The Single Best Reflection I’ve Heard On Ferguson

hill-2014-fprofTheon Hill is assistant professor of communication at Wheaton College. We attended Bob Jones University at the same time where we served on a student council together for a year. I’ve always had the utmost respect for Theon–apart from being smart and articulate, he’s a genuinely kind person.

So I was excited to hear that he gave a talk last night at Wheaton College entitled “Reflecting on Ferguson.” I listened to it earlier today and it’s the single best thing I’ve heard on the topic to-date. Let me encourage you to take the time to listen. Whether you see systemic racism or personal responsibility as the primary issue in play during this cultural moment; whether you trust commentary from FoxNews or MSNBC; whether you vote Democrat or Republican, you’ll benefit from the talk.

Here’s a brief overview:

(1) The nature and reality of systemic racism. What is it’s foundation? How does it materialize in culture today?

(2) The nature of personal responsibility. What role does personal responsibility play in this discussion?

(3) What can the church do? Where do we go from here?

Theon’s talk begins at 42:20 and ends at 1:19:50 (a Q&A session follows). The sound quality is poor, so headphones may help.

You can listen to the talk here. 

 

 

10 Lessons Learned Along The Way

Today is my birthday. Reflecting on the last decade or so, here are ten lessons I’m learning.

1. Few things will serve you as well as an insatiable curiosity. Cultivate curiosity. Ask lots of questions. Spend time with lots of different kinds of people who are a lot different than you. Read widely. Ask for book recommendations from people you admire. Don’t be afraid to tackle any topic. 

2. Serious study is so valuable not simply for knowledge acquisition, but because it teaches you how to think.

3. Leadership is about doing hard things. A good leader protects others by making the hard decisions, having the hard conversations, and executing the difficult tasks. The essence of leadership is not public notoriety, but quiet service.

4. Looking for God’s kind providence in your past will cultivate worship and keep you from bitterness.

5. If you don’t have good friends who are in their 60s and 70s, you’re missing out on a remarkable gift.

6. One of the most undervalued assets in life is a broad and deep relational network. Prioritize people even over tasks. Life is about people. Ministry happens with people. Relationships will change you in a way few other things will.

7. Cultivating a relationship with God will keep you from sin, keep you dependent, and keep you prayerful. Ignoring God will result in sin, make you independent and proud, and cause you to be prayerless.

8. Other Christians (and groups of Christians) are almost never as bad as you think. Take time to listen and understand “the other.”

9. Almost nothing is better for you spiritually than being a member of a church that treasures Jesus and celebrates his Gospel every Sunday. As a general rule, spend as much time at church as possible.

10. Family first. Laugh, play, pray, spend time together. Life is too short to not spend time with your family.

Mercy For All

nepal

The sun is just rising above the mountains that surround Kathmandu, Nepal and I’m enjoying the cool temperatures and beautiful view with a cup of Nepali tea while meditating on Psalm 130 by reading it again and again and listening to a beautiful arrangement of the psalm.

The Psalm makes much of the depth of God’s mercy. In the face of humanity’s astounding willful rebellion, God has made a way for a holy God and sinful people to be reconciled through Jesus. I’m reflecting on the countless ways I’ve seen the depth of His mercy in the face of my sin. How can I not agree with the Psalmist—“if you would count everything that I’ve done wrong, who could stand?”

“But with you there is forgiveness (v.4).” For the soul aware of their sinfulness these words practically spring from the page with life-giving hope. Because of Jesus, He doesn’t count my sins against me!

“O praise Him, hallelujah, my Delight and my Reward; Everlasting, never failing, my Redeemer, my God” (Psalm 62).

Mercy in Kathmandu

I’ve seen worship-inducing evidences of deep mercy the last few days as I’ve spent time with my brothers serving as pastors here in Nepal. In the face of overwhelming opposition, seemingly endless hostility, and Hindu fervor at every turn, these men are heralding the rich mercy of the one true God. How do they persevere when things seem so bleak (Nepal is less than half a percent Christian)?

They are merciful because they have been shown mercy (Matt. 5:7).

One brother was a witch doctor known throughout the region for his healing powers. One day he contracted an illness that he couldn’t heal and threatened to heal his life. He healed others, but he couldn’t heal himself. A merciful Savior, who knows our frame, used this to bring him to Christians and then to Jesus. Mercy.

When another brother was 8 months old, he was dropped in a fire that severely burned his face and body and caused him to lose an arm. He now pastors a church in the mountains near the border of China, and he and his wife recently had their first baby—a girl—with a face so beautiful it took my breath away. Mercy.

Several of the other brothers have fathers who served as Hindu priests—or they themselves used to be Hindu priests. Some used to do animal sacrifices, another even human sacrifice. Now their sacrifice is a broken and contrite spirit. Mercy.

Mercy Anew

As the sun rises on the 10/40 window this morning, there is new mercy. This mercy is resounding across the lands. It is breaking barriers, shattering opposition, and working astounding miracles of new birth. We shared it with our Hindu cab driver last night. Even as I type this, a pastor friend from Iowa is sharing it with a Nepali man over tea. We who have tasted of the sweet mercy of Jesus, and every day experience it’s newfound depths, how can we not freely, eagerly, joyfully, confidently, winsomely, brokenly share the good news: “you were dead in your sins…but God, who is rich in mercy…”

A wonderful, merciful Savior has mercy for all.

Does This Sound Like Your Church?

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Ezra Reading the Law in the Hearing of the People by Gustave Dore

The scene of corporate worship described in Nehemiah 8 sounds exactly like my church. I didn’t realize it, indeed, I hadn’t even thought of it before; but I was profoundly moved with the realization yesterday while reading the passage.

What an incredible thing the body of Christ is! Spanning the globe and across time, it worships with a stunning continuity, because it worships the one and only true God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Nehemiah 8:1-12

“All the people came together…and Ezra opened the Book…

Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

The Immigration Crisis In Two Minutes

This is an admittedly complex issue, but regardless of which side of the aisle you are on, Christians should be able to agree with this principle:

We are Christians first and Americans second.

If you believe the above principle and let it inform and shape your thinking, it will inevitably have implications for how you view the current immigration crisis.

 

 

What’s The Difference Between Sheltering and Shepherding Your Children?

Greears085_croppedTrevin Wax did a great interview on Jesus-centered parenting with J.D. and Veronica Greaar. You can find the entire thing on his blog. One question and answer particularly struck me as immensely helpful and I wanted to highlight it here.

What’s the difference between sheltering your children towards safety and shepherding your children towards mission?

The ultimate purpose of parenting is not to hang on, but to let go; not protection but empowerment.

We certainly hope parents don’t interpret that approach as advocating a sloppy, carefree approach to parenting where you put your kids in unnecessary danger. But many Christian parents fail to grasp that God entrusted their children to them to train them up for his purposes, not theirs.

Psalm 127 says that children are like arrows in the hand of a mighty warrior. Arrows are given to the warrior to launch into battle, not as accoutrements to your lifestyle. And here’s the key: When you take what God intended to be a weapon and you turn it into a piece of furniture for your house, not only do you thwart the plan of God for their life, you discourage them from faith altogether!

The gospel, you see, only makes sense when it is taught in the context of mission. Many kids in evangelical churches are bored because parents look at kids like furniture for the completion of their houses and churches like classrooms to fashion them as “Christian” pieces of furniture.

Children are arrows, and arrows are designed to be launched out.

Recognizing The Sectarian Within

local churchMy doctoral mentor once told me to walk through life and ministry with “a convictional core and a magnanimous spirit.” The last few weeks, two things have happened to remind me of the wisdom of this particular advice:

(1) I heard a panel of leaders from the very conservative orbit of churches I grew up in explain why they separate from the slightly less conservative orbit of churches I now am a part of. It was the finest splitting of hairs on secondary issues. Naturally, I was disappointed.

(2) Shortly thereafter I found myself explaining this to a friend in an uncharitable and impatient way. I didn’t present these men or their positions fairly–all black and white and no nuance. As I thought of it afterwards, naturally, I was disappointed!

It’s easy for us Christians to operate with a sectarian mindset, always looking for what’s wrong with our Christian brothers and sisters. When we do so we hinder our witness, disrupt our Spirit-given unity, and harm the body of Christ and ourselves. Eventually, we find ourselves in an ever-shrinking group of critics, lost in the echo-chamber of our own critique.

We need to couple a convictional core with a magnanimous spirit.

D.A. Carson notes:

“The doctrinal critic may agree that another person is a brother in Christ, has been significantly used of the Lord, is thoughtful and sincere in his submission to Scripture; but because the critic focuses on the one area of doctrine in which the two disagree, this other brother may be painted publicly in hues of gray and black. That Christians are to demonstrate observable love (John 13:34f; 17:20-23) is lost while the critic “defends the truth.”

Genuine believers have more in common than they recognize when, with a sectarian mentality, they focus attention and energy on points of difference, largely to reinforce what they construe as their own raison d’etre [“reason for existence”]. If I wholeheartedly embrace only those fellow Christians who see things exactly the way I do, I will never embrace anyone, except, perhaps, a handful of weak-minded followers.”

So how do you handle disagreements with other Christians without resorting to sectarianism? I try to keep this in the forefront of my mind when relating to Christians with whom I disagree: We have more in common than we ever will things that separate us, because we share Christ. United to Christ, we are part of the same family, brothers and sisters with the same Father. So there is a deep, organic, unbreakable union between believers that comes through the indwelling of the Spirit and union with Christ.

This then propels us to pursue peace, seek understanding, and stoke the fire of brotherly love towards other Christians. With God’s help, we don’t operate fundamentally from a sectarian mindset (what’s wrong with this church, what disagreements do we have with this group, what must separate us from our spiritual family, etc), but from a spiritual mindset (fellow believers are part of the same family, branches of the same vine, members of the same body, etc).

Union with Christ flowing into brotherly love is the antidote to a sectarian spirit.

 

Poems of a Pilgrim

51cd0cdEgsL._AA160_My friend Matthew Weathers is a reflective, risk-taking, energetic, Spirit-filled disciple of Jesus. I’ve learned much from him and I couldn’t be more grateful for him. That’s why it was such a delight to read a book of poetry he’s just released–Poems of a Pilgrim. Unsurprisingly, these poems are made up of the same encouraging, convicting, inspiring stuff as Matthew himself.

 

Let me encourage you to pay the price of a cup of coffee and buy this little book of poetry. And then grab a cup of coffee and enjoy reflecting alongside Matthew on the truth and beauty of Jesus in all of life.

You can find more information about the book and Matthew here. 

Why Are There So Few African American Missionaries?

Timothy Byrd

Timothy Byrd, a missionary with Campus Outreach in Johannesburg, South Africa, answered this question and others related to it, in an interview I did with him last week. Below are each of the questions with a link to his answers.

Question #1: Why don’t we see many African American missionaries?

Question #2: What particular challenges do African American missionaries face both pre-field and on the field?

Question #3: You’ve said it appears that for many African-American churches there is great vision for the community but not for the globe. Do you see any signs of that changing? From your perspective, what needs to happen to increase the vision for the globe?

Question #4: What practical ways can churches consciously encourage more African-American missionaries?

Question #5: African Americans have a unique story to tell. How can that be a strategic tool for the sake of the Gospel?