Don’t Hide Behind “The Gospel”

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I fear that many white Christians are hiding behind “the gospel” instead of figuring out how it actually applies to the racial conflicts all around us. Over and over I have heard or read that the racial tensions are a “gospel issue” or a “sin issue.” And that is true because, at one level, all sin and problems and pain are gospel issues because they all stem from the fall and it’s permeating, devastating effects on our world and our hearts. Thusly, all these issues need to be replaced, repaired, redeemed, or renewed by Jesus. And the gospel is the message of Jesus doing just that.

So yes, the gospel does solve the problems of racial conflict in America. But not like most of us want to think. It is not a sermonic salve. It is not a matter of “sharing the gospel” with those one both sides. (Neither is it less than that.) To talk about how “the gospel” is the solution to these issues is a nearly useless statement when left by itself.

The gospel is only a solution when it drives us to do, only when what we believe about the free grace of God in Jesus makes us move. Only when we can make the connection between the gospel and the centuries of racial inequality in the United States, the lasting impact on our government and social structures, and the insidious and subtle effects on our own minds and hearts is it a solution. (If you do not acknowledge racial inequality historically, societally, and governmentally please keep reading. The gospel applies to my view and yours; we both need it.)

I fear, though, that instead of the gospel, with all its deep grace for all mankind, being the spur in our mulish hearts it — that is the word “gospel” itself — is a veil we throw over the ugliness of racial conflicts and call it a solution. Or maybe it is a curtain we draw tight to cozy-up our prayer closets and insulate us from the roiling, swirling hurt of 44 million black images of God in the U.S. Either way we hide behind it. When we do, our own private prejudices go unconfronted and our fear and ignorance live on in comfortable ease.

Enough of that. If we believe the gospel, really believe it, we will be moved by it. We will be moved in all the ways the bible says we ought – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruit that the Holy Spirit brings about in the lives of those who believe, really believe, the gospel. And where are those in our cross-racial and cross-cultural interactions?

If we will call racial conflicts a “gospel issue” then truly let that gospel bear fruit, for “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” What is more, “perfect love casts out fear.”

Any gospel that we apply to the painful conflicts in our nation that does not drive us this way is not actually the gospel. It is merely a theological paper bag conveniently placed over our heads to block out what we choose not to see. It is a lie that co-opts the name “good news” and morphs into bad.

Can we rightly say we are patient and kind? Can we examine our lives and see where we have insisted on our own way or passively allowed the insistence of our ancestors to continue wreaking racial havoc? Can we recognize and loathe the wrongdoing in our own lives and in our collective response (or lack thereof) to the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner as much as we point it out in the riots of Ferguson or the shoplifting of Brown? Can we search for truth to rejoice in with our black neighbors instead of facts we claim as truth to hold over their heads and win arguments? Are we bearing with our hurting brothers and sisters? To bear you must acknowledge that a burden exists to be borne. Will we hope and endure with them by sticking it out, to not letting this go, refusing to be swept away by the next phenomenon in our 24-hour news cycle?

What we cannot do is use the gospel as an excuse to be distant, a reason to dismiss minorities, a conceptual think piece to be discussed and pontificated upon, or a high-level idea that is so big as to be inapplicable. Rather we must break it down to its components, its implications, and its applications and begin taking steps. Begin doing. Like all our efforts to reflect Jesus and follow Jesus it will be slow going and here will be missteps. But godly progress with missteps is infinitely better than sitting tight and hiding behind “the gospel.”

photo credit: Bronte Lockwood via photopin cc

Fresh Friday Quote

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Each Friday I will share a quote I appreciate. It might be long or short. It might be funny or thought provoking.

Leaders are men and women who can influence a group of people toward a common goal. Their leverage comes from their ability to envision, communicate, and embody a better future. They see something wrong and they want to change it. Yet for a group to be motivated they must come to some level of disillusionment with the status quo; they need motivation to change. The difficulty for those of us who are called into leadership in this era, in a society of spectacle riddled with passive spectatorship and intermittent distraction, is made increasingly difficult.

The society of the spectacle creates passivity among its citizens, a reluctance to initiate, to lead. Instead we are encouraged to view, to consume. We fear committing, worrying that by doing so we will reduce our freedom, cut ourselves off from the myriad of choices that constantly entice us.

- Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm, Pages 59-60 

Woman Looks Back On Fruitful Year Of Bumper Sticker Ministry

Portland, OR — “I’d say this has been my best year yet,” said Theresa Banner, as she put the finishing touches on her “Bumper Banner Missions” year-in-review letter. “I definitely reached more lost people this year than I ever have. I guess you could say I kinda had a revival. I imagine Jonathan Edwards is looking down from heaven, feeling pretty happy about this Third Great Awakening.”

When asked about the reasons for her success, Theresa said, “I think it was the addition of the sticker which says, ‘Think It’s Hot Here?’ Whenever people saw that sticker they would fall under deep conviction. I mean, there’s no way to escape a message like that! People would see the sticker and think, Yeah, it is hot here. Oh man, my soul is in danger! I also added a TRUTH fish eating a Darwin fish eating a regular fish. When people saw that TRUTH fish they would think, You know, truth really does win out.”

Theresa also attributes much of her success to her evangelistic driving strategies. “In order for me to be a successful bumper sticker missionary I need to bring my message to the people. So I’ve developed a few special tactics to make my efforts more effective. The first tactic is called “The Love Nudge”. When traffic is backed up, I will slowly nudge my way into the other lane, forcing the car behind me to see the powerful truths on my bumper. The second tactic is called “The Bible Brake”. I’ll be going 65 mph down the highway and then suddenly slam on my brakes for no reason. The car behind me has no choice but to slam on his brakes or slam into my bumper. Either way, he sees the stickers!”

“Do people get angry and honk their horns and give me the bird? Sure. But people always get angry at the truth. Have I been fined fifteen times this past year for bad driving? Sure, but the local authorities always resist the truth. I just keep on going, doing the work of evangelism one car at a time.”

Theresa told reporters she is currently raising funds in order to purchase a snow plow for the front of her car, which, of course, she plans to cover in bumper stickers.

The Pastor’s Kid: An Interview With Crosswalk.com

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Last week I had the pleasure of jumping on Skype to talk about my book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, with Debbie Holloway at Crosswalk.com. Here are a few of the things we chatted about.

  • What is unique about the experience of pastors’ kids that made me feel a book from/for them was necessary?
  • Is the book more for PKs or for pastors? (Hint: it’s not an either/or.)
  • How can pastors and PKs handle the tensions of taking different theological/church paths in life?
  • What can normal church members do to encourage and help PKs and the pastor’s family as a whole?

Crosswalk.com: The Pastor’s Kid Gives a Unique Window to Life in the Church – Barnabas Piper from crosswalkcom on GodTube.

How Should We Respond To Internet Trolls?

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“Trolling” on the internet is something that’s hard to succinctly define but you know it if you see it. And when you see it you probably hate it. Last week I had the chance to talk with Karl and June on Moody Radio Chicago’s Morning Show. They raised a number of questions about social media trolling and how Christians should respond.

  • What is trolling?
  • Is it worth responding to?
  • Is it wise to take breaks from social media?
  • Does all the abuse make it not worth it to be on social media?
  • Why invest in social media interactions when we can have off-line, personal conversations?

All of these are good questions and I shared my thoughts. You can listen here.

A Conversation About Trolling and The Christian Response

How To Not Lose Heart In A Hostile World

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The Christian life is a race that requires endurance. In my previous post on Hebrews 12:2: I said that as we look to and imitate Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross – we too will endure. And one particular kind of suffering we must endure is hostility from a world hostile to its Creator and Savior. Jesus said we should expect opposition:

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (MT 10:24-25).

We shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers malign us. We’re to be lights shining in a dark world. People sitting in a dark room don’t like it when someone turns on the lights. Especially if they are up to something no good. “Hey turn off that light!” they shout. We shine the light of Christ, the light of the gospel, into the darkness. And often the world doesn’t like it.

In this country we don’t usually experience physical opposition. But we may encounter hostile attitudes. A friend of mine worked in a shop with a man who hated him simply because he was a Christian. Every day this man made negative comments and even threats to my friend.

Years ago a family came to our church and we spent many hours counseling them and trying to help them, even giving them money to help with needs. They wound up leaving the church, and told other pastors in town that I was a Satanist. They harassed us in other ways as well, like making negative comments when they saw us. They lived near us and one day as the wife was walking in front of our house my wife said “hi” to her. She responded by saying, “I curse you in Jesus’ name!” Another time she was walking in front of our house with her children, as I arrived home from work. When I said “hi” she held her nose and said, “Children! What stinks! See this man? He is defiled. Stay away from him.” So much for a response to my friendly greeting.

Hebrews 12:3 gives us the key to enduring the hostility of others:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (HEB 12.3)

Jesus doesn’t ask us to endure anything he hasn’t been through. He experienced every temptation we have only to the max. Jesus suffered incredible hostility  – before he was crucified the religious leaders hated him and continually plotted to kill him. People accused Jesus of having a demon and healing by the power of Satan. At his mock trial before Caiaphas they spit in his face and struck him, and said “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Brutal Roman soldiers mocked and scourged him. Hostile crowds yelled “Crucify him” to Pontius Pilate.

Yet Jesus never reviled, threatened or cursed in return. He took it silently. How did he do it? Peter tells us:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 PE 2:21-23

When people mocked and insulted Jesus he didn’t retaliate but entrusted himself to his Father – him who judges justly. When he hung on the cross and people spit on him saying, “Hey save yourself and come down from the cross if you’re the Christ,” he didn’t yell back, “Oh yeah, you just wait till I rise from the dead –you are going to wish you’d never done this to me.” No, he entrusted himself to his heavenly Father. And he even asked his Father to forgive those who had crucified him.

That’s how we are to endure hostility. We are to keep entrusting ourselves to God who judges justly and not take revenge or revile back. To entrust ourselves to God means we keep trusting him to take care of us. That God the all-knowing, all-wise judge, will deal with our enemies. That the One who is perfectly just and will make everything right in the end. To entrust ourselves to God means we put ourselves in his hands and trust him to defend us and deal with those who attack us.

My friend that I mentioned whose co-worker harassed him didn’t curse him or threaten him, but prayed for and forgave him. God gave my wife and I grace to not retaliate against the family that called me a Satanist. The only way I could get through their harassment was to keep looking to Jesus, entrusting myself to my heavenly Father. I didn’t always do it well. I was seriously tempted to anger at times and wanted to revile back, but God helped me not to.

Are you experiencing hostility from someone? Consider Jesus and the unimaginable hostility he endured. Don’t strike back. Don’t take things into your own hands. Don’t repay cursing with cursing. Do what Jesus did and entrust yourself to him who judges justly. That’s how he will keep you from growing weary or fainthearted.

Confessions Of A Hardcore Homeschooler

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I was homeschooled before it was cool to be homeschooled. Actually, I don’t know if it’s currently considered “cool” to be homeschooled, but it’s certainly much more accepted now than it was twenty years ago, especially now that there are 23 different flavors and varieties of homeschooling (homeschool, unschool, charter school, uncharted school, etc.) And I was a pureblood, kindergarten through 12th grade homeschooler, as opposed to those hybrid, mudblood (see: Harry Potter), public school turned homeschooled people. I learned to sing, spell, read, and write, I taught myself Algebra, and I took a lot of “field trips” (when you’re homeschooled, basically anything can count for a field trip). So yeah, I know a thing or two about homeschooling.

I used to think homeschooling was the way to do school. You know, the divinely designed method of schooling. And although I wouldn’t quite come out and say it, I kinda looked down on parents who didn’t homeschool. Why? Because I was a self-righteous idiot who drank a lot of his own awesome sauce.

Then I made a few discoveries that changed my mind regarding the issue of schooling.

I discovered that the Bible doesn’t specify how a child is supposed to be educated. The Bible is very specific on the principles of raising children and very vague regarding the specific practices of raising children.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19 says:

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

The principle is clear: I’m supposed to take every opportunity to teach my children about the Lord. Talk to my kids when they’re at home, when we’re traveling, when we’re waking up, and when we’re going to sleep. I’m supposed to raise up my children in the way of the Lord. That’s the big, overarching principle.

In his wisdom, God doesn’t specify exactly how a parent is to teach their children. Throughout the centuries, the principles never change, but the way those principles are practiced will change. The Israelites lived in an agrarian society. The teaching that took place between parents and children revolved around the rhythms of planting and harvesting. I don’t live in an agrarian society, and so the way I apply the principle of Deuteronomy 11 will look different than it did for the Israelites. I’m not doing much “walking in the way,” these days, but I do drive around a lot with my kids.

The principle remains the same: teach your kids to know the Lord. The practice will look different across societies and cultures and centuries. The way a poor Chinese family teaches their children about the Lord is going to look very different from the way a middle-class family in Boise, Idaho does it, and that’s okay.

When I insisted that homeschooling was the way to educate kids, I was going beyond the clear teaching of Scripture. I was taking a good principle and turning it into a legalistic law. Bad things happen when I add to the word of God.

I also discovered that homeschooling didn’t always produce stellar Christian kids. I know a lot of kids who were homeschooled. I know a lot of kids who went to public school. I know kids that went to Christian schools. Some of my homeschooled friends are walking with the Lord and some are addicted to drugs. Some of my friends who went to public school are pillars in the local church and some are atheists. Some of my friends who went to Christian schools are on fire for Jesus and some think Christianity is a lie.

Turns out that homeschooling isn’t the golden ticket of salvation. Only Jesus can give someone salvation. Homeschooling is not an educational funnel that leads to the kingdom of God. Only the Holy Spirit can make a dead heart come alive.

I’m not one of those angsty adults who is vehemently opposed to everything in his childhood. I’m not anti-homeschooling at all. Even though my daughter goes to public school, I’m still a big fan of homeschooling. It has some great benefits. If you homeschool, good for you.

It do strongly believe that insisting on a particular education method is harmful to the church and runs contrary to God’s word. When we insist on a certain practice, we create an “in” crowd and an “out” crowd, with those who are in being more “spiritual” than those who are out. When we take principles and turn them into hard and fast practices, we make the commands of Jesus burdensome.

God doesn’t do “in” and “out”. In Christ, we’re all in, and that’s good news. Let’s not mess with God’s good news.

Is Greatness Worth It?

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From my latest article at WorldMag.com:

Greatness comes at a price. In his book Outliers: Stories of Success, Malcolm Gladwell posed the idea that it costs 10,000 hours of practice to be truly great at something. He mentions Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as examples, as well as Michael Jordan. Others who fall into that same category are stars, past and present, like Ted Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods. Every sport has athletes known for their obsessive work habits and dedication to mastering their craft, and the same is true of most prolific authors, actors, movie directors, musicians, designers, and even pastors.

But what did it really cost? Every hour given to practice is an hour debited elsewhere. Family, relationships, personal spiritual life, mental and physical health, rest, and service to the church or community all pay taxes to “greatness.”

Think of your own life and the things in which you would like to excel: work, a creative endeavor, fitness. To do them it is necessary to not do something else, and often that something else truly matters, eternally matters. Faith, family, church, and community are all parts of life we often do not think of “mastering” but are foundational in a fulfilled Christian life. Yet these are the things we set aside to become great in some other area. Is it worth the cost?

. . .

Read the full post HERE.

photo credit: tinto via photopin cc

The Key To Enduring To The Finish Line

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  (HEB 12:1-2)

A couple of years ago I did the only athletic accomplishment in my life. I use the word “athletic” loosely. My son Stephen challenged me to run a half marathon, so I began training a couple months in advance. My only goal was to finish the race. I fully expected to come in last. Actually I came in third from last – followed by a guy with a walker, and a mom pushing her baby in a stroller. Just kidding. But the training and the race required endurance. And the last couple miles of the race were brutal for me. I got to the place where I would jog 10 steps then walk 10 steps, then repeat, gasping for air. The course passed through some woods and finally I came to a clearing where I could see the finish line in the distance. So I walked for a few minutes, then burst out of the woods and sprinted over the finish line. Stephen and a few others from the church who’d waited for me began to cheer as I pumped my fists in the air like Rocky. Since then I’m happy to report I have jogged I think a total of two times.

The author of Hebrews compares our Christian life to a race that requires endurance. He uses the metaphor of a race, not a journey. A journey may be leisurely. We can take breaks, pull over to a rest stop, get a hotel room. But a race is all-out effort from start to finish. But do we do this? By looking to Jesus, and imitating his example.

How did Jesus endure the horrific pain of the cross? By focusing on the JOY set before him – the joy he’d experience when he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God. The joy he’d experience when the Father received him and gave him the Name above every names. The joy he’ll have when he celebrates the marriage supper of the lamb with the multitudes of those he redeemed from every tribe and tongue.  Jesus didn’t focus on his pain or the injustice he experienced. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. We often tend to focus on our suffering. I’m not saying we should ignore our pain or put on a fake smile and say it doesn’t hurt. But sometimes we focus too much on our pain – why is this happening to me? Why do I have to go through this? Paul tells us where to look:

We need to keep resetting our gaze on the joy set before us. My dad used to tell long circuitous stories. You would mention something and it would trigger a memory for him. For example once I said something about a candy bar. He launched into a story about traveling across the country and meeting this guy who had a truck and on and on and on and I’d wonder, “Dad, where are you going with this?” until finally he came to the place where the guy discovered a whole truckload of Kit Kat Bars. I got distracted by the details but dad kept his eye on the goal.

So keep setting your heart on the joy of seeing Jesus face to face and gazing on his splendor. The joy of Jesus wiping every tear from your eyes. The joy of Jesus rewarding you for every single act of obedience, every secret good deed you did, every glass of water you gave to a thirsty one, every dollar you ever gave to the poor, every hour you served in children’s ministry. Keep your eyes on the joy of hearing God say well done good and faithful servant. Keep your eyes on the joy of fellowshipping with Jesus at the marriage supper of the lamb. Remember the joy of having an imperishable body that will never get sick or suffer any pain. Keep your eyes on the joy of ruling and reigning with Jesus and the joy you’ll know when you’re reunited to loved ones who believed in Jesus.