He’s a Keeper…

Today we find ourselves on the heels of one of the most polarizing election cycles ever. As a result, a lot has been said, is being said and will most likely continue to be said as the country tries to makes sense of things. In the midst of it all are Christians (on all sides) who are sadly at odds with one another. On the surface, it appears that the Church in America is as divided as the country itself. This post is an attempt to hopefully alleviate some of the tension.

I believe a huge lie that Christians in America have bought into is this notion that because there are two major political parties, each person must pledge allegiance to one side or the other.  An even bigger lie is this idea that one party holds a monopoly on the Church or “preserves” Christianity and its ideals. This latter lie was clearly demonstrated when a prominent White Gospel Music (you read that correctly) singer found herself in hot water claiming that the results of the election were indicative of Jesus returning back to the White House; figuratively (my paraphrase). This sent shock-waves throughout social media and people (predominately black and Christian) “let her have it”. Realizing she made a poor choice, she issued a rather lackluster apology and stated that she did not mean to offend or hurt anyone but was just doing her best to “protect Christianity”.  This, among other things, was the most cringe-worthy statement in her apology in my opinion.  To really believe that statement means one is operating under a dangerously false premise, namely that Christianity or the Church needs our protection. Nowhere in Sacred Writ is that idea supported, in fact, the biblical authors declare otherwise, namely, that God doesn’t need us to protect Him, defend Him, or protect Christianity; we need Him to do those things for us. Now, I won’t flood you with a ton of passages but just enough (hopefully) to drive home my point: good intentions are often ruined by faulty orthodoxy (doctrine) which generally leads to questionable orthopraxy (behavior). 

A Brief Biblical Survey: Concerning Individuals and the Church (Which are Inseparable)

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. – Psalm 121:5-8 (the entire Psalm is worth the read)

You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You. – Isaiah 26:2

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:17-18

Jesus answered…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one. – John 10:27-29

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 2 Timothy 1:8-12

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

These are but a few of the numerous texts that convey the wonderful reality that God keeps, preserves, and protects His people. To go further, none of these texts suggest or intimate that God needs us to keep, protect, or preserve Christianity or the Church, but rather we are the ones who need keeping.  We can’t even protect ourselves let alone try to protect God’s Church.  Well maybe you can, but I for sure can’t and I’m a pastor. I’ve tried and failed over and over, but thanks be to God, that He keeps me when I can’t keep myself. (Insert 2-3 tongues and praise break here)  I digress…

The truth of the matter is that God doesn’t need government, politicians, preachers or laypersons to do what only He is able to do which should cause a huge sigh of relief.  The pressure is not on us, but God lays the responsibility on His omnipotent self.  This is by no means a call to abandon politics or the propagation of Christian ideals in the world.God has and God can choose to intervene through government whenever He wants. At the same time it is a call to loosen the grip that the Church has on politics and free ourselves from the arrogance and pride that has consumed us and led us to believe that our survival ultimately depends on our efforts (big or small). Our survival is not contingent on who occupies the the seats of power on earth nor is it contingent on what laws are passed on behalf of the faith. More times than not, the systems of this world are in opposition to the Church and the direction God is taking her. Yet oddly enough, history has proven that the Body of Christ thrives under opposition. So do we look for conflict or seek to create it in order to thrive? Certainly not! We simply (by no means am I suggesting it’s easy, but we do have the Holy Spirit) live out the Gospel and the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor(s) as ourselves.  We take serious God’s command to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. To care for those who are the voiceless and powerless with or without the help of the government.  The rest we leave to the One who “keeps us from falling!” (Jude 24)

Safe in His Arms,

T.

 

 

One Nation, Divided – Part 2…Crooked Sticks and Straight Lines.

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God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.

You may have heard this statement in a sermon or seen it somewhere online attributed to the likes of Martin Luther or Thomas Watson.  Regardless of its origin (my google research could not pinpoint it sadly), it is both a humbling and hopeful statement. Let’s break down the statement in order to see how powerful a statement it really is.

  1. God  –  the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe.  The Faithful, covenant-keeping, Sovereign, doesn’t need anything or anybody, supremely Holy, incomparably Perfect, Omnipotent, Omniscient, All-Wise deity of the Old and New  Testaments.
  2. Uses – chooses to involve in His plans.
  3. Crooked Sticks – broken, deeply flawed, raggedy, undeserving men and women.
  4. To make straight lines – to accomplish His unchanging, unfailing purposes for the sake of His glory (His renown and fame) and good of His people.

Let that sink in deeply…

This isn’t some pithy, feel-good statement, this notion is found inside and outside of the Bible.   Don’t believe me? Read the Biblical accounts of:

  • Abraham
  • Moses
  • Saul
  • David
  • Cyrus
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Isaiah
  • Jonah
  • The Disciples
  • Judas
  • Paul

This is in no way a comprehensive list, but a sample of names to highlight my point.  There has never been a time in history, outside of Jesus, where God did not use woefully broken men and women.  The truth is, “God uses broken people because broken people are all there are.” – T. Tchividjian

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you know most of these guys are legends. You also know that some of these guys directly opposed and often tried to the thwart the plans and purposes of God, yet to no avail. However, in His wise providence, God used these men in one way or another to accomplish the very things they were trying to stop.

The Problem

This election cycle, two crooked sticks ran for President of the United States.   People on both sides were desperately trying to convince the country of two things: 1) Their crooked stick wasn’t that crooked; 2) The other crooked stick was way more crooked than what met the eye.  This election was no different from any other election in the sense that there was no perfect candidate (as if there ever was or ever will be). However, this election was different in the sense that it wasn’t just about two different philosophical political ideologies, this election had an additional element; fear. As Greg Popovich, the rich white (self-described) Head Coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (which I hope the Lakers beat every single time this year) frustratingly stated,

“I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.” (Source: mysanantonio.com)

He went on to say how Donald Trump used fear mongering and race baiting rhetoric from day one trying to delegitimize the presidency of the nation’s first black President, Barack Obama.  I am fully on board with Pop’s comments and where I resonated with him most was regarding his feelings of shock and awe surrounding the loud declaration and silent affirmation of most of the Evangelical Church, especially those brothers and sisters of a lighter hue.  I can’t tell you how many posts I read this election cycle from followers of Christ who blatantly diminished or silently ignored the abominable words and actions of Donald Trump.  Time after time, people pointed to the Bible and abused the notion that “God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.” Time after time, people celebrated DJT’s business accomplishments while glossing over his moral failures.  Oddly enough, a former college mate and fellow african-american made the claim that, “Our God can do more through a King Cyrus (Trump) than He can with a Jezebel (Clinton). Think about it…” Not only is this bad exegesis, but it is symptomatic of a larger issue within the Church of America.  While God did use Cyrus and while Jezebel was a terrible woman, there is no way anyone can justify parading and celebrating DJT as the Church’s “vote” just as much as Israel should not celebrate Cyrus as a man of God.

Let me go on record (again) and state that this is not a pro-Clinton post. In fact, I chose to write-in another crooked stick due to my lack of trust and disgust with the two main candidates.

The point I want to make is that because God uses crooked sticks, it does not mean every crooked stick is for Him and the Church especially would do well not to pledge their allegiance to the Cyruses of this world regardless of what we “think” they might do.  God uses crooked sticks, but we must never excuse or ignore how crooked the sticks really are.  This election cycle revealed just how far the Evangelical Church (and more specifically the 80% of white evangelicals who willfully chose DJT, celebrated him, and called him God’s answer) would go for the preservation of itself and/or America (those two are used interchangeably these days unfortunately).  Some will argue and say they voted for a platform, not a person.  My retort is that this election was much more than perpetuating a particular political platform.  This election was the Church’s opportunity to choose people over politics and I fully believe this was not the case for almost 60% of Protestants in general and 80% of white evangelicals.

There were other options.  There are always other options.

I know what some may be thinking at this point, well geez Terry, no one would ever be fit for the Office of President following your train of thought.  I keep going back to my statement that this was not a normal election.  The aftermath of riots and violence (perpetuated by both sides no less) proves that.  The Trump era has kicked off with a bang and not in a good way and the Church has to take responsibility for it.  A friend and fellow Pastor eloquently summarized Part 1 of this series by stating this isn’t about guilt, but responsibility.  Thanks, Steve.  The choice was made and now we must grapple with the consequences that are a direct result of that choice.

Why I’m Hopeful

We have no idea what the future holds for this country or any other country for that matter.  I am choosing personally, not to worry or to be afraid according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34.  I am choosing to hope rather than despair as Paul encourages believers in Romans 8:28-39.  Ultimately, I am hopeful because God has used crooked sticks before,  like the men listed above, and He can certainly use President-elect Donald J. Trump if He chooses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there was one name left off of the list above purposely and not because it doesn’t belong there; it most certainly does.  God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines and I more than anyone know that to be true because for some odd reason, He still chooses to use me.

Hoping in Christ,

Terry

One Nation, Divided – Part 1…Am I My Brother’s Keeper? (For Pastors and Leaders)

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DISCLAIMER: I do not speak for all of “Black America” or African-American Pastors.

Tuesday night I decided to go to bed earlier than usual. Mainly because I did not want to stay awake and watch the inevitable happen.  I wanted to escape the reality that Donald Trump, an arguably well-documented racist, misogynist, xenophobe and sexual assaulter was going to be the next President of the United States of America for at least four years.  So I went to sleep and around 2am I was up again and happened to check my phone to see what time it was and staring me in the face were texts from friends who were in total shock.  It turned out that I could not escape it and eventually went back to sleep fully aware that the proverbial poop had hit the fan.

I should probably state at the onset that I was not a supporter in principle or by vote of Mrs. Clinton either and this contrary to many of my brothers and sisters of the same hue.  In fact, I had previously given up on politics for a period but felt this season was the prime opportunity for the nation, for the Church, to do something different.  I felt that with at least one of the candidates, there was no way followers of Jesus Christ would rally around such a person regardless of his political affiliation.  I thought for sure, those who call themselves “evangelicals” would choose people over politics; I was wrong.  Many of us were so wrong.

I woke up the next morning as a Pastor who happens to be black and asked myself what would I tell my multi-ethnic church? What would I tell my friends? How would I encourage people who I knew were just as confused as I was (am).  Beyond that, how would I encourage those who were now suddenly distraught and afraid of what the future might look like for them; for us? Even today there are outbreaks of protests and violent attacks (albeit on both sides) like we’ve never seen after an election.  It is not the typical go back to business as usual week.  Honestly, I knew then and still know the answer is in our great creed: Jesus is Lord. I know that, I believe that and with a high view of the Sovereignty of God (don’t check out on me now), I boldly proclaim that. Yet, in a strange way it (the Creed) felt and feels hollow.

I struggled most of the day with that thought and was trying to figure out what to say. I took to Facebook because, you know, Facebook.  Then it hit me. I understood why the timeless creed felt hollow in this moment.  My Facebook feed was full of men and women of color (not all but the majority and not only just people of color) who seemed like they woke up IN a nightmare.  Conversely,  there was another group (mainly white evangelicals, not all but most) on my feed who in sum, thought that this was one of the greatest victories for America.  I was floored, but then I remembered leaders like Wayne Grudem, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and so many other Pastors and leaders were some of the loudest proponents of Donald Trump’s presidency.  These well-respected men made it okay to overlook blatant flaws in character and a highly questionable track record.  Then, I started reading article after article about the number of white evangelicals (upwards of 80%) who pledged to vote and/or voted for Donald Trump.80%, let that sink in.

At this present moment, the creed feels hollow because I and many other brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color, feel abandoned and betrayed by our white brothers and sisters who voted for Donald Trump. I know there has always been disparities in both parties when it comes to philosophical and even theological differences and that’s not even the point of this post, but Tuesday’s message from white evangelicals (80% mind you) rang loud and clear: “We choose politics over people.”  There is even a sense of betrayal and abandonment from those who did not vote for Trump due to the lack of shared outrage on behalf of their Christian brothers and sisters.  We may or may not agree on this, but I do hope you hear me when I say that in my mind, indifference towards the results of this election is an exercise in white privilege.  The rhetoric spewed by Donald Trump during his campaign has given minority groups every reason to react the way many have reacted.  The easy thing to do is to dismiss the reactions of people of color and other minority groups due to some of the unhealthy ways people’s emotions are being expressed.  In many ways this dismissive attitude adds to the pain and drives the wedge of separation deeper and wider.  This is not the time for any of us to be spectators, but participants and agents of the Christ’s Kingdom especially among the household of faith.

Hopefully we can all agree that minority groups have been oppressed, marginalized and ignored for years, even at and by the hands of white evangelicals and this Tuesday I thought, many of us thought, the Church would finally get it right and for whatever reason (only the Lord knows – He who ultimately elevates and eliminates kings/kingdoms) Donald Trump is our new President.  I say that resting and trusting that Jesus is still Lord and King of kings.  I also say that fully aware that there is a large contingent of our brothers and sisters who are struggling to reconcile either one or both of those two statements and this Sunday we all have to stand in front of our congregations and declare both of those statements to be true.  Only the Lord knows what the future holds and for the Christian, our hope lies ultimately in a King and a Kingdom to come, but today we must engage the vicissitudes of the present.

Whether or not your church and/or staff is multi-ethnic, chances are someone in your church is related to, knows or is acquainted with someone who is hurting, fearful, disheartened and feeling hopeless at this very moment.  I am encouraging and urging all of you not to stop at the two obvious statements, but to send out a clarion call to mourn with those who are mourning, to minister to those who are hurting, to listen to those who feel they have no voice or feel they are on the verge of the losing their voice. Not in an effort to pacify or “fix” them, but to simply love them in these ways.  Regardless of our stance(s), regardless of our affiliation(s), I am desperately asking all of us to choose people over politics now and every day. Are we are brothers’ keepers? Yes, we are.

Just another Brother in Christ,

Terry