black history month, why it’s important, and what our witness ought to be

February in the United States and Canada is designated Black History Month (October in the United Kingdom). It is important to remember the history of African-Americans, whose recent ancestors were stolen, enslaved, and all too often killed. It is a great error to see this as being “politically correct.” We need to recognize the achievements of those in our family who are African in their origin, as well as the difficulties and evils they encountered, more or less front and center at one time, but now often much more hidden, yet just as real. An example of what is especially a hidden, subtle form of racism is the part of the story in the film Hidden Figures, which wasn’t told.

At the heart of the outcome of the gospel is the destruction of all divisions within humanity, while celebrating the differences through God’s creation (see the book of Revelation, in which every tribe and nation in all their diversity worship God together). The fact that the church seems to make either little or nothing of this at all seems to me to be a grave mistake which needs prayer and correction. The good news of God in Jesus and through his death means a completely open access to God, and also to each other in the sense of living out our oneness as one family in him. There is only one human race, and the difference in ethnicities among us enhance humanity. We need each other, every part of the whole of the one family of humanity.

This should be fulfilled in Jesus, in which through the new birth and new creation, we are all one in him, in all our differences. The best witness of a church in that regard is to include different ethnicities on the staff, particularly in positions of leadership, certainly including the pastoral. The world needs that witness, and we actually need this as well, to break down the sin of racism, which is the hidden elephant in still too many places. When we overlook the hidden, or not so hidden racism among those around us, we can inadvertently make a place for it in our hearts, while never wanting to. We excuse something for which there is no excuse, and which brings grave harm to humanity, and is an affront to God, and above all grieves the heart of God.

So let’s do something if we haven’t yet, before this month ends, to both remember and celebrate our black brothers and sisters. And let’s pray that this can somehow be worked into our lives on a practical level so that we can enter more fully into the salvation which is ours through the good news in Jesus our Lord.

what it means to follow King Jesus in a political world

Unlike those in Bible times, we live in a democratic society, which complicates our reading and application of scripture. If you read nothing more, read this, which is an excellent application of scripture in light of that.

When it comes to the politics of this world, I think we in Jesus need to apply the politics of Jesus, and the politics of the kingdom, and while that will surely impact our position on any issue, for example the refugee issue, it’s not as simple as either lining up with one party or candidate, or opposing another party or candidate. And in the end, though it may well affect the way we vote (or not vote, and if we vote at all), it ends up being solely about one thing for us: living for Jesus and for the gospel.

I do pay some attention to the politics of this world, and especially so, since I live in a democracy in which I can participate directly and indirectly in the process. While I think Christians can become unduly entangled in a mess when it comes to politics, I also think there might be some good we can do, especially as advocates for the poor, oppressed, and helpless. And we may want policies which help our families, all well and good, but we need to beware of making it all about us, what we want, what is best for us.

To understand what it means to follow King Jesus, we surely need to practice what John R. W. Stott advocated in his book, Between Two Worlds. He lived before the digital revolution, so he wrote of having the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in another. The problem in any age, but it seems particularly acute today, is the reality that the digital and news of the day can easily swallow up most all of our time, so that we end up being very little in the Bible at all. And after all, haven’t many of us read it through (or heard it read) at least a number of times?

But to follow King Jesus here and now, we need an interactive relationship both with scripture and with the world in which we live. But we must think of it, if we’re to follow King Jesus, not in terms of what the world wants, but what Jesus wants. And the root of that must be in the revelation we find in scripture of Jesus, and the good news in him. And we live that out from and within our communion as the church.

We must beware of getting caught up and entangled in either the Christian right or left, or the political right or left. Instead, we’re to follow Jesus. And in that communion, that fellowship, we are united to those who may see differently when it comes to the politics of this world, but with whom we’re united in the common goal of following Jesus, and obeying him, as well as living from and witnessing to the gospel, the good news in him.

That must be our goal, even our heart, and nothing less.

the gospel breaks the color barrier

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

Maybe my biggest disappointment with the church as I’ve seen it for the most part, with notable exceptions, is just how monochrome, or segregated most churches are on any given Sunday. It is understandable, yet sad at the same time, in my view. God’s grace covers us, and there’s a history behind it. And it’s not like churches who are white or black want to be segregated. There are different cultures involved, and people are at home in different places.

But the gospel is meant to bring together those who likely would never do so apart from it. What is true concerning Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God as one body (Ephesians 2:11-22) is also true of all peoples, bringing for example Palestinians and Jews together through the cross, through Jesus’s death, along with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, everyone. The reconciliation to God extends no less to each other through the good news in Jesus, and the Spirit who makes us one in him.

As a witness to the gospel, and the saving power it brings, we need to show the world how we can work through the barriers, whatever they may be. How our unity in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the love of God in Jesus supercedes all distinctions, breaks down all animosities and hostilities, through Christ’s death, and our repentance and faith, and brings the promised healing and shalom. This new world is now present through Christ in his body the church. As a witness to the world, and as part of the salvation we ourselves need, in and through Jesus.

Christians should lead the way in showing unity in the midst of differences

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

1 Peter 3

This passage in 1 Peter and elsewhere which says Christians are to be of one and the same mind, certainly doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything that’s important. What it does mean is that we’re in full agreement, and in lock step with what is most important of all, nothing else being on the same level: the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus.

To be like-minded, or of one mind means nothing less than that. I see Christians divide over their consideration of the politics of this world. And that can be a distraction, even worse, a departure from what actually does unite us in and through Jesus by the one Spirit. It is nothing less and nothing more than the faith of the gospel. To put anything else in that category is plain and simply idolatry. When I refer to the gospel here, I’m referring to God’s message about Christ, which leads us to God and our lives of worshipping him. Nothing else should be on the radar with that.

I am glad that I’m among Christians who think very differently than I do on the politics of this world, and yet with whom I can have just as close of fellowship and enjoy their company just as much as if we did think alike on that issue. Does that mean that the politics of this world doesn’t matter? Of course it does. But in actuality, regardless of how that shakes out, we find that our unity is fully and completely never in that, but only in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Lord and Messiah, our one hope both in this present life, as well as in the life to come. And this reality should help us negotiate well, and even influence how we look at the lesser things. So that we can learn to work toward a common goal, and even compromise to see it achieved. Not that we can arrive to perfection in that, or even always in our faith and understanding be able to do so.

Again, the appeal to having the same mind given to Christians numerous times in the New/Final Testament is in terms of God’s revelation in Jesus and the gospel. We are going to disagree on a whole lot of other things. We bring different perspectives and insights to the table, and therefore need to listen to each other well. But we must not let anything be in the category of first importance besides the gospel itself. And since that is the case, it will help us know how to negotiate what differences we have. Of paramount importance among other things will be peacemaking, first between ourselves over differences, and for those of this world. And first in that will be the peace that only the gospel brings in the midst of it all. In the truth and love which are in Jesus.

the watchword for this time: grace

We live in a tumultuous time when nearly everything seems in flux with radical change coming in epic proportions; in biblical language the heavens being shaken, the sun blotted out, the moon turned to blood, and the stars falling down from the sky.

And we live in a time when friends, family, and yes, even Christians disagree with each other on issues in a way at least in which there can be no compromise, set in our ways of thinking and understanding. However we might assess that, that’s not the point of this post. We must take care not to sin against the one reality which is given to us in Jesus.

What is needed today is grace in the distinctive way of Jesus, the grace we find through the gospel. So that even in our disagreements we in Jesus apply grace to each other, forgiving each other when we misspeak, and holding on to the one truth and reality that unites us: the good news in Jesus. We might define this grace as loving each other no matter what in and through the gospel, that we are family, bonded together in love in and through Jesus. Something we have, and need to grow in.

How that plays out is important. We can seek to persuade on what we must acknowledge are lesser things than the gospel, however important they well may be. Humility should help us, since we all know in part, and are to some extent part of the problem in one way or another, even if it’s in simply ignoring what might come to our attention that is unpleasant.

What we must hold on to for ourselves, for each other, and for our witness to the world is our essential unity in God through Christ by the Spirit. We are fully committed together to the good news of God in Jesus, meant to impact our lives in the hard places, and keep us unified in love, even when other issues would pull us apart and break the communion we have. We must show the world the better way.

What about when we think people, especially those in Christian leadership are off the mark? Are we praying for them? We can strongly, yet respectfully disagree with them. Grace ironically dictates there, and dictates nothing less than that.

And the grace which pours out of the gospel in Jesus, a love no matter what, which holds each other up in encouragement as well as accountability to the gospel because we care, that is the watchword we need to hold on to. For ourselves, for each other, and for our witness to the world in and through Jesus.

this election year

This is election year, and it has never been more contentious in my lifetime than this time around. I have good friends who regularly share on the specifics of this, and I have to some extent, as well. I still am open to sharing input which I think might be helpful. And I’m now thinking particularly of one book, soon to be released, in helping us think through and respond well to the seeming madness and hysteria which is fomenting around us. Entitled, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz.

I am not at all saying that those on either side are necessarily at all mad or hysterical. People have strong, and in some cases well thought out reasons why they’re voting on either side, or perhaps not voting at all. And whatever concerns we have, and I have some serious concerns myself, there should never be a litmus test in the church based on how one votes. Unfortunately I’ve run across that with a few Christian leaders, who at least make it clear how one can’t vote and remain in their eyes anyhow, a faithful Christian.

I will continue to read articles shared by friends, and may respond on their sites. But by and large I would like to be involved in listening to others think through this entire matter, and participate in what good I can glean out of that.

They say the best teaching helps students not simply regurgitate what is taught, but rather, catch on to the dynamic in play, so that the goal of the teaching is somehow realized. And the outcome of that will necessarily look different from one person to the next, because we all have our unique perspectives and gifts. The differences can contribute to the whole, in ways we often can’t see in God’s working and will. And I would include in that, potentially differences in how people do vote and why.

We do the best by learning to listen well and listen some more, speak well (probably softly), with the goal of speaking the truth in love. And for us in Christ, with the goal of likeness to Christ, and as a light, God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

What I’m choosing to do right now is not what anyone else ought to do. Everyone is different for sure, with different giftedness and calling, along with each unique life journey. What is most important is that we don’t leave our faith at the door, but bring it into all that we do, including our interactions with others up to the time of the election, and beyond. As through it all we remain one in Jesus and his witnesses through the gospel.

Paul, a charismatic Anglican

In one of Scot McKnight’s recent books (another good one), A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, in some good humor Scot suggests “that the Apostle Paul was a charismatic Anglican, who was a mix of routine and spontaneity.” When you look at Paul in the New Testament, there is no escaping the fact that in the biblical sense his life seemed to include all that the Spirit was doing then and is allegedly doing today in some quarters: people praying for the dead to rise and seeing God answer, others healed of life threatening and debilitating illnesses, demons cast out, prophesying occuring, and speaking in tongues as both a gift to edify the church as long as there’s an interpretation, or a prayer language, and surely a few things I missed. Actually I like another point Scot makes in the book that the gift we are given in Christ’s body amounts to whatever blesses the body. For me it has seemed to be more in the line of teaching, but the gift we all have is surely as unique as each one of us is from God both in terms of creation and new creation.

What can be missing in Pentecostal and charismatic churches and circles today, from what I’ve seen, is the humility of Paul. And I’m not referring to the showboating in some places which has nothing to do with the charismatic gift (which actually includes all in Christ’s body, but to that later). But there is too often something of the sense of superiority in looking down on other churches and Christians, so that like the Corinithian church who were overflowing and behind in none of the gifts, Paul might say to some if he were on the scene today that in their divisiveness and attitude that others are beneath them, they are living as if they don’t have the Spirit at all. Although I’m sure that in the grace of the Lord there are many Pentecostal churches and believers who are genuinely humble.

According to the Greek New Testament, strictly speaking, all of us in Christ are already Spirit people, we are charismatic, having the charismata of the Spirit. It doesn’t even matter, I don’t think, if we mistakenly believe some of the so-called charismatic gifts (not really a biblical way of looking at this, I might argue) are really not for today. The Baptists along with the Nazarenes, Mennonites, Methodists, and yes, Roman Catholics, and other traditions and believers are all potentially Spirit-filled, period. And some of the Pentecostal churches and believers who advertise themselves as Spirit-filled may well be not.

I will probably be continuing to think on this subject for a time, so I have to hold on to my hat (I’m a hat wearer, though my wife isn’t crazy about that). There is so much to say on this subject. To come: the fruit of the Spirit is far more important than the gifts of the Spirit, though both surely have their place. And what I think a real Spirit-filled church looks like. For a hint, and actually in large part at least, my answer, look at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.