grace Posts

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!

 

Gospel Hope

When you stop to think about it, you’re life is all about hope. Every decision, every good or bad moment is about hope and expectation and then, whether that expectation is met or not. Think about it: “I hope this person likes me.” “I hope this relationship works out.” “I hope to pass this test, graduate.” “I hope this job becomes mine.” “I hope I stay healthy and grow old. “I will do this or that…” And then something or someone steps in. And when it doesn’t happen we’re disappointed, upset, angry, even despairing. In fact, you could go so far as to say, all frustration and disappointment in life is a result of, or birthed out of, unmet expectation.

Beware: Christmas ramps this up in spades. All of this season’s ads are pummeling you with false hope. We’ll see hundreds, even thousands, of ads this month promising you something- offering hope. What we see is an embellished vision of life created by a media- drenched culture that changes our expectations. It captures our imagination and convinces us that life should be like this. In fact, there’s a term for it: it’s what sociologist Krishan Kumar (at UVa) calls “hyper-reality”. He says this: “Our world has become so saturated with images and symbols that a new ‘electronic reality’ has been created, whose effect is to obliterate any sense of an objective reality lying behind the images and symbols.” In other words, the images and the symbols that represent the things that stand behind them
are actually overblown, exaggerated and embellished. We create in our minds a world that is not based on reality. As a result our hopes are heightened even more and our expectations are exaggerated and we’re always left wanting, even despairing.

We place or hope in something or someone and we expect that thing or person to deliver. The Scottish writer, Allan K. Chalmers, wrote, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” We all place our hope in something or someone. But it is the Object of our Hope that makes ALL the difference. So, rightly understood:

Christmas is all about hope created, hope lost, hope restored, and hope realized. Indeed, this is the story of redemptive history. And HERE is the great human problem: We are prone to place our hope in things that cannot deliver. But here’s ironic twist:

The doorway to hope is hopelessness. The only way you find true hope is to give up on all those others things you place your hope in. And for hope to be hope must fix what’s broken. If not why hope in it? And we must realize that the answer is not found in us or anything this world can offer. There’s no horizontal hope.

Hopelessness is the doorway to hope. When you finally give up on the idea that you will find hope in the horizontal, you’re at the doorway of REAL hope, that gives life. When you give up on horizontal hope then you’re ready to look up and find the only hope that matters. Have you given up on all those other things? Do you still think you’ll find your personal savior in something or someone else? Give up on that perfect relationship. Give up on that perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect marriage, the perfect house. Give up; those things are fruitless. But HOPE has come.

Biblical hope is a bold and certain expectation that God will do what He says He will do. Biblical hope is synonymous to trust. It is not synonymous with wish or desire. Those who hope in the Lord, are those who trust in Him- and trust is equivalent to obedience. Hope is not a magic wand or a good feeling- ultimately hope is the result of obedience. Hope is a firm reliance on the preferred or future Story of God.

Hope is not a situation, it’s not a circumstance, it’s not a thing. When you finally realize this (usually by painfully discovering that those things and people will never satisfy), you open the door and guess who is standing there? Jesus.

Hope is a Person and His name is Jesus.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

 

 

 

 

The Ten Traits of a Healthy Family

Family on floor in living-room

 

1.  They have an irrational commitment to each member of the family. They display an illogical love for one another, spread lavishly and without discretion.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1 Driven by 1 John 3:1, stunning amounts of love, kindness, and forgiveness are shared to family member.           

2.  They communicate with truth and grace. Mom and Dad model Ephesians 4:15 How we treat our spouse (and how we extend grace to our family members) will confirm or contradict what we believe about God.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”  Ephesians 4:15 Create an atmosphere where truth can be discussed, regardless of how difficult it may be to talk about.

3.  They affirm the value and uniqueness of each member of the family. Each person is loved for free and without judgment. His or her opinions and feelings are always honored.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7 Celebrate the uniqueness of each child in our family. “I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”   

4.  They vow never to abuse, shame, control, or intimidate one another. “Oh, children are resilient- they bounce back.” No children are fragile and understanding that children are fragile- no emotional, verbal, or physical abuse is tolerated in any way and is immediately confronted. Consider the power of words.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”  Philippians 4:5 Unkind words are not tolerated- “We do not talk to each other like that in our family.” Parents: You must model kind words and challenge this early on.

5.  They share a strong spiritual foundation. Parents recognize that a “mild dose” of God will never cultivate a life that has Christ at the very center, guiding every aspect of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). There is no abdication of spiritual formation- no outsourcing to the church. We create spiritual orphans, spiritual schizophrenics. Complete disconnect! What’s your goal parents? There’s a big difference between a young person who goes to church & one who is truly sold out to God.

 

6.  They teach respect for others. Racism, arrogant superiority, or disrespect for people who are different is never tolerated. Jesus added to the Shema that we should love each other as we love ourselves:

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’.” Matthew 22:39 When you see a child who is different than other kids ask, “What would it feel like to be that kid?” Teach your children to love and honor all people- adopt Martin Luther King Jr.s’ dream for our nation. Help your children dream of the day when every person- Hispanic, black, Asian, European and all people will know that they are loved with the unprejudiced, unbiased, and unrestrained love of Jesus.

7.  They instill a sense of responsibility in one another. Each member knows that they must take responsibility for their own actions and face the consequences of their poor choices. Self-esteem does not result from simply heaping large amounts of affirmation and praise. It happens when a child learns to be responsible.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.”  1 John 1:8-10

Let the consequences do the teaching.  It’s God’s way- and parents too often get in the way of what God wants to do, simply through the consequences of choices made or not made.  Parents: Do NOT rescue your child. This takes courageous parenting- it takes faith- to believe that God will work in your children’s life as He sees fit.  When you let the consequences do the teaching you place that child in the hands of God.

8.  They play together.  This is so important. Laughter and fun mark a family that builds strong relationships with one another.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22

9.  They celebrate rituals and traditions together. This gives the family a sense of constancy and permanence.  They know that the love and commitment of the family will never change- this year, next year, and the next…

“Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you?  Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?”  Job 8:8-10

10.  They seek help when they come to an impasse.  They understand that all families have issues that may need outside or professional help and they are not afraid to ask for help when needed.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  James 5:16

God is very clear about the kind of families He wants us to have.  Let us follow His principles and seek to honor Him in our families.

 

 

The Destructive Power of Disordered Love

The Destructive Power of Disordered Love

In his classic work, “Confessions”, Augustine explains that sin is “disordered love”. It is love out of order. We most often think of sin in terms of behavior, bad deeds, actions- but Augustine helps us from another angle. There is an order to love. He said we should love God, love others, and then love ourselves. The problem comes when you love something you should love but that you should not love supremely. That’s when a good thing becomes a God thing. It’s about finding your superior satisfaction in God alone, and nothing else.

The Problem: We make good things god things.

Love out of order is what the Bible calls idolatry. Friedrich Nietzsche said there are “more idols than there are realities”. John Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” How do you discern what you’re idols are? Tim Keller asks, “What thing, if you lost it, would almost mean that you would lose the will to live? What thing, lost, gone from your life, would mean that almost all value and significance- identity and worth- would be drained out of your life?” Whatever that thing is, the Bible calls it an idol. It’s an alternate god, a counterfeit god – anything that is more fundamental to your happiness, sense of value, or identity- other than God. Anything you love more than God or rest your heart in other than God. These are not necessarily bad things but they are created things that you’re looking to for worth and value- family, spouse, comfort, health, friends, your body, your intelligence, your position, your reputation as a certain person/character that you’ve created over time. Consider the many idols in our lives today.

American Idols

  • People -sports heroes, rock stars, “American Idols”, even your kids, your spouse
  • Prosperity - money, all that money can bring- nice house, car, retirement
  • Posterity – youthfulness, being young/vibrant, even health
  • Pleasure – substance abuse, sex, next great diversion, even family
  • Power – image, success, popularity, fame, this includes ministry

The Gospel challenges our idols. The Gospel challenges the gods that we have already established. And before you think this doesn’t apply to you, I would argue that the process of sanctification in a disciple’s life is our willingness to allow the Spirit of God to dismantle of our idols. The Gospel attacks our idols, destroys them. Jesus put it this way: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

There’s only one first. This disordered love, this idolatry, is not easily discerned. Psychologist, Alfred Adler, noted that it’s very hard to figure out what you’re really living for by simply asking yourself. He says you’re not that self-aware. You may think, “I’m living for God.” But the way to find out is not to ask that question. Instead, Adler said: Look at your nightmare. What thing, if absent, would almost (or would) take away your reasons to live. He says your deepest emotions- anxiety, fear, despair will point you to your god. It can lead to uncontrollable anger- toward any obstacle or person that stands in the way of you possessing it, despair if you cannot have it, bitterness. You must discern the idols in your life, expose it, and then destroy it or it will destroy you. Paul said, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

The Solution: The Gospel makes God our One Good Thing.

  • The Gospel demands repentance from idol worship. You may think, “I don’t have any idols.” Therein lies your problem- you don’t even know that you are an idol-worshipper. “I don’t feel spiritually dead.” A fish doesn’t feel wet. You’ve become so accustom to your environment, your idol worship, you don’t even know you’re doing it. Until it starts to be taken away from you. Again, look at your deepest emotions of fear, anger and anxiety. They reveal your idols. Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
  • The Gospel delivers real satisfaction. Studies have been done of professional athletes who have career-ending injuries show that they don’t always need physical care for their injury only- they also need therapy. The injury sends them into an existential crisis. Usually depression sets in. Often the loss of their athleticism suddenly tosses them into a downward spiral. “Who am I anyway?” The loss of their athleticism causes them to question their existence. What’s the difference between making a great thing the best thing- the number one thing? All the difference in the world. Only God’s grace satisfies the human heart.
  • The Gospel divides God worshippers from idol worshippers. An obsession with the Gospel – with Jesus – is the only cure for idol-worship. French Christian philosopher, Simone Weil, noted that we either worship the one true God or we worship idols. There is no other option. And idols will crush us. Only when we worship God through Christ do we find life through worship, not death. Psalm 115:8 says that those who worship idols will “become like them”. We are shaped by whatever it is that we worship. Worship Christ and you will be shaped by Him, glorifying Him through your life- all to the praise of His glorious grace.

The Gospel makes God our One Good Thing.

 

 

Five Things Mom Can Live Without

Five Things Mom Can Live Without

 

We often think of motherhood (and parenting) as a kind of recipe.

If we add just the right ingredients to the mix, a dash of this or that, and put it in the oven long enough, then out will come this perfect child and the proverbial perfect life. Motherhood and life never work that way. Most moms know the things they ought to be doing. In fact, that’s a big part of the problem- most moms feel guilty precisely because they feel they are not doing all that they think they should do.

Some “supermoms”, thinking they’re helping inspire or encourage other moms, actually create an opposite reaction resulting in guilt and shame from an inaccurate view of motherhood. I took an informal survey on Facebook and had a great response from moms to help me with this post. My hope is for moms to lighten up. Let’s all determine to leave some things behind. When asked what moms can do without, some funny responses included: whining, tattling, all those Legos, Brite Lights, pantyhose (tights) for babies, and extra pounds. Some not-so-funny responses included: an uninvolved dad, absent father, deadbeat dad, condemning looks from others while trying to care for my special needs child. Five things emerged as recurring themes. I want to present them with a biblical response to each one.

1. Unnecessary Guilt

“Mommy guilt” results from the myth of the Supermom. Supermoms are driven by the unnecessary need and unrealistic expectation of perfect kids – a clean house, excellent meals, and an always-cheerful spirit. If you know a woman who seems to be the perfect mom, I can assure you, she is not. Let’s just destroy the myth of Supermom. And if you’re trying to live up to that: Give it up. Be real. Live in the freedom that is yours in Christ.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

2. Unrealistic Body Image

Many moms struggle with a worldly self-image (body image). One mom said, “After a few kids the perfect body is gone.”  This, of course, is natural and though our culture says otherwise, the Lord tells us our worth and value in Christ trumps all worldly measures. Finding your worth in anything apart from the freedom we have in Christ results in crushing personal demands. Moms: Recognize that you are in a spiritual battle and it is for your soul, not your body. Give up trying to have the perfect body. 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us that God doesn’t look at the outward appearance anyway- He looks at the heart!

“Do not let your adorning be external… but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

3. Unimportant Things

Contrary to what many moms may think, they don’t need more stuff (more toys for the kids, a nicer house, better clothes, a newer car, a promotion or raise, more activities, extravagant jewelry, an uninterrupted career path, etc.). Moms: Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. Your Savior is enough and Hebrews 13:5 reminds us that He “will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 22:15 

4. Unintended Pressure On Your Kids

Many moms, in an effort to protect their kids from the stress of life, actually induce more stress in their children. Parents are to be the “non-anxious presence” in the family. Moms and dads must find their worth in Christ and not in the performance of their children. This sets their children free to risk, to fail, and to learn from their mistakes. Non-anxious moms find their rest in Christ, who has become their Righteousness, their Perfection, their Peace. These moms raise well-adjusted children who recognize their identity is found in Christ as well. Moms must also remember that each child is unique. Allow each child to be himself/herself and do not bring unintended pressure by comparing your children to one another.

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 19:14

5. Unwanted Worry 

Moms have many things in their lives that could lead to worry- but they don’t have to worry. The Bible tells us to be anxious for nothing. Some of the moms in my informal survey noted that they also don’t need unresponsive, unmanageable, or unruly children. It is true that many things in life can distract a peaceful heart. Moms can eliminate worry as they determine to have one priority: Christ Himself. As we seek Him above all else, all else will fall into place.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  Philippians 4:6

This Mother’s Day let’s commit to give our moms what they deserve the most: Lots of love and encouragement.