culture Posts

Calm Faith in Anxious Times

… and why it’s a great time to be a Christian.

 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

We live in troubled times. In America we find ourselves in a political season that is unprecedented. Our country is more divided, volatile, conflicted, and confused than it’s been in my lifetime. Recent news of the UK’s departure from the European Union reveals that we are not the only ones. At a recent gathering in Charleston, on the anniversary of the massacre of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. nine, I was reminded of how much further we have to go to bridge the racial divide in our country. We have a long way to go. Today the stock market is in a spiraling free fall, terrorism threatens us domestically and abroad, and immigration, sexual identification, abortion, financial disparity, and mental health, all top the news. Even as I write this, I discover that at least 36 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in an attack at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, by suicide bombers who blew themselves up. Is there any question, we live in fearful times? Understandably, these events result in skepticism and unbelief for many, while a few see the birth pangs of a coming new Creation. As a pastor, I’m reminded every day of this undercurrent of cultural anxiety, that inevitably surfaces in our personal lives- in our relationships, marriages, families, the workplace, and yes, in our churches.

I would like to offer the crazy notion that these are the best of times to be a follower of Jesus. In this cultural moment, we have an opportunity to bring forth a Gospel witness that we have not had in a long time. Indeed, every day is a good day to share the love of Christ and the hope we have in Him. But light shines brightest in the darkness. It is dark, and this is Good News. Hang with me; the Church needs to hear this.

The Jewish Rabbi, Edwin Howard Friedman, was a family therapist who applied family systems theory to congregational leadership. Years ago, I read his book, From Generation to Generation, in which he explains that one of the qualities to effective leadership is a non-anxious presence. He says parents must offer this non-anxious presence in the family in order to bring security, peace, and direction in the home. This, he describes, is the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes through self-differentiation. This differentiation involves the willingness to be exposed and vulnerable and includes “a persistence to face inertial resistance”. He describes a self-regulation of emotions in the face of volatile criticism. This self-differentiation is not simply an emotional detachment, though it may lead to some, but is more the ability to attach one’s core identity to something outside of the role of leadership and all that entails. It is this self-differentiation that produces the necessary non-anxious presence.

This is what we need in our day. And no one can display this kind of non-anxious presence like those who have found their truest identity in Christ. One’s ultimate self-differentiation is found in Him. Christ offers Himself as the primal example. He defined Himself only in relation to the Father. He was the Beloved Son of God the Father, pure and simple. In John 12, He says He did not speak on His own authority, “but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment- what to say and what to speak” (v. 49). He only did what the Father told Him to do and He only said what the Father told Him to say. Jesus differentiated Himself from all else- His followers, His circumstances, His personal well-being – and found His identity solely as the Beloved Son of the Father. If anyone ever had a non-anxious presence, it was Jesus. And yet, He lived up close and personal- incarnational- fully engaged.

Hear this: If you are “in Christ”, you too are a beloved son or daughter of God. By receiving His grace, through His death upon the cross, by faith, you are now found in Him. His identity is yours. The truest thing about you is found outside of your circumstances. The stock market, terrorism, political polarizations, relational conflicts, personal failures, nor any other thing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.

In anxious times, Scripture takes on new meaning; but only as is applied. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

We are not defined by the circumstances around us; or perhaps we are. Our anxiety, anger, and fear, reveal our hearts and point others to our idols. Let us prove where our hope lies. Let us show the world the non-anxious presence of those who have been differentiated by the love of Christ. Now is the time to put our faith into action. Now is the time to differentiate ourselves as God’s beloved. Be the non-anxious presence others are looking for, and point them to the One who has made you so.

 

Dads: What your children really need to know about you.

 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

Paul sets forth the greatest leadership principle a father can practice: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Many Christian men know that this principle makes sense but few actually follow it. We’ve come to believe that we can say we believe one thing but live out another thing. And unless your children are under two years old, you’ve already figured out that you can’t fool them. They have a built in bull detector. In fact, you’ll do more damage than good, claiming to be or teach one thing, but do another. You will instill distrust and confusion in the life of your child.

The only way to be a great father (or a great leader in any arena of life) is to pursue something greater than yourself. As Christian fathers, we pursue Someone greater than ourselves. In Luke 7 we find the one time in all of Scripture that Jesus was actually “amazed” at someone. Consider how difficult it would be to amaze Jesus. A centurion had come to Him, begging Jesus to heal his sick and dying servant. He explained to Jesus that he believed if Jesus would just say the word, his servant would be healed. Luke 7:9, says,When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” But it wasn’t simply a blind faith that impressed Jesus. It was the centurion’s understanding of Jesus and who He is. The centurion understood a powerful lesson of leadership and of fatherhood. The depth of his understanding is revealed in Luke 7:8, as the centurion explains, “For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The centurion knew that Jesus was under the authority of the Father and He had been given the authority to do what He needed to do. This is the first guiding principle of fatherhood. Dads, you are under the authority of God almighty. You have been given the role as a father by God Himself. Fatherhood is a stewardship; it is temporary; and you are accountable.

If you want to ask your children to follow you as you follow Christ, then you must first understand the guiding principle of fatherhood- that more is caught than taught. In fact, most of what you pass on to your children is caught, simply by watching you day after day. Apply these five principles as you seek to be a father worth following, and then experience the joy of leaving the rest up to God Himself, to shape and mold your children into His image. In the end, life is all about worship. Who/what you worship guides everything else in your life. It’s all about love. What you love is what gets your time, your energy, your thoughts, your money, and your life. Jesus said what you love is where your treasure is (Matthew 6:21). It reveals what you value most. The problem with most of us is that we practice “disordered love”. Augustine said that all of our sins are the result of love out of order. We love good things, more than the Supreme thing. Show your children how to love by putting your loves in order.

1. You love Jesus above all else.

Show your children how to live out of a Gospel identity. Show them that you love Jesus above all else by spending time with Him daily. When your children wake up in the morning, let them see a father pursuing Jesus first, above all else, in His Word. Show them a man who is in passionate pursuit of Jesus. And make Church a priority, above travel, the lake, golf, or whatever your other loves may be. Lead the way. Make it your life’s goal to follow Jesus every day. I’ve seen children watch their dads go to church every week but not follow Jesus every day and if you do so, you will present a false, distorted view of Christianity. Indeed, simply a religion that bears His name. In his book, Risk, Kenny Luck writes, “No man’s life for God will ever outperform his view of God.” He says the biggest challenge facing Christian men is not the world, so much as their view of God. We need men willing to risk and aggressively pursue God. Your view of God will determine your spiritual direction. It’s revealed in His Word and confirmed through your obedience. If a man’s view of God in Christ is accurate, there will be an aggressive and bold spiritual commitment and courage in leadership.

2. You love their mom more than them.

The greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. I’ve learned over the years that the greatest security you can bring to your children is to love their mom. Fathers must express that love boldly and kindly in every day interactions. Again, it’s being caught by your children. Our sons will love their wives as we love ours. Our daughters will be loved and love, as we love our wives. When your children are young, establish clear parameters about who is most important in the family. It’s not the children. The child-centered family is certain to produce selfish attention addicts. The parent-centered family is clear about who’s in charge and which relationship is most important, above all the others. Do not let your young children interrupt adult conversation or adult time. Time for husband and wife supersedes time for children. Over time, this pattern brings great security in the lives of the children. Keep your relationship with your wife the priority, then you’ll be ready to guide your children. In our day, as never before, our sons need fathers. Our daughters need fathers. A father is the son’s first hero and the daughter’s first love. John Eldredge, in his great book, “Wild at Heart”, writes, “What we have now is a world of uninitiated men. Partial men. Boys mostly, walking around in men’s bodies with men’s jobs and families, finances and responsibilities.” Like food through the body, boys become men by spending time with men. And the father is the primary giver of manhood to his son.

3. You love your family more than your job.

One of the most common disordered loves in the lives of men is our God-given love for work. We were designed to work, to build, and construct. In his book, “Choosing to Cheat”, Andy Stanley sets forth a provocative principle: When it comes to balancing work and family, you’re going to cheat someone. He explains, “Everyone is busy. All of us have more to do than we will ever get done. We all have to cheat along the way. When you cheat strategically, you leverage your busyness for the sake of what’s most important. Cheating strategically allows us to communicate the message our families long the feel–you are important to me. You are more important to me than anybody or anything else in the world”. The idea of “cheating” is simply another way to talk about decisions made according to our priorities. Too many fathers pray, “Lord, help my family thrive while I’m in such a busy season and unable to be present in their lives.” Instead, there are times we need to pray, “Lord, I place my work in your hands. Allow my work to thrive, even as I seek to be present with my family during this critical season of their lives.” Throughout any career there are seasons of intense focus at work that will demand your time, but there are also critical moments in the lives of your family that will demand your time as well. In the end, Jesus never talked about “balance”. He talked about an all-out pursuit of one thing: the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). There’s only one first, and when we determine to follow Jesus every day, He will guide us when those tough decisions must be made.

4. You love others without condition.

Show your children how to love others like Jesus loves them. As you parent with grace, forgive and forget, your children will do the same. But you must also teach them to love others outside your family. Especially those who are very different from them. Watch for opportunities to offer biblical commentary on the issues of the day. The way you extend grace to others is the way they will. Show them by your actions how to love others unconditionally. Talk to your children about issues of race, religious pluralism, and sexual orientation. It’s even more important to show them what you believe. Befriend others who are not like you. Introduce them to your children. Have them in your home. You will teach your children how God loves them by showing them that you love people who are not like you at all. If you are not intentional about this you will inadvertently teach your children that you are only comfortable with people who are like you. This is not the way to help them experience God’s grace in diversity nor is it the way to prepare them for a future of growing (and necessary) diversity.

5. You love being with them.

The most important way to show love to your children is by being with them. The old adage that children spell love, T. I. M. E. is true. You can talk about how much love your children and even tell them how much you love them (often via texts or voice mails for some), but nothing surpasses your presence. I love the story of the little boy who was talking with his classmates at school about who had the best dad. “My dad is very busy and has a really important job. He makes lots of money and tells a lot of people what to do every day.” Another boy, seeking to one up the other, said, “My dad is the president of his company and flies in his own private jet to get to meetings all around the country. He’s the best!” Finally, the third little boy spoke up excitedly, “My dad is here!” His dad then joined his son and his classmates for lunch. If you are going to call your children to follow you as you follow Jesus, they must see you do so firsthand.

Dads: be there.

The American Dream is derailing the American Church.

The American Church is losing her way. I write this in hopes of helping some of us get back on track. In recent days our passion, even anger, around non-core issues has revealed that we’ve forgotten who we are and Whose we are. Our early brothers and sisters knew that they were “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in a foreign land. Not once do we see them demanding that the Roman government get on board with their agenda. I can’t imagine Paul thinking, “If we could only get the right emperor on the throne in Rome we could finally advance this Gospel.” Instead, he taught what Peter, and every other apostolic leader taught, that in Christ we now belong to “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). I think Jesus would tell us we’ve been fighting the wrong battle, with the wrong weapons.

If our deepest emotions reveal our idols, then the current anxiety, and anger of some, has exposed our misplaced values. Augustine defined sin as “disordered love”, having highest affections for good things, but not the Supreme thing. Instead of a passion for Christ as Lord and a devotion to love as He has loved us, it seems we’ve come to believe that the kingdom will be ushered in through the White House, rather than through God’s House – through God’s people.

We’ve baptized our own version of the American Dream, with our own American Jesus. The American Dream, that has produced (in my view) the greatest country on earth, has created a national ethos founded on the wonderful ideals of freedom, prosperity, and success for all. Driven by a desire for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, Americans have opportunities that others around the world can only imagine. Today, we pause to thank God for those who have gone before us who have established the God-given principles that guide us. But let’s be sure that we separate the Bible (that helps us live as “aliens and sojourners”, following Jesus every day) from the Constitution (that helps us live as law-abiding Americans everyday).

In his book, “On Two Wings”, Michael Novak explains the context out of which the “American Experiment” was born. Novak states that the way American history has been told for the last century is incomplete. Secular historians have “cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies.” The founding generation established a compact with the God of Israel “and relied upon this belief. Their faith is an indispensable part of their story.” But, as aliens and sojourners, we must remember that there were two wings that established the greatness of America. If one wing was a Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian) ethic and biblical worldview, the other was driven by the Enlightenment, with an emphasis on reason, a secular point of view detached from God. John Adams and others, representing the Christian wing and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others representing the secular wing, hammered out through compromise, a constitution they could all agree upon. Indeed, history has proven it was brilliant and unmatched.

Christians today need to remember two things: First of all, the Constitution is not our Bible. The Constitution governs our nation while the Word of God governs our daily lives. Secondly, we need to recognize that diversity was a central part of our Constitution from the beginning. Therefore, everyone has a seat at the table. The atheist, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the homosexual, the straight, the Christian, the agnostic (you name it), all have a seat at the table. If we pause to consider what we love so much about America and what true religious freedom really is, we realize it must be this way. Christians today need to understand the rules of the game. The great tragedy in our nation today is that we can’t sit down with tolerance and enter into conversation. This is true on all sides of the table. Christians should model a different way, one that James described as being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). In fact, it’s possible to agree constitutionally with a decision made by the Supreme Court and at the same time, disagree with it biblically (again, the constitution is not our Bible). The frustration for many Christians today is that it seems we’re no longer able to leverage political power to help make substantial decisions that sway public policy and opinion. But we need to recognize that it’s never been that way, not regarding decisions that will ultimately change the course of our nation and the advancement of the Gospel. The Gospel will advance (as it does in every nation) as followers of Jesus live their lives fully devoted to Him, sharing His Gospel with a lost and dying world. We need to be able to move into the new normal with a balance of grace and truth. Only Jesus, Himself “full of grace and truth” lived this out perfectly. So, as we fail to do so, may we constantly point to the One who did so perfectly on our behalf. Let’s point them to Jesus who is not simply our Example but our Substitute. He alone has lived the perfect life for us, taking on our sin and shame upon the cross, and rising again so that we too might live as a resurrected people, all to His glory.

Anne Lamott wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” May love be the supreme descriptor of God’s people, in America, and in every nation on earth. Today is a good day to celebrate our freedoms and the founding fathers who made them possible. It’s also a good day to think deeply about where our faith truly lies. I am very hopeful for the American Church. I just returned from a week with hundreds of students who are carving out a new path for the advancement of the Gospel for this emerging generation. I see young people who, like their counterparts of the early church, refuse to allow the emperor his preeminent place and instead call Jesus alone, Lord and King. Let us live as He truly is.

Millennials, Worship, and the Church

Recently, Relevant Magazine posted an excellent article by Sarah Held Evans, entitled, The Church Needs to Stop Pandering to Trends . As usual Sarah brings her gracious and thoughtful perspective, representing many millennials’ views of the church. She points out what I’ve observed for years; “Millennials are not looking for a hipper Christianity. They’re looking for a truer Christianity”. Surely Jesus surrounded Himself with mostly uncool people, in the eyes of the world. They were more like misfits, outcasts, the under-resourced, and the marginalized. God has always chosen people like that. It’s possible for young people in some churches today to believe that being “cool” is a prerequisite to being “Christian”. Jesus taught nothing like this.

My specific love and concern is for the congregation that I’ve been called and am privileged to shepherd, the Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas I hope my thoughts here will be helpful for other pastors and leaders who are seeking to guide their congregations toward God-honoring worship as well. Many pastors I talk with believe that our attention has turned to non-core issues and way too much time is spent talking about secondary matters. Of course this is nothing new to the church. But a hyper-focused return to the Gospel is our only solution. This is why I constantly seek to keep the attention on what matters most: Christ, the Good News of His rescuing grace, and the attempt to join Him in the renewal of all things. Even still, conversations around forms, styles, music, space and such, though non-core, can be helpful.

Please read the above link to Sarah Evan’s post and particularly the Barna Research that prompted her article. I read over this research in November of last year (it was first released 10/2013). It was Luke Sammons, our High School Minister, who pointed me/our team to it. It very much confirmed our direction, and what we knew: Praise God for the amazing worship space that He has given us at PCBC! For those unfamiliar, we worship in our Sanctuary , built about 60 years ago, our gym , constructed about 50 years ago (and remodeled about 4 years ago), and in our Great Hall completed about 10 years ago. Our own local community survey conducted by Auxano confirms the information found in the Barna Research. The survey of our local context also focused on sermon content, driving values, programs and ministry preferences. It also revealed that corporate worship that includes classic/more formal elements, such as a choir, and worship that is led by a band/praise team, are both desired by people in our demographic. Our local survey revealed what the Barna survey shows on a national level: Millennials are drawn to a mix of “casual”, “classic”, “quiet”,”down to earth”, “modern” elements, and participatory/experiential worship. Our study confirms much of what we’re doing at PCBC and also points to what we wrestle with each week: Our Great Hall, though excellent space, is a wonderful speaking room but not the best worship/singing room (it’s challenging acoustically). Our team has been aware of this and is working to improve the congregational singing in the room. As a result, we’re singing better in the Great Hall than we ever have. Our Sanctuary, on the other hand, is an amazing singing room, but I sometimes hear from members who have trouble hearing the spoken word. We are constantly seeking to improve that as well, and progress has been made. Praise God for our wonderful tech team.

The trend Sarah Evans is referencing is one of millennials moving toward a more classic (in her case, Episcopalian) liturgy and a desire for a broader, historical connection to the Church. She says,”I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.” “We need to creatively re-articulate the significance of the traditional teachings and sacraments of the church in a modern context.” I agree with her. We must continue to be creative with each new generation to re-articulate, to help them re-discover, the ancient and timeless truths of the Gospel through all we do.

Sarah left the evangelical church because of a growing need for things, “like space for silence and reflection, a focus on Christ’s presence at the Communion table as the climax and center of every worship service, opportunities for women in leadership and the inclusion of LGBT people.” I love her openness and desire for grace to all people, but I think we would disagree with her on several points. I like to remind millennials and church planters that “we didn’t just show up yesterday”; that we are part of a powerful heritage, and this critical connection helps us know who we really are in Christ and where we fall in His ongoing mission in our world. We see locally what Sarah is referencing (and what the survey points out) in churches like the The Church of the Incarnation near Uptown, in Dallas, reaching lots of millennials through historical liturgy (the Apostles Creed, Common Prayer, weekly communion), and a more open, generous orthodoxy. In terms of style or form, in the end it’s a blend of ancient liturgy, sacred space, modern instrumentation (primarily acoustic), and a more casual dress, perceived as more “authentic”, raw, down-to-earth in its expression. Like us, and other churches reaching across the generations, the Church of the Incarnation offers multiple service options. We’re also seeing churches like Watermark Community Church that are reaching millennials by the thousands through very modern expressions. Not surprisingly, in our own context at PCBC, we see that our more contemporary forms are reaching a younger crowd as well. We also see some younger couples drawn to our traditional forms. Most of our preferences in worship are tied to our past experiences. What we’re seeing in our day is that fewer and fewer worshippers have had an experience in churches like the one I grew up in (with traditional Baptist worship). We’re seeing the results of that as the number of such worshippers is declining annually.

The key is authenticity among the leaders and worshippers whose whole lives are focused on Christ alone. People show up where God is active and alive in the hearts of the people. Millennials (indeed, all of us) are seeking real, honest, even raw, broken people, like us all. I also appreciate the desire toward more quiet moments, more “God time” as I call it, space for us to be silent before Him. We’ve been talking a lot about this lately in our worship planning. I love the multiple expressions we have at PCBC – Great Hall, Sanctuary, gym, all reaching different kinds of people. Though these articles are helpful, I always want to move our conversations away from music, buildings, forms, and on to worship. That’s where they need to stay. Deeper thought regarding the essence of worship, the Object and Subject of our worship, acceptable and unacceptable worship, etc. will point us to proper expressions of worship. I will continue to teach and guide us toward these things. Stephen Carrell, Justin Hornsby (Associate Pastors of Worship), and Ronny and Denny Robinson (who lead in our Hispanic service) will do the same. That’s what I LOVE about our church- we have the unique opportunity and resource (praise God) to reach a broader number of people in our ever-growing, and ever-more diverse population. What unites us is not music, but it is the Gospel; Jesus is the One who unites us. I love that we seek to do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ in our context.

Every church has its own unique collective potential (the people and resources that God Himself has assembled), in our own unique local context, guided by a specific group of leaders (lay and clergy) whom God has called out to lead. These factors all guide us and inform each church as they worship. Indeed all programs, forms, structures, etc., are informed by His mission for us. His Person and His mission drive everything. Clearly at PCBC, a more traditional/formal expression of worship helps so many people connect with God in corporate worship and a more contemporary form does as well (as does our Hispanic expression). Of course, this creates a real challenge for a pastor/leaders – and the members – as we must all learn to celebrate various forms and rejoice in them as they are pointing so many to Jesus, which is all we want to do. And we must guide our people not to discredit one person’s expression of worship over another that we might prefer. That’s my constant prayer for us in regard to worship – that we honor all types, extending grace and celebrating one another as we celebrate Jesus. Strange as it sounds, you know you’ve shifted to “worship” music and not Jesus when you feel you must fight for your personal preference over others. We’ve lost the focus at that point. We all have preferences – though I’m one of those who loves all kinds of worship forms and styles equally (which I’m sure is one of the many reasons why God brought me to PCBC to be the pastor). I think it’s hard in a church like ours to honor, love and respect one another when we don’t see each other in the other venues. We’ve learned what other churches have seen as well – that some prefer their personal preference of music (be it “traditional” or “contemporary” or something else) over the desire to be together as a church family. I understand that reality in churches which have determined to offer multiple expressions of worship in an effort to reach a diverse cultural setting. It is difficult but a necessary reality that brings about a complex leadership structure. One solution, or help, is to come together periodically and worship Jesus together, blending styles and forms, which many churches do weekly.

The pastor’s goal, and the worship leader’s goal, is to always exalt Jesus alone. We must keep the conversation on Jesus, the Gospel, and the essence of worship, not forms and personal preferences. Each of us must simply respond to Jesus, His Gospel of rescuing grace, and His unending love for us. Then you will “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20

Gospel Identity and Racial Harmony

ban-reconciliation

#blacklivesmatter

Following the grand jury’s decision in the Eric Garner case, I added the popular hashtag to a post. Knowing how some of my white friends would respond, I waited. Sure enough: “All lives matter!” was the response, missing the point altogether. Of course, all lives matter. What white people don’t understand (and cannot know experientially), is what it’s like to feel that your race does not matter to people of other races. Indeed this is what the response (to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown) is all about.

The varied responses in the aftermath of recent incidents have clearly exposed the racial divide we still have in our country. We are not as far along as we thought we were. As a pastor, I see something that may be even more disturbing: the lack of Gospel identity among God’s people has been deeply exposed as well. It may be more disturbing because the appropriation of the Gospel is the only way to racial reconciliation. It’s time for followers of Christ to let their identity in Christ to displace their racial identity. Or as Bryan Loritts stated, “My Jesusness must always trump my blackness.”

The most recent racial challenges have given believers across our country the opportunity to show what we really believe about the Gospel. As those transformed by the Gospel, our response should be markedly different from those who have never tasted the grace of God. It should be evident that Jesus has actually changed our lives. The appropriation of the Gospel means that we really do believe that grace triumphs over all things; that listening precedes talking, and that being “right” (winning an argument) is not as important as loving others without condition. We actually live like Jesus, “full of grace and full of truth” (John 1:14).

How would Jesus respond in the midst of recent happenings? Living in response to the Gospel means that we live in light of what He’s already done for us. Romans 5:10 says,  “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relationships and of peace, where previously there had been hostility and alienation. If possible, it also includes the removal of the offense that caused the disruption of peace and harmony. This is what Christ has done. We must do the same, whenever possible. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “that, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” “Us” is us, those who claim to have been transformed by the Gospel.

The 2nd chapter of Ephesians serves as a field guide for racial reconciliation. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For He Himself is our Peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility”. This “dividing wall” was as much a racial divide as it was a religious one. Paul says that Christ Himself is the Answer, “and might reconcile us both (Gentiles and Jews) to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” Ephesians 2:16. The power of the cross is still in effect today. He is mighty to save, to destroy hostility, and to reconcile all people to one another through His finished work on the cross.

For nearly 30 years, Jonathan Scott has been my best friend in ministry. Jonathan is African American and knows everything about me. Through the miles, we still connect monthly, talk about life, ministry, and how God is changing us. Race is not central to any of our conversations; the Gospel is. Jesus is. We love each other without condition and though we do not deny the color of our skin, the Gospel defines us and the friendship we share. Christ in us trumps all other identities.

The problem with many reading this post is that you agree with me in principle, but not in practice. Too many white people (and black people) would say they are not racists (who would admit that?), but they do not have close relationships with anyone of another race. Therefore, they never really get inside the mind and heart of someone of another race. If we do not know each other, how can we trust each other and how can we love each other? We could only do so theoretically and Jesus had much to say about those who claim to love, but can show no evidence of any love in action.

I believe one of the greatest opportunities for the Body of Christ in our day is to come together across racial boundaries for the common good of our cities and the world. Indeed, for the sake of the Gospel. If we go it alone, no one will believe us. If we come together – Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, etc. – then they will see that there is something greater that unites us, beyond the color of our skin. They will discover that it is Jesus.

I know of no other gathering in the metroplex that draws together the Body of Christ, across racial boundaries, like  Movement Day Greater Dallas. I hope you’ll join me, Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 at the Kay Bailey Convention Center in downtown Dallas, for a historic gathering. My friend, Bryan Carter, pastor of Concord Church, and I will be leading a session on the role of the Church and racial reconciliation. We’ll also discuss next steps toward racial harmony for all believers, that will result in a Gospel movement across greater Dallas. Register here.

This will be a great way to kick off the new year! See you there.

Happy New Year!