John Perkins and the Lives that Really Matter

All LivesDo all lives matter? The answer seems easy. All of us would say that all lives matter. And the fact is, you would be right. But the reality that we live in today does impose a hierarchy signifying that certain lives matter more than others.  Throughout American history we have seen many times in which certain people’s lives were seen as less significant than others. This is the heart of what John Perkins is getting at in his book “Do All Lives Matter?” John states early in the book that “if we are going to make progress with regard to behaving as if all lives matter, we need to make a genuine effort to understand others and the realities and struggles they face.” (p. 25).

This is not a book advocating for violence to advance it’s cause although we need to be sympathetic to why someone might act out from a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Although John has faced a lot of discrimination in his life he reasons that the solution is not to fight violence with violence but to fight it with love. He says that “We need to work together to create a climate that clearly acknowledges that all lives matter. All people have inherent dignity but many don’t know it, feel it, or believe it.” (p. 32)

John goes on to illustrate within our history when indigenous lives, women’s lives and black lives have been and still are being treated as lesser than others. It is important that we understand our history and the ripple effects that are still being felt by our treatment of the marginalized. In making the case for the continued marginalization of black people, John states that “Yes, African American people – as all people – ought to take personal responsibility for making the right choices, even in the midst of an uphill battle. But this is easier said than done. To relegate the slavery era and subsequent generations of racist legal and social policies to the past is not just logically absurd but is at the least insensitive if not immoral. Centuries of discrimination continue to shape the lives and limit the choices of African American people in our country today.” (p. 43)

The goal that all of us essentially wants is to live a life of peace and love knowing that justice is fair and balanced for all people. Instead of causing more reasons to fracture and splinter us as a society, we need to strive for wholeness, equality and reconciliation for all. And the majority should not sit back and ignore the problems of the minorities and marginalized but instead, work together so that everyone has hope and equality. Do all lives matter? Absolutely! Is it a reality in our country though? No. So we have work to do to build bridges and unity between groups so that we can eventually say that all lives really do matter. And might I add that the church should be the leader in modeling what this looks like to the society and helping to implement change in the larger culture.  Perkins reminds us that “Laws might change behavior but they cannot change hearts. A true revolution in our country – one that claims victory over violence and eliminates all exclusions to the proclamation that all lives matter – will come only as hearts are changed and as we recognize who our neighbors are and learn to truly love them as ourselves.” (p. 71) It is the church’s responsibility to live this out as kingdom believers recognizing and living out our unity in Christ. Jesus made a regular habit of identifying with the marginalized by bringing hope, healing and restoration into their lives. It is up to us to do the same.

It’s Time to Repent

Crisis-Ahead-rIf anybody is paying attention to the news in politics and faith it is quite certain that we are in a crisis right now. I wasn’t old enough to remember the Nixon administration but I believe that we are in a much more critical point in our history right now. Our government is caught up in one scandal after another. And this is not just typical politics. This is a crisis of integrity, leadership and ethics on a scale I have never seen before. But then we look at the church and in several pockets we see the same type of crisis playing out. Willow Creek, a very influential church to the global church community, is in one of their own scandals as well as the Catholic church having yet again another pedophile ring that was covered up. This is not about being a republican versus a democrat or a protestant versus a Catholic. Instead, what I am seeing is a massive failure of leadership on a national scale. Our government is a mess, (and if you don’t believe that your ignoring facts and labeling it as fake news), and I would say the church in America is a mess also.

So what are we to do?

Take sin seriously. The first thing we need to do is to understand how our sin can be a major factor in not only harming ourselves but in harming others. Our culture is rampant in creating a culture of fear. We see this in immigration, we see this in our idolatry of the gun, we see this in politics, and on and on. We must be afraid of “the other”. If they infringe on our rights we demonize those who disagree with us. Jesus states in Matthew 18:6-9 that:                                                                                               

 If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

This passage is not necessarily endorsing killing perpetrators or self-mutilation. Instead Jesus is making the case that we need to take sin very seriously. What we do will have ripple-effects and consequences. I am reminded of the incident in which King David took it upon himself to rape Bathsheba then cover it up by murdering her husband. He suffered the consequences for those action when the prophet Nathan confronted him, but little did he realize his children were watching all this play out. The very sins of David impacted his children as they too became complicit in rape and murder. We need to take sin seriously by realizing the importance for us to be examples for the next generations. And if all we do is harm others through hate, fear, violence and division then it would be better to have a large millstone tied around your neck and drowned in the sea.

Also when we see sin taking root in our own lives Jesus doesn’t mince words in that we need to CUT IT OUT. By all means take it very seriously and get help to stop it in it’s tracks so that it doesn’t lead to destruction.

Now this may seem contradictory, but the second thing we need to do is humble ourselves and realize we are sinners in need of the mercy of God. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a parable about two people in the temple. Here is what happened:

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All to often we want to look at ourselves as better than others. With social media it is even easier now to compare and contrast everything about you in relation to others, hoping that you will get more likes than you last post. Many of us portray the perfect image of ourselves. We like to think that we are basically a good person. But when we look at this parable we see the Pharisee gloating in his own self-righteousness while the tax collector begged for God’s mercy because he understood the heart of his problem, he was a sinner. Imagine if the church made it a practice, just like many say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, if we also said the tax collector’s prayer, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” First of all this prayer does not shy away from the root issue: we are sinners. But also, it is a merciful God that takes care of us. We need more humility and more mercy. We also need to be people who show mercy to those affected by sin, especially victims of sin.

And finally, we need to be people of unity and peace. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14-18

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Jesus has brought peace and unity creating within us a new humanity. We need to stop giving into generational categories or political categories or any categories that separate us and cause us to judge others. Jesus came to unite the Jews with the Gentiles thus creating a new humanity that demonstrates peace. We are called to be people of peace. The church of all places needs to be a place that people know they can receive mercy and grace. Yet too many feel that the church today is too judgmental, and too political, and too self-righteous. This should not be who we are. Those who are struggling with sin and those who are victims of sin need to find a safe place for confession, repentance and restoration. We must get back to the roots of who we are as the people of God, people of grace, mercy and peace where there is no more division but unity among one another.

May God have mercy on me, a sinner.

Where Does Science Fit Into Faith?

 

AndrewRoot

Whenever I read something form Andrew Root, I know it is going to be deep and I am going to learn a lot. His latest book “Exploding Stars, Dead Dinosaurs and Zombies: Youth Ministry in the Age of Science” did not disappoint. Andrew begins the book with a story about a youth pastor and his teens who ask some deep questions about trying to relate faith to science.  Andrew makes the case that Science and Faith are not diametrically opposing fields. Instead he shows how Faith sometimes oversteps its boundaries by forcing the Bible to speak for Science, and how sometimes Science oversteps its boundaries by making Faith claims. So Faith and Science are not opposed to each other but they can not take over one from the other. Instead, Andrew Root sees a significant overlap where Science and Faith can learn from each other.

Andrew makes a case for theistic evolution throughout the book. He shows how Creationists are forcing science into the text of Scripture and misreading it for how it is supposed to be interpreted. But he also shows how some scientists use their field to make comprehensive faith claims that overstep what science is supposed to do. Andrew also shows how many of the sciences were birthed out of Christianity as Christ-followers wanted to study different aspects of God’s creation and discover how it expands and complements our faith.

Andrew also tackles an interpretation of Genesis 1-2 in light of other pagan creations stories that Israel would have been familiar with. Israel took these stories and crafted their own which showed a personal God who wanted to have  a relationship with us as opposed to a Zeus-like god who created humanity to serve the gods.

Much of what this book tries to do is show how, with a proper understanding of what science and faith are about, they can complement each other. Too many teens are taught the Bible as if it were science, only to leave for college, take their first Earth Science class, and walk away from the faith seeing many of the contradictions that they were brought up to believe as “Science”. We need to have a better understanding of the sciences and how they can help us have a stronger faith. And we need to allow our faith to speak when considering what we can learned from the sciences. Throughout history there have been several times where the church believed something as fact because of how they were interpreting certain passages in Scripture only to have science show that that particular view was wrong. An example was that many believed that the earth was the center of the universe and everything else revolved around it, until Galileo came along and proved that the Earth actually revolves around the sun. This rocked the world of the church and it caused them to eventually rethink how their theology speaks to the truth of the cosmos. I believe we are in a similar time where science has discovered that the earth has actually been around for billions of years and we have evolved over time, yet there are those in the faith community who oppose that based on their view of a literal translation of Genesis 1-2.

This was a fantastic book and I would highly encourage anyone who is curious about the relationships between faith and science to read this. If you are a Young Earth Creationist my bet is that you won’t like this depending on how firm you are in interpreting Genesis 1-2 as literal science. But this book may help you to see a different perspective in how faith and science can live in harmony with each other and actually complement each other.

The Global Leadership Summit 2018

gls

Typically every year I sign up for the two day conference called the Global Leadership Summit. It always inspires me and fires me up for the new year ahead. This year I wasn’t sure what to do though because of all the fallout happening at Willow Creek centered around misconduct from their Senior Pastor, Bill Hybels. As a result of what was going on I noticed that some of the speakers I was really looking forward to were pulling out. So I was having second thoughts about going. But then some of my fellow staff members said they were going to go at the last minute so I signed up to go too. Part of what I wanted to know was how the conference leaders would address what exactly was going on with the situation at Willow Creek. Thankfully they addressed the “elephant in the room” immediately at the beginning of the conference. What was said I believed was done with truth, justice and grace. In the era of the #MeToo movement this could not just be swept under the carpet. My heart breaks for the church, but I feel like this situation is a very big cautionary signal for all of those in ministry. We need to recognize that sin is real and we need to be aware of our own temptations and have people we are accountable to. There have been many instances throughout my life in which I have seen people who have gotten caught up in sin and it has destroyed all that they have worked for. It is truly sad but I must also have the humility and caution to know that it could happen to me too if I am not careful.

With that said, it ended up being a really great conference after all. My hope is that Willow Creek and the Global Leadership Summit end up being bigger than the person who created it all. The world is starving for leadership, integrity and hope. This conference always finds a wide spectrum of voices that inspire, encourage and uplift.

Now I want to just jot down some of the highlights of some of the speakers so I don’t forget the lessons learned.

Craig Groeschel started and ended the conference. Both talks were extremely powerful. In his opening talk, he hit home that fact that leaders needed to have a profound humility and a furious resolve to speak up for those with no voice. He also stated that everyone wants to follow a leader who makes people feel valued, inspired, and empowered. He showed how Jesus did this through showing grace, serving others and empowering others to expand the mission.

It was the first time I ever heard T.D. Jakes and boy what a great preaching voice he has. He talked about having a big vision beyond what you can imagine. He also hit home that we must learn from our failures and not give up but soar.

One of my favorite presenters was Danny Mayer. He is a big restaurateur. He talked about 6 emotional skills that are celebrated but not learned: 1) being kindhearted / optimistic; 2) being a person of curiosity; 3) strong work ethic; 4) empathy; 5) self-awareness; and 6) integrity. These character traits and valuable to have.

Danielle Strickland was another amazing speaker who emphasized that men and women are better together. We can not give into despair but we must be aware of how power and sex can be used to create violence and damage to relationships.

While familiar with the writings of John Maxwell, I have never heard him in person. He did a great job in emphasizing that we need to put ourselves in places with people who will inspire your heart and mind.

Then there was Erwin McManus. While familiar with the fact that he is a pastor and an author, I have never heard him speak either. He gave a powerful talk about how he came down with cancer and how that experience changed his life. It was the “Seize the Day” talk about making the most of every second that God has given you here on this planet. Excellent and very moving.

Simon Sinek was another speaker that I really enjoyed. He talked about the 5 things for an infinite player: 1) a just cause; 2) trusting teams; 3) a worthy rival (not a competitor but someone who exists to make me better); 4) essential flexibility and 5) the courage to lead.

Craig Groeschel wrapped up the conference. He talked about anticipatory leadership where we anticipate what is going on instead of just reacting. Anticipatory leadership helps us to 1) develop awareness, 2) discern future threats and possibilities and 3) disrupt, lead with healthy skepticism and bold optimism.

Overall, I would highly recommend this conference for everyone in ministry or business. All the speakers are incredible and inspiring. I always come away from it fired up for a new year of ministry.

So I Heard This Switchfoot Song

PerkinsI am a big Switchfoot fan. I have loved their musical throughout the time I have been in ministry. It has been fun to see them evolve as artists. But there was one song that stuck in my head called “The Sound”. The reason was because of this lyric:

The static comes alive
Beneath the broken skies
John Perkins said it right
Love is the final fight.

I remember at concerts wondering who this John Perkins guy was that they were referencing. Well the time has finally come where I did my research and got some of his books and I am now diving into his story. The first book I started with was his biography. It is titled “Let Justice Roll Down”. And wow was this an incredible read. I finished it in two days. I could stop reading it!

The story began with John’s childhood and teen years in rural Mississippi back in the 1940’s and ’50’s. He was a witness to his brother being wrongfully shot by a cop. As his story unfolds it is clear how racism has affected his family. He states that “prejudice in the South is both paternalistic and antagonistic. What most Southern whites what is for blacks to be part of the Southern system, to have a ‘proper’ relationship to the white Establishment. That’s why independence for a black in the South is a worse crime than merely being illegal.” (p. 34)

At one point in his story, he ended up moving out to California where things were much different. He became a Christ follower and fully gave himself to practicing the faith. He eventually believed that God was calling him back to Mississippi to help the people he knew who were still living under a system of oppression and racism. John helped to build up the community by investing his time in starting faith groups, better quality education and local businesses that would help to employ African Americans. John says that the problems rest in the fact that “Two-hundred years of slavery, followed by two or three generations of economic exploitation, political oppression, racial discrimination and educational deprivation, had created in black people feelings of inferiority, instability and total dependency. The implanting of such negative values in a people deprives them of any true sense of self-worth, or any real sense of self-identity. And the end result of negative values is negative behavior that is self-destructive in its effect. Dehumanizing values only and always produce destructive behaviors.” (p. 101)

John goes on to explain how he took a stand to get many of his black community to get involved in being registered voters. The local law enforcement did not take to kindly to what they were seeing so they set up John and his friends to be arrested and brutalized by the cops. At this point in the story I could see how easily it would be to want to become violent back at the aggressors. It would be so easy to succumb to hate and want to fight back. Instead John reflects that “I couldn’t hate back. When I saw what hate had done to them, I couldn’t hate back. I could only pity them. I didn’t ever want hate to do to me what it had already done to those men.” (p. 158). Not surprisingly John and his friends who were brutalized by the police did not receive the justice they deserved.  But as a result of his faith, John learned to forgive those men and give it over to God, not giving into hate and violence. Through it all he came out stronger than ever as a force for good, continuing his efforts in evangelism, Christian education, justice reform, social action, and economic reform.

John concludes by claiming that “if sin can exist at every level of government, and in every human institution, then also the call to biblical justice in every corner of society must be sounded by those who claim a God of Justice as their Lord” (p. 185). We must not turn a blind eye to what minorities are struggling with but instead, we must engage within the system to fight for justice, equality, and fairness for all.

This book was excellent in helping me to better understand racism, social injustice, and how the system is stacked especially against minorities within our country. But it also showed a compelling view that, as a result of having faith in Christ, we need to take a stand against corruption and injustice and create a better world for ALL, where everyone can have dignity, respect and worth simply for being a human being created in the image of God.

Reflections on The Prophets

prophets1I just finished reading through the prophets in the Old Testament. What made an impression on me was the way in which God held whole nations accountable for their actions. He held them accountable for their violence, their greed, and how they treated their own people as well as other nations. Special care was directed at the people on the fringe: the alien, the stranger, the poor.

Reflecting on this, it scares me how God must view America right now. What we have done at the border separating families and abusing kids is reprehensible. Nationalism has risen it’s ugly head and become it’s own religion. The idea of “America First” flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching that the first will be last and the last will be first. The idea that we are a “Christian Nation” is really laughable. America needs prophetic voices to call out injustice and hypocrisy right now. Unfortunately over 70% of evangelical Christians approve of where we are politically. Then there are churches who do not connect the dots from Scripture to our modern day problems as a nation. Instead they preach a Gospel devoid of justice. To show any type of criticism toward our nation could alienate you from a percentage of your audience. But we need prophetic voices that call out the injustices that are happening right under our noses. A church that just preaches a feel-good message without ever calling for justice is the very thing that some of the false prophets throughout the Old Testament were called out for and were held accountable.

I worry about the American Church. It has become seduced with political power and has mixed religion with nationalism. This is just out-right idolatry. We are guilty of some of the very same sins that Israel was guilty of and were held accountable for throughout Scripture. And to think that there are those who believe that our religious freedoms are under attack. Once again, we need to look at all the examples throughout Scripture and history of those who were really persecuted and executed for their faith. That was real persecution. Yet story after story you see how God brings beauty out of the ugliness of Christian persecution. They were willing to suffer and be executed for their faith. Yet in our country we are told we can now say “Merry Christmas”. Really? Was that really a thing?

It is time for an Awakening. For a new generation of Christ-followers who love God and love people, but are also willing to call out injustice and seek ways to mobilize the church to be more prophetic. These are dark times we are living in yet either we are oblivious to it or we are complicit as we praise our national leaders, demand our rights, and demand that we are first. I honestly wrestle with what I am seeing with our nation as well as the contemporary church. It is ironic that we live in the information age yet the church is becoming more and more biblically illiterate. We want our own personal Jesus that makes us feel good about ourselves but we ignore the God who holds nations accountable for their sins. It time for the church to revisit the Prophets and realize that we have a responsibility to care for the alien, stranger, poor, outcast, the people on the fringes. We need to get back to reaching out instead of protecting the base. The church ought to be the consciousness of the nation, not a complicit partner with the nation.

There is a reason why so many people are walking away from the American Church and I believe that one of those reasons is that we have become irrelevant. We are not seeking justice, we are not offering mercy and we certainly are not acting humble. We have drifted a long way from what Scripture teaches us. May God have mercy on us and may his Spirit awaken us to the truth.

Do We Really Believe That God is Love?

SinnersDo we worship a schizophrenic God? A flat reading of the Bible seems to suggest that.

When we look at the God of the Old Testament He seems violent, vindictive, angry and wrathful. But then when you get to the New Testament we see God in Jesus forgiving sinners, loving the lost, and forgiving his murderers. Did God change? Traditional Christian theology claims that God is immutable. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. If that is true then why is it that a flat reading of Scripture seems to suggest that God does change?

Brian Zahnd in his book “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News” lays out his interpretation of Scripture in that Jesus is the climax of the story of God and the full revelation of who God truly is. God is LOVE. Brian begins with this premise and then goes on to show how this fleshes out in his theology. He tackles such topics like: Did God kill Jesus? What is the significance of the cross? What is the Kingdom of God and how is it relevant to the present? What is hell and who goes there? How do we interpret Revelation?

I found this book to be incredibly refreshing. I have often struggled with how to understand the God of the Old Testament in relation to the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Any thinking Christian must wrestle with this. Brian offers up a well-thought out theology that sees Jesus as the full revelation of who God is: He is sacrificial love. And Brian does not just isolate one or two verses but he heads right into many of the questions and struggles people have with trying to understand the true nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. This would be a great book to study as a group and have a dialogue with friends as you read through it. You may not agree with everything he is saying but boy would it be a great discussion.

There were three times in my life where I came to a realization of who I thought God was and what He wanted me to do about it. The first time involved getting the crap scared out of me watching a 1970’s movie version of “Left Behind”. So fear was my first experience.

My second spiritual awakening was when I came to the realization that I was a sinner. This happened when I was in my early 20’s. It was a powerful experience and it set me in the direction of going into ministry.

But my third spiritual awakening was in my late 30’s when I attended a weekend retreat called the “Walk to Emmaus”. This was the most powerful of the three. I truly felt like no other time in my life that God really did love me. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. And it is with that experience that I really fell into what Brian Zahnd was writing about in this awesome book.

Being White in America

I recently read “White Awake: An honest look at what it means to be white” which helped to bring much clarity to issues within our country related to race. Author Daniel Hill begins by telling his story on how he wanted to create a multi-ethnic church in Chicago. While he had good intentions, the results for diversity were abysmal. Much of his congregation was just as white as he was. In attempting to find out why he was unable to attract a multi-ethnic crowd he decided to visit with a hand full of local non-white clergy. In doing so, he was humbled to realize how little he knew about culture that impacted people of color. His mentors exposed the fact that almost every possible influence in Daniel’s life was from white culture. Daniel realized quickly that people of color have many different experiences as a minority culture in contrast to the dominate influence of white culture in America. What seems normal to most white people is not necessarily what people of color experience. All throughout our 200+ history people of color have been judged as “less than” in comparison to white culture. Daniel states that “When the journey begins to feel like any combination of scary, confusing, disorienting, or even painful, we have a privilege that people of color do not: we can walk away; we can go back to ‘normal,’ if we choose.” (p. 38)

The author then takes us on a journey to process the reality of white culture in contrast to the experiences and culture of people of color. Daniel Hill goes through the various steps of understanding as we go through encounter, denial, disorientation, shame, self-righteousness, awakening and active participation. As you go through these levels you become aware of the fact that what seems normal to white people is not the same as people of color in America. Daniel says “I don’t believe slavery ended in 1865, I believe it just evolved. It turned into decades of racial hierarchy that was violently enforced . . . through acts of racial terror.” (p. 57). While the institution of slavery was defeated, the effects and ideology continues to live on throughout American history to the present. The author articulates the importance of seeing ourselves, as well as everyone else, as image bears of God. As children of God, we are of equal and extraordinary value and we are all apart of the kingdom of God.

But we must begin with denial and recognize all the ways in which white culture has harmed people of color. We all too often sugarcoat our history and do not face up to the reality of how people of color were negatively impacted by white culture. A recent example of that is in the fact that if a person of color commits a crime against Americans it is typically labeled as terrorism. But with all the white guys committing acts of gun violence rarely is it labeled as terrorism. Instead we learn about how troubled their past must have been to commit such a crime and that they must have suffered from mental illness. Daniel hammers away in saying that “our citizens do not share a common memory. People of white European ancestry remember a history of discovery, open lands, manifest destiny, endless opportunity, and American exceptionalism. Yet communities of color, especially those with African and indigenous roots, remember a history of stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, boarding schools, segregation, cultural genocide, internment camps, and mass incarceration.” (p. 79)

I remember my first history classes at college. My professor prided himself in telling us that he was going to expose us to the history that our parents and schools hid from us. I took a class on the American Indians and another one about African American history. Needless to say I walked out of those classes feeling shame and anger for how people of color have been treated by the dominate white culture. But in “White Awake” the author doesn’t stop with just an awakening to the truth but he moves us to feel lament in solidarity with people of color. Daniel says, “Lament gives us resources to sit in the tension of suffering and pain without going to a place of shame or self-hate. Lament allows us to acknowledge the limitations of human strength and to look solely to the power of God instead.” (p. 112)

The author then goes on to caution the reader against feeling self-righteous towards those who are not at the same level of understanding as you might be. If we fall into this trap we are as guilty as the Pharisees. Instead we need to repent when we fall into the trap of categorizing people into us vs. them.

The final chapters explain the importance of seeing ourselves as kingdom people created in the image of God. It is the kingdom of God that is at war with the powers of this dark world (Eph. 6:12) and we need to fully realize this. The hierarchies of race and categories we put ourselves in to feel superior over others is wrong, demonic and not of God. We need to see how our present culture implements these to separate and divide us. And our response needs to be to live as kingdom people knowing that we are all created in the image of God. Through Jesus we can find redemption, forgiveness and unity as kingdom people.

I highly recommend this book. It’s time we awaken to the ways in which our history and culture has divided us from people of color. We need to step out of our white superiority and live into the kingdom of God with all people. We need to acknowledge how sin has divided us, and through repentance and reconciliation, we can find true restoration as kingdom people.

Mission Trips Summer 2018

I love mission trips. I believe it is a great way to help teens see that there is a bigger world out there that needs our love, compassion, grace and justice. It is so easy for middle class American teens (and adults) to not see beyond their little suburban bubble. Mission trips help to expand their focus and see their place in the world. Now understand that I did not say that mission trips are about “us” going out to help “them” who need us to swoop in and change their lives for the better. That is a poor way of looking at trips of this sort. We are not the “saviors” trying to save the “lost”. The more I do mission trips I have discovered that God is already working everywhere around the world AND He is still working on me and my teens. So the goal of a mission trip is to connect with what God is ALREADY doing in the life of a community and join in the experience. A good mission trip is a spiritual symbiotic relationship where we learn from each other as we serve together with the community.

For quite a while now I have based my model of missions on Jesus’ words quoted in Acts 1:8 –  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus was speaking these words as he was in Jerusalem. Our mission begins in our “Jerusalem”. That would be representative of our own communities, our schools, our places of work and our neighborhoods.

Next Jesus emphasizes Judea and Samaria. These represent communities outside of our primary location. Being that Jesus also threw in Samaria too would also suggest that we need to go into those places that may make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable.

Lastly, Jesus mentions the ends of the earth. This is a command for Christ-followers to have a global perspective. We begin in our community, branch out to other areas near and far within our own country and we expand to have an international focus when it comes to missions.

With that said, I believe that we had one of the best Summer’s when it comes to mission trips. We took the Junior High teens to a mission on the outskirts of Cleveland, OH called the Nehemiah Mission. This is the fourth time I have partnered with this organization. The Nehemiah Mission used to be a United Methodist Church that was dying. They decided to convert the church into a mission which now runs year-round mission opportunities for all types of groups. Our teens had a lot of different experiences as they came along side of people and ministries that needed volunteers. We were able to serve at a women’s shelter called Laura’s Home, we did some urban gardening helping a neighborhood that was in a food desert, we help a variety of residents who needed some assistance with their homes and we helped with a city park project. What I love about our Junior Higher’s is that they don’t just see these as projects that they need to accomplish but they see it also as an opportunity to develop a relationship with someone and be a blessing to them through work and communication.

The story that really impacted me was that on the first day of the mission project we were told that a group of us would be needed at the women’s shelter called “Laura’s Home”. This rang a bell in my head as this mission sounded familiar to me. I began to remember my early days in youth ministry at my first church we did a project for Cleveland’s City Mission where they asked us to go to this abandoned building and help gut it out. Through the process we learned that this building was going to be renovated to become a shelter for women and children in need. One of those teenagers that was in my first youth group is Jaime. Jaime was one of my favorite teens I ever had the privilege of being one of her pastor’s. If I remember correctly, she was a part of that group that helped to gut the building. As Jaime grew up and went off to college she eventually came back to the Cleveland area and became not only a youth pastor but also an employee of Laura’s Home. As these memories started flooding back to me I began to get excited. I wondered if possibly Jaime was still working there.

As I was connecting all these dots in my head I asked out loud to our Nehemiah Mission leaders who were getting ready to take us to our sites for the day if they knew if Jaime still worked at Laura’s Home. One of the leaders, Michael, seemed to perk up and responded excitedly that not only does Jaime still work there but she was his youth pastor who had a significant impact on his life. Well with that, I excitedly told him that I was Jaime’s youth pastor! Michael’s mind was blown as he looked at me and said, “That would make you my spiritual grandfather!” We embraced and had one of those goose-bump Holy Spirit moments where we realized how I had an indirect impact on this young mans’ life because of a teenager I had the honor of discipling back in the late ’90’s. This meant a lot to me in that I left that church in not the best circumstances. I have often struggled with why God had me go through those negative experiences and whether or not I even made an impact. This encounter at the Nehemiah Mission felt like God smiling down on me and letting me know that there was a lot of good that came from that time in my life.

I then texted Jaime to see if she would be at Laura’s Home at all during the week and unfortunately she was just about to head out of town. But we promised each other that we would definitely get our families together sometime this Summer. So I am looking forward to that.

Then there was the Senor High trip to Puerto Rico with Praying Pelican Missions. Originally we were supposed to go to Cuba, but then Hurricane Maria happened. As the politics in our country had a major shift, many parents were uneasy with sending their teens to Cuba anyhow. Whenever a natural disaster happens I believe that is an open call for the churches to respond. Besides, I was disgusted with how our government was responding to Puerto Rico after the hurricane and as a result I felt even more emboldened that we need to go and help however we can.

The thing that I really like about Praying Pelican Missions is that they tether us to a local church and then we do whatever we can to help that church and it’s surrounding community. We had the opportunity to help rebuild a roof over the patio of a neighbor who lost his roof to the hurricane. Some of our girls helped with a Lady’s Bible study at the church. We helped remove some trees that were down. We helped a coffee farmer who lost everything to the hurricane. He had a million dollar business with many employees all lost to the hurricane. He struggled with whether he should even attempt to rebuild. But then people from the community and the churches, including groups like us from mission organizations started to come out and help him rebuild. Much of what we did was to get into the destroyed greenhouses and tear them apart clearing out the land for future projects. Every day we were there the owner was in tears because we were there to help him. He gave many of the adults a tour around his farm as we were able to build a relationship with him. I went to the coffee farm on the last work day of the week. At the end of our time there the owner asked if we could pray for him. It was a great moment as we came along side of him and prayed for him, his family and his business.

Another big event happened as one of my teenager’s announced in a conversation that she has never been baptized. Now this is unusual in my church context in that most of the teens were baptized as babies and then confirmed their baptism by going through Confirmation when they were in 7th grade. But this particular teenager, Atalie, got involved in our youth group during her 8th grade year. She asked me if she could be baptized on the mission trip on the day that we would go to the ocean. I usually have strong reservations about baptizing teens apart form their families. I believe that this is a significant event in the live of a baby, teen or adult in which their biological family and church family should come along side of them and be witnesses to their commitment to be baptized into the church. So, I expressed this concern to Atalie and told her that in order to move forward with this we would need her parent’s blessing. Well with that, she immediately contacted her parents and they sent a video that expressed their blessing on this step in her spiritual life.  So on the day that we went to the beach, I had the honor of baptizing Atalie. What was unique about this was that my youth group is used to seeing babies baptized through sprinkling and making the sign of the cross on their forehead. This was an opportunity to explain baptism by immersion and the symbolism that comes with this sacred sacrament. I felt very blessed to be a part of this step in Atalie’s spiritual development. I suspect that this is only the beginning for Atalie as she continues to grow in her spiritual life.

With all that said, I can’t stop loving youth ministry and the teens that God has entrusted to me. As I get to serve them, they have no idea how much of an impact they have on me. There are may aspect of ministry that can be discouraging but serving teens has always energized me and help keep my faith alive and active. I am blessed to be their youth pastor. What a great Summer!

Are You Rapture Ready?

raptureexposedI remember my first experience praying to ask Jesus to come into my life. Unfortunately it was not because I was stricken by God’s love for me or impacted by the message of Jesus. Instead, I did it because I was scared shitless after watching an “end-times” movie called A Thief In The Night. This movie took a literal view of the book of Revelation interpreting it in its popular dispensational view that Jesus will rapture all the Christians out of the world and those “left behind” will have to fend for themselves as things go from bad to worse before Jesus decided to fully return to establish his kingdom and send all evil-doers to eternal punishment. I was overwhelmed with the terror and wrath of God and out of fear wanted to make sure I would go to heaven. Of course, growing up with the “left behind” type of theology there were moments of sheer terror when I walked into the house to find none of my family, thinking that God snatched them all up and I was not! But then all of a sudden a person emerged from another part of the house so I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the rapture didn’t happen.

It wasn’t until latter in life that I discovered that the popular dispensationalist view of interpreting Revelation is not even 200 years old. And on top of that, there are other ways of interpreting the apocalyptic passages of Revelation that have been around for thousands of years. Instead of being a negative view of doom and gloom, it was a message of hope to its original recipients. This was not some science-fiction book interpreting our distant future, but instead a letter that John wrote to a specific group of people which applied to their current situation. It was then that I realized that your eschatology can have a big impact on how you think the “end times” will take shape. Some believe that the world is going from bad to worse and Jesus needs to eventually snatch us out of here before things get really bad. Yet others believe that Satan was defeated at the cross and that we have been entrusted with the task of carrying out the Great Commission to advance the Kingdom of God before Jesus returns once and for all.

With all this said, Barbara R. Rossing has written The Rapture Exposed which helps to give some historical background to the various views of how to interpret the apocalyptic passages within the Bible. She exposes the fact that how we look at Revelation can have significant effects on how we look at God’s creation, non-believers, culture, politics and the current nation of Israel. The literalistic, dispensationalist view leads to some very negative consequences that simply do not line up with the rest of Scripture. Rossing calls it a theology of despair, and rightfully so. She also points out that the actual word “rapture” is not even in the whole Bible! She goes on to show the Biblical gymnastics that the dispensationalists need to accomplish to make their interpretation work for them. Instead of looking at the simple message of certain Scripture passages, they instead stretch it to say things that just aren’t there. In her own words, she states that “the hope of the book of Reveation is that God’s Lamb, Jesus, is already victorious and that God’s people will be faithful to the Bible’s vision of life. The hope is that we will follow the Lamb, renouncing all the seductions of imperial injustice and violence, so the threat of plagues will be averted. God loves the world. God does not desire earth’s destruction.” (p. 85).

If you have grown up with the “Left Behind” interpretation of Revelation I would highly recommend that you read this book and realize that that view has only been around for a while and the implications of that view lead to a tremendous amount of poor theology. Instead, understood in its context, Revelation is a wonderful message of hope for people who are being oppressed by Empire.

The only thing I would have liked is if this book had a followup chapter on our current day situation with politics and world events. But maybe it is too soon to comment on that. Either way, this is an important book to help understand apocalyptic literature in the Bible and how it should be interpreted. I highly recommend it.