quiet solitude.
  7. God uses loving people as instruments of hope and healing. We cannot make it through pain and suffering alone. I do not know where I would be right now without the loving care and patient presence of my wife. Stacy has been by me to serve me in every way. In the midst of so much in her own life, she has shown me what unconditional love looks like. Apart from the Spirit’s presence in my life, she has been the single greatest gift in this time of suffering. Indeed, the Spirit has done His work in larger part through her. I’m not used to being on the receiving end of care and it is difficult and humbling. It is also a glory to God to see my loving wife as the tangible hands and feet of Jesus. Miraculous really. I have also been blessed by the outpouring of love from my amazing church family. From our preschoolers to the eldest among us, the love of Jesus expressed, has given me hope and kept me going. There is nothing like the local church. Do not neglect the power and purpose of being devoted to the Body of Christ. Love one another. Serve each other in love. This is the church at its best.

So when bike meets car life is turned upside down, at least for a while. I’m told I will be back to normal some day. I know others who do not have that hope. The true heroes are those (mostly older friends) who have gone through much worse than me and have no hope to improve, but continue to worship God fervently. These are the ones who have learned what I’m seeking to embrace with all my heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ and we know that “in all these things” He is at work to conform us into the image of His Son – all for our good and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

What a good God He is to us.

Pastors: How to Celebrate Jesus on Mother’s Day

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Is the church able to suffer with those who suffer while rejoicing with those who should be honored? I think so, and Mother’s Day gives us a chance to prove it. Mother’s Day is always a challenge for pastors and congregants as we seek to honor and celebrate our moms in appropriate ways. Most pastors will receive an email or a letter telling them how they should have done it differently or been more sensitive or more celebrative. Some say, do nothing because it’s too painful for some, others say, honor moms but acknowledge the pain that is in the room, and still others say it’s all about moms, so go all out, rejoicing over the wonderful gift and influence of motherhood. After all, everyone has a mother and it’s all about honoring their sacrificial example and influence in our lives.

But isn’t worship all about Jesus? Have we placed undue pressure on the pastor and our congregations by focusing too much on Mother’s Day? The true focus and celebration of motherhood should take place in the family, and from one person to another. More than anything my mom will want to hear from me on Mother’s Day, not be recognized as a mom at church. Stacy will want to hear from our children, about how much they love and honor her life and influence.

I know women who will not come to worship on Sunday because it is too painful – having just lost a mom, or longing to be a mom and unable to be so. Perhaps the pain is the result of an unnecessary or exaggerated emphasis on moms. Our focus in worship is always Jesus. In many ways, Mother’s Day feels like the Sunday that lands close to July 4th or Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day. Those are wonderful days to focus on our freedom, those who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and for those who have served our country. But is this a church thing? And should it be a priority for the short time we have in worship together? Hallmark has challenged us to bring our attention to certain holidays when some have very little to do with the church and the advancement of the kingdom. Over time, it seems we have adopted (again) the stuff of this world and “baptized” it into the church to become a part of our liturgy. I’m all for celebrating moms, but let’s the keep the focus where it needs to be. For every motherless child, Jesus is the answer. For every childless woman, Jesus is the answer. For every miscarriage, adoption that didn’t come through, for every death, or struggle with infertility, Jesus is the answer. We will do well to make sure He dominates our attention and affection this Sunday and every Sunday.

At PCBC, we will share a version of the words below. In another venue we will share a responsive reading together, sharing the same essence, acknowledging the pain and grief of motherhood. I want our entire congregation to feel what others feel and for everyone to know we are in this together. We are a family. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Acknowledging the Wide Continuum of Mothering – by Amy Young

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child – we celebrate with you
  • To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away – we mourn with you
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
  • To those who have disappointment, heartache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
  • To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
  • To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
  • To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
  • To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren – yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
  • To those who placed children up for adoption – we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

I’ve often said that, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” The greater the love, the greater the grief. There is no grief greater than the grief of a mother, because there is no love greater than the love of a mother. This Sunday, let’s honor our moms appropriately, teach the church to be the church, but let’s keep our minds attention and our hearts affection on Jesus, the Giver of all good gifts, including (and especially) our moms.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

 

 

Fixer Upper

What do you do when you’re in the right location but you’ve got the wrong design? You’ve got to fix it up! On their wildly popular show, Chip and Joanna Gaines walk us through the process of transforming dilapidated, but potential-rich houses into showcases. This is an apt analogy for those of us who know we’re in the right family (by God’s sovereign design) but stand in need of help. Every family needs to be fixed up.

In Ephesians 5:21-6:4, God’s Word gives us principles to help us see how this happens.

In the end, here’s the radical truth that will change your family:

 To fix your family up, you need power down.  

Throughout this passage we see the word “submit” and the little word “as”, referring to Christ and His submission to the Father and His love for us over and over. Submission to one another in the family is what makes it work. We are to be “as” Christ in our relationships. In order to stay the course, and not bail when a remodel or redesign is necessary, we need exactly what God teaches us in Ephesians 5. A family that has “staying power” is a family that follows these biblical principles. Our culture continues to debate, define, and re-define the family. We’ve been asking the wrong questions: How can my relationships make me happier? How can my spouse fulfill my needs? How can my children make me happy? How can marriage be more fulfilling for me? What’s in it for me? God shows us a very different perspective on the family because:

God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us.
“Sanctify” is a word that means, to make holy, to set apart, to be made righteous. God’s original blueprint for us is to be created in His image and display His glory in all we do. We busted that plan up early on. Through God’s rescuing grace, we are brought back to His original design, sanctified. The process of sanctification then, is not becoming something I’m not, but becoming who already am in Him. My identity is secured. I am His “beloved”. The family serves as God’s subcontractors to create the environment within which this process takes place. We need families who will stay the course.

Staying Power

1. Stay submissive to Jesus Christ. (5:1-2) All of Ephesians up to this point is about God’s rescuing grace. The Gospel indicatives always lead to the Gospel imperatives. Paul moves to how we respond to God’s one-way love for us in Christ. Paul says, because you’ve been rescued from your sin, now submit to Christ.

2. Stay submissive to one another. (5:21) What does submission to Christ look like in the family? At the beginning of this entire passage on the family, he says we submit to one another out of reference to Christ. What does it mean to submit to another person? It means I will leverage my assets, my strength, my power, and my time for your benefit. This is Gospel reenactment in the family. It’s all I am for all that you need. Do you want to fix up your family? Power down. Submit to others, serve, and help one another. The radical, guiding question in the home becomes: How can I help? How can I serve you?

3. Stay committed to your marriage first. (vv. 22-33) The key to raising happy, healthy children is to give more time and attention to your marriage than you do to your children. Don’t forget that later is longer. You will be married long after your kids are gone and the days you have with your adult children will be long through the years. Stay the course and keep your marriage first in the child-rearing days. Keep dating. Get away. Keep growing.

4. Stay clear about the family structure. (v. 22-25, 6:1-4) Understand the family structure and communicate it clearly to the entire family. If the key to a great family is mutual submission, then is anyone in charge? This is where it becomes counter-intuitive. Jesus is the Head of the Church and He gave His life for everyone in it. He came to serve, not to be served and He ultimately gave His life away. He was Servant Number One. Husbands are to serve their wives and children in the same way. We feel if we give up power we’ll lose everything but Jesus, who is the Head of Church, is precisely so because He gave His power. He gave His life away. To fix up, we need to power down. Here we see that God’s family flow chart shows us that the husband is the head of the wife (practicing mutual submission in their varied roles) and the parents are over their children. The simple role of the children is clear: obey. Instead, in many American families, children have taken over. We’ve put kids in the corner office. They’re driving the family bus and calling the shots.

Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor, once observed this about American families: “The thing that impresses me about American families is the way the parents obey their kids.”

Put your kids first and you can be assured that they will become manipulative, demanding, and unappreciative of everything you do for them. You will guarantee that they’ll grow up believing it is unfair to expect them to do anything and it will further guarantee your child’s unhappiness because happiness is only achieved by accepting responsibility for one’s self, not by believing that someone else is responsible for you. See the health of the family as a unit and it all starts with the health of the marriage. The parents are benevolent dictators. We need are more parent-centered families and fewer child-centered families.

5. Stay close to your children. (6:1-4) Being parent-centered doesn’t mean you don’t spend time with your children. You must stay in close to your kids. Know their friends names, the music they like, their favorite shows, clothes, and sports. Stay near to their hearts. Let dinnertime become a time to catch up and find out where their hearts are. Sit down with your child, do homework together, play together, and pray together at bedtime. You must stay in relationship with them. The old adage is so true: Rules without relationship breed rebellion. Remember to keep the end in sight: emancipation. You’re raising them to leave. And in parenting the days are long but the years are short. Keep in the end in sight.

6. Stay centered in God’s family. Make the church your family’s epicenter. Let the church help you raise your kids. Single parents, and parents who may feel you are, you’re not alone. Just as God has been very clear about our families, He’s also been very clear about His own big family, the Church.

“How great is the love of the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

God invites you into His family. There’s no perfect family, but there is a perfect Father. Psalm 68:6 says, “God sets the lonely in a family.” What does this submission to Christ, submission to one another look like in the home? I think it was Andy Stanley who brought this whole idea of submission down to a single question. I’ve discovered it can change everything:

How can I help?

And as you seek to serve others well, don’t forget this: no horizontal relationship in your life will ever satisfy. And as you seek to be sanctified, remember in Christ you have been made righteous already. You’ve been holied.

And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:30

Sanctification is not becoming something you’re not, but something you already are. It’s living out the new identity you now have in Christ. Rest in Him. You’re already loved perfectly and have nothing to prove. And because you now have all the love you’ll ever need in Him, you can love others without any need for love in return. I can power down and love like Jesus.

“For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14

 To fix your family up, you need power down.  

 

Thursday night before His death

005-jesus-washes-feet

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”  John 13:5

On the night before His death, Jesus would teach the greatest lessons of His ministry to His disciples. The Master-Teacher would use object lessons, symbols, and hands-on teaching to make His point. The first lesson was on servanthood; the second was on sacrifice. The first involved the washing of His disciples’ dirty feet, an act performed only by a servant, not a master. He took off His outer garments, taking on the appearance of a slave boy. When He finished washing their feet, He didn’t say, “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you wash mine”, (as we would have done). Instead He said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). You see, the way we express love to Jesus is by expressing love to one another. The way we serve Him is by serving others.

The second lesson was around the table as He took the familiar elements of the Passover Meal and re-interpreted them as fulfilled by Him. The matzah bread, (unleavened bread, always pierced and always striped), represented His body. The cup of redemption represented His blood shed for them. How unusual it must have been as Jesus brought new meaning to these ancient symbols; how amazing it must have been after His death and resurrection to understand with crystal clarity what He meant. And now we know as well.

“The Master will dress Himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and He will serve them.”  Luke 12:37

Pray: Lord, thank you for your amazing act of servanthood and your example of sacrifice for me. I want to live the life of a servant. I will love someone for free today and in so doing, I will be expressing my love to you. Tonight, as I lay my head down to rest I will remember the sleepless night you had as you were arrested, tried, and beaten. I worship you as the Servant and Lord of all.