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.
“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.”
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.
Trevin 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.
My 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.
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.
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?
In this excellent sermon on Isaiah 6:1-7, Kempton Turner shows seven glimpses of the glory of Jesus that compel us to go to hard places.
1. We go because Jesus’ reign is eternal.
2. We go because Jesus is Lord of all.
3. We go because Jesus is the King-Judge of all.
4. We go because Jesus is Supreme over all.
5. We go because Jesus is full of majesty and splendor.
6. We go because Jesus is infinitely holy.
7. We go because Jesus is our merciful Savior.
I highly recommend this sermon. It was moving, helpful, and encouraging. Well-worth the time! You can read more about Kempton and City of Joy Fellowship here.
“The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith…” ~Hebrews 11:39-39