grace 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.

9f45bf380ea7aaa31759fde1a20fdab8.jpg

Grace changes everything.

Many give up on the fight for purity because of past failures or habitual sin. This is precisely where Satan wants us to land. My counsel to young men has always been, “The good guys fight”, meaning that you’re either in the fight or you’ve given up the fight. Even “good” men (and women) battle sexual lust and temptation. Sexual sin is Satan’s easiest door to shame. In John 4, a Samaritan woman encounters Jesus and it transforms her, from a life of shame to forgiveness. This story exposes a kind of shame that defines many of us because of past sins, driven by on-going misplaced affections. Shame is a step beyond blame.

  • Blame says, “I’ve done wrong and I deserve to be punished.”
  • Shame says, “I am wrong and I cannot change. I can’t overcome my past, my mistakes, my failures.” I am who I am. Shame leads hopelessness and despair.

How do we move from shame to forgiveness? Like the woman at the well, when we realize that we are fully known and completely loved, our lives are changed. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” To be known fully and loved completely is the greatest truth you’ll ever know.

1. God knows you fully. (vv. 1-15) Like this woman, God knows where you are and He’s gone completely out of His way to come to you, to find you. Like her, we seek diversions, a rerouting of the truth about ourselves. We guide our conversations, in an attempt to avoid the truth, so no one will truly come to know us. Many of us go through our lives like this. Are you fully known? Your greatest need is to be fully known. God knows everything about you. Psalm 139 says He knows when you get up and when you lie down. He knows what you’ll say before you say it. You can’t go anywhere and be away from His presence. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Wherever you are, He knows where you are right now. He’s pursuing you.

2. God loves you completely. (vv. 16-26) She was thirsty for love and clearly, she sought to satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. She thought that what she needed most would be found in the next man, a better relationship, the next love, in someone who would finally love her. We are all thirsty. We’re all craving love. He alone satisfies. And before we do write this off as a third-person story, don’t miss this: We all have lovers. Call them idols, other gods, false identities- we all have them. Who are you sleeping with? Jesus seeks to provide for you the one thing that He knows you actually need. The only thing that can quench this soulful thirst of the human heart is the love of God. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Her problem is ours; it’s love out of order, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of God, of the Gospel- what He has done for us in Christ. She needed what you need today, what I need: to be fully known and fully loved. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him, the explosive power of a new affection. This is a life-changing reality: God knows you fully and He still loves you completely.

We see another sexual sinner in John 8, the woman caught in adultery. The woman turns to Jesus condemned by the law and the religious leaders. And after He silences those who wanted to stone her to death (by telling them, “If any of you are without sin, then let him case the first stone.” He then says one of the most amazing statements of grace (of the Gospel) in the Bible:

“Neither do I condemn you. From now on go and sin no more.” John 8:11

Notice the order of His words: You are not condemned by me, but forgiven – fully known and completely loved- let my love transform you and NOW, go and sin no more. Let my love compel you to holiness. Let my grace propel you into a life of obedience!” Most of us would say the opposite – “Get your act together, then I will no longer condemn you.” God’s acceptance of you is the power that liberates you toward obedience, not the reward of liberating yourself. We obey God, not to gain His approval but because we already have it (in Christ). Listen: God is not mad at you.

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

Sex is not the answer, it is however, an expression of the question. Another person is not the answer. More money is not the answer. A better job is not the answer. A new and improved you is not the answer. These things, these pursuits, these thirsts point you to the question. And they are designed to point you to the Answer. It’s why you can’t stop working. It’s why you’re never satisfied. It’s why you’re anxious. It’s why you can’t rest. Your restless soul is not the answer but it IS an expression of the question. And the ultimate question is: Can I be fully known and fully loved? YES, and His…

3. Grace changes everything. (vv. 27-42) She leaves her water jar (I love this detail). The greatest need in her life had been met- she realized that she is fully known and completely loved. This is the foundation upon which you can build your entire life, because circumstances cannot touch that. She had a new identity, a new resolve, a new motivation, and a new purpose, and a new message. She had no need for a jar that would slow her down. She has a new, relentless urgency, a new purpose altogether.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

You are totally loved, fully forgiven, and completely accepted by God. His grace changes everything. Now, as a portrait of His grace, live to the praise of His glorious grace.

The Silence of God – Andrew Peterson

New-Zealand-2011-238-730x285

It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith

It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane

When he’s bleating for comfort from thy staff and thy rod

And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart

When he has to remember what broke him apart

This yoke may be easy, but the burden is not

When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God.

 

And if a man’s got to listen to the voices of the mob

Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got

When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross

Then what about the times when even followers get lost?

‘Cause we all get lost sometimes…

 

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll

In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold

And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot

What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought

So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

In the Holy, Lonesome echo of the silence of God.  

Refugees, Immigrants, and the Law of Love

Turkey syrian refugees kurdsa recent post for the IMB – Dr. Jeff Warren

North Dallas is known as a place of prosperity, posterity, power, and position. Though not as endearing, some would add privilege, even pretention to that list. I serve as the senior pastor of an amazing church in the center of North Dallas. The Park Cities Baptist Church is located in the township of University Park, one of the most affluent zip codes in the nation.

Now, come with me on a trip less than two miles to the east on Northwest Highway and you will experience another neighborhood of North Dallas. Go past North Park Mall, across Central Expressway, and we will come to Vickery Meadow. Take a walk around the neighborhood and you will meet people from around the world. As you pass by the aging apartment complexes, you will likely hear one of the 50 languages spoken here. Listen and you will hear songs in Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Burmese, or Hindi. You’ll catch the aroma of Ethiopian, Indian, and Mexican food unlike anything you’ll find in the upscale restaurants, of the Park Cities or Lake Highlands, just minutes away. No wonder this slice of North Dallas is known as the “Little United Nations.” 35,000 people live in this 3.3 square mile area, the highest density of people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly every resident lives in an apartment and 60% speak Spanish, though only 10-15% are from Mexico. Vickery Meadow has the highest population of U.N. resettled refugees in the U.S.. 99% of the people live below poverty level and over 50 different languages are spoken at Conrad High School. It was here that the Ebola virus first showed up in the United States, contracted by a Liberian man visiting immigrant family members. It is here, as Teri Heard, one of our ministry champions in this area noted, “God is bringing the nations to us.”

The rule of love

In light of recent debate over issuing bans and building walls, our church family has been faced with the very real question: What is the Christian’s response? How do we live in this tension between upholding the law and displaying love to the most vulnerable among us? Augustine spoke of the profound unity of Scripture, reflected in his famous “rule of love”? According to Augustine, whoever “thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation on them that does not tend to build up the twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (Christian Doctrine, 1.26.40). Love of God and love of neighbor is our final exegesis. It is, in fact, the final proof that we are followers of Jesus.

We must always follow the rule of law while always practicing the law of love.

Jesus’ challenge to “render unto Caesar”, challenges us to ask two questions: “What does not belong to God?” And, “Doesn’t Caesar himself belong to God?” I’ve told our congregation that we will leave the security and safety of our nation to our governmental leaders. But we do not need politicians to tell us how to treat outsiders. 1 Peter 2:14 says that those who govern over the nations are “sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” The first priority of government is the safety and security of its citizens. We believe that we must live in a land of law and order. There must be a rule of law.

Chosen leaders are called to protect their citizens.

As Christians, we know too that we are citizens of another kingdom and we are ambassadors of another King. Exodus 23:9 says, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” Jesus told us we are to invite the stranger in. We are to give to the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger who is sick or needs clothes to wear. In fact, He so identifies with the outsider, He says when we serve them, we are serving Him (Matthew 25:25-36). Galatians 5:14 says, that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul tells the church to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

The rule of law and the law of love

John 13:34-35 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are filled with the Spirit, united in the Spirit and we love all people as Christ has loved us. Exodus 34:6-7 says, “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” The rule of love has order built into it.

Our church family is constantly confronted with the fact reality, “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). One of the core values that drives us is, “overflowing generosity”. Our church is filled with generous Christ-followers who are eager to give away and to share with others. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Our members have been serving the Vickery area for over 30 years. I t all started as God prompted a few of our members to start a Bible study for a small group of Spanish-speaking women. After years of ministry in the area in a variety of ways, we began a Bible study in our mission office that soon grew into it’s own service and finally became one of our five venues on campus every Sunday morning. It is a bilingual service, but the members are integrated into our ministry programs, mission efforts, camps, Wednesday night opportunities, and Connect groups. In every way, this a portion of our congregation, are valued members as much as any other group within our church family. We have several deacons who have come out of the “PCBC En Espanol” portion of our congregation. They are a vibrant part of our family who are teaching the rest of our congregation how to pray, serve, and worship the Lord with great passion and energy.

A long-lasting legacy of love

Out of this single Bible study years ago has come multiple Bible studies, women’s groups, and mentoring for children through the years. Annually we have served the community at the beginning of the school year. Most recently we provided 1,200 backpacks, 350 teacher supply boxes, 300 eye exams, 100 athletic physicals, and 500 immunizations. We have had 15 different teacher appreciation lunches and breakfasts in Vickery Meadow schools. We have distributed food backpacks on the weekends for the most needy children. We also provide a kind of Spring cleaning, refurbishing, and landscaping. We currently support eight refugee congregations: Burmese, Nepalese, Kenyan, Indian, Arabic, and several Spanish-speaking congregations.

God’s love for this community is leading us to the completion a 6,500 square feet, Community Care Center for training refugee and immigrant pastors, ESL classes, after school care, church planting, healthcare, women’s groups, and a ministry among the Royhinga people group, of which, there are no known believers. Jana Gardner, one of our church members, started Healing Hands, a Christian clinic for the uninsured. Last year Healing Hands served 12,000 patients, nearly all refugees and immigrants. Over 100 people have come to Christ, and they are ready to plant a church for the new believers.

Most recently, our church hosted a city-wide leaders’ meeting for those who serve refugees and immigrants. Our purpose was to equip ministry leaders with accurate information, resources, and best practices for caring and serving those in need. Among the leaders present was Mike Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas, our county judge, pastors, ministry organizers, volunteers, and others who simply want to get involved. It was a wonderfully diverse gathering that brought factual information to many who are misinformed. We also heard from a refugee family, the struggles of a father and his children, who were present as well. Leaders shared best practices and we provided opportunities to get involved. We experienced again, the very presence of Jesus, who told us that when we serve the most vulnerable among us we are actually serving Him.

I challenge every pastor, church planter, ministry leader, and every church to pray, look around you, and see if God is calling you to serve refugees and immigrants. We care and serve, all in the Name of the One who was Himself an immigrant, living in a foreign land. He came from the very top, all the way down to where we are, to lay down His life so that we too might live. The Gospel drives us to go do likewise. May we follow Him, and none other, to be salt and light to the misplaced and marginalized, to the immigrant and refugee.