There has been a lot of adjusting going on in our house since moving to Texas in July of last year. It feels a bit funny to say that but it is true. Though I am living close to where I grew up (an irony not lost on me because it was never on my bucket list to live near home), there have been a lot of changes that have come along the way. One of the biggest ones for me—specifically in regard to how I pursue pastoral ministry—is regarding time.Read more
I’ve lived in Texas a little more than nine months. Granted, I came from Texas and went to seminary in Texas, but the majority of my adult life has been Louisiana. I think I still claim Louisiana as home. That’ll change after enough Texas BBQ, but for now I’m still more familiar with south Louisiana than I am with the Houston area.
With nine months under the belt, I wanted to give a brief update on life in Texas and some of the observations I’ve had. These won’t be super serious observations because I don’t have time for that. 🙂Continue reading “Nine Months In . . .”
Last week I wrote my initial thoughts on change in ministry. In that post I mentioned that I’m much more like any congregant when it comes to ministry change. We are all ministers of the gospel and need to regularly ask ourselves (and the Lord) how we can best serve the local church and be a part of seeing the gospel go to the nations. When it comes to that, I am just like anyone else.
However, when it comes to serving as a pastor in the way that I (or others) do, there is (usually) a unique difference. This difference doesn’t apply to all areas of service the same way (I think Oaks site pastor was my third distinct role at The Chapel), but does come about with certain roles. Continue reading “A (Usually) Unique Difference in Pastoral Change”
My assumption is that if you are reading this, then you likely know that this past Sunday I announced my transition off of staff at The Chapel. I’m not leaving immediately, but will be leaving in the coming months. I’ve been a part of talking about staff transitions at The Chapel, but I’ve never been the subject.
It is different to be on the other side of the announcement. The past few months for me have had moments of grieving, joy, and encouragement. As I’ve talked through decisions with numerous friends and family, I am confident in God’s faithfulness and sad to be leaving people I love.
As I’ve processed the past few days (and weeks, and months, and years), I have a few thoughts. These thoughts are simply preliminary as I try to work out how I’m actually feeling—or at least put words to it.
I know, I know. You hate me for writing a post when I am really giving you something to listen to. It is in bad form—I’m sure of it. ”
“Hey, here’s a post!”
“Hey, here’s my talking with my brother for 40 minutes.”
Dale and I are getting together via Skype on Tuesday nights and recording. As it currently goes, we spend one segment on newsworthy (to us) events and another on some take on life or ministry. We do it for us. I think we average about 20 listens per episode and most of those are Dale and me accidentally hitting play. In this episode:
- Dale and I don’t remember what an oligarchy or aristocracy is.
- At the 8:00 mark we start talking about the presidential debate from Monday.
- at the 33:30 mark we turn to Pastor’s Corner, where we discuss the death of a baseball player and an unreal home run.
Since I reference the video multiple times, check below to see what I’m talking about.
If you want to watch the home run uninterrupted, check this out (keep your tissue nearby):
— MLB (@MLB) September 26, 2016
I also referenced this video about Donald Trump sniffing a whole bunch. Go here for that beauty.
I’m grateful for my church. Though we, a largely-white congregation in a largely-white part of Baton Rouge, have many things to learn about how the gospel can bring racial healing in our church, we have been trying to better unite with and support the work of our African-American brothers and sisters in the city. One of our strongest relationships is with Pastor Donald Hunter at New Beginning Baptist Church (in the middle, below, during one of our partnered workdays [credit: The Advocate]).
Thus, when in the middle of the week when Baton Rouge was trying to process the death of Alton Sterling, Donald came over and recorded a message that we played on Sunday for our services that then launched into a prayer time for our city. I was grateful that we did not have to ask, “Hey, who knows any of the African-American pastors in town?”
I am not an expert on the racial tensions in the city. I have watched the events of the past week and prayed for Baton Rouge, for St. Paul, and for Dallas. I have tried to make sense of the protests, night after night. I ache for Baton Rouge, but not as much as Christ does or has. What I bring are these four thoughts.
YES, WE HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO BRINGING RECONCILIATION IN OUR CITY AND CHURCHES
I remember being an LSU student and seeing where the black students spent time in the quad and the white students spent time (it wasn’t often together). I remember hearing older folks that I know flippantly using a derogatory word for “black” as if it wasn’t a big deal. “Oh, that’s just what we say, it doesn’t mean anything.” I disagree (but, unfortunately [and to my shame], remained awkwardly silent, only enabling the behavior). Words always mean something (Prov 18:21). I recall numerous times being told stories and hearing something like, “I saw this guy, you know, a big black guy . . .” as if that detail were helpful or necessary in the telling of the story. I don’t recall being told many stories where someone says, “I saw this guy, you know, a big white guy,” or “a big asian guy.” A teacher in one of my communication studies classes I had at LSU highlighted that the word “articulate” is often used to describe black people, as if the one using the word is surprised that a black person could speak articulately.
Yes, we have a problem.
The city is divided over race in many ways. Not in every way, but in many. Even the census data, when color-coded for demographics, reveals the divide. Compare that to Baton Rouge’s homicide map (2012-2014) and tell me if you see a correlation. We may not even recognize it, but the racial divide in Baton Rouge—our geography, our language, and even our churches—exists. Events like last week do not bring new issues to the surface, they just surface the issues. And the issues are numerous.
OUR LANGUAGE REVEALS WE MISUNDERSTAND GRACE
It becomes so easy processing these things to simply say, “Let’s wait until we get all the facts,” or, “Man, that guy was a criminal.” I agree, let’s get facts; and, yes, he did have a criminal history. But as a Christian, those responses can be so callous. Can we have room in our hearts for both incredible sorrow and prayers for justice? Can we long for racial reconciliation in our city and support law enforcement? Can we admit there are broken parts of our city and talk about how we contribute to its brokenness? Can we be broken for families that have been shattered due to violence? Can we, at the same time, hurt for police officers who one week ago were not known by the nation for shooting black men or, in the case of the five in Dallas, were still alive?
Christians, of all people, should understand that, if not for grace, we would stand condemned. The case against us for our condemnation is large, and yet Christ forgave—wholly and completely. That should change how we react, it should help us to feel. Christians will never hear Jesus say to us, “Well, if only this part of your life would’ve been better.” That’s works-based, and it is wrong. As a church, can we grieve over death because it is evidence that sin still exists in our very broken world? I hope and believe we can.
LISTENING IS A GOOD SKILL TO LEARN
Bryan Loritts is a pastor that I listen to in times like this. About two years ago he wrote a blog post entitled “It’s Time to Listen” over on Christianity Today. Part of his post has stuck with me, and I’ll share it here:
If you sense exasperation from we African-Americans over yet another news story of a black man slain at the hands of a white man, this is a wonderful opportunity to grab some coffee and seek to understand our hearts. I need my white brothers to know how I felt as I sat in the preaching classes in Bible college and seminary not once hearing examples of great African-American preachers. I need you to know how I felt when I was forced face down on the hard asphalt of Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, all because I was nineteen and driving my pastor’s Lexus, a year after the 1993 Rodney King riots. I need you to ask how I felt when I walked into a Target recently behind a white woman who took one look at me and pulled her purse tightly to her.
However, as much as I am an African-American, I am even more so a follower of Jesus Christ. The death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior demands that I subjugate my cultural hermeneutic to my gospel hermeneutic. In other words, my Jesus-ness must trump my blackness. As Dr. Tony Evans says, “Black is only beautiful when it is biblical.” This is at odds with the teaching of liberation theology, where you had black theologians like Dr. James Cone who wrote that the gospel is essentially for the oppressed and not the oppressor. Not true. If I understand the gospel right, Jesus died for Michael Brown and Darren Wilson (his shooter); slaves and slave masters; the lynched and the lynch mob. My new gospel hermeneutic, therefore, leaves no place for hatred, bitterness or unforgiveness.
In these times the church must listen. Everyone wants to be heard, and subjects like race are ones that we don’t often try and listen to. There are many in the African-American community who love Jesus deeply and have an entirely different experience than my own—than many of the folks who read this blog. Is it too much to ask them what life is like?
WE SHOULD NEVER LOSE HOPE IN WHAT JESUS CAN DO
The doomsday folks look at this and say, “What is this world coming to?” But for the Christian, I hope we never lose hope in what Jesus can do in our world—and the world that is to come. Truly, the gospel message is the only message that can bring the necessary redemption. It doesn’t say of any one people group, “They are superior. Be like them.” No, instead it says, “None of you are right, but God will become like you so you can become like Him.” Paul speaks of this Jew/Gentile relationships in Ephesians 2.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:13-22)
Last week I was taking my six-year-old to camp. I was trying to tell him of what has gone on in the city that week, and how it was a sad time. When I told him that there are people in our city who don’t like others for the color of their skin, or where they live, or some other reason, he replied with, “That. . . That doesn’t even matter to me.”
If I could bottle up that perspective and spread it around my whole family, then my whole neighborhood, then the whole world, I would. But, for now, we watch and we pray and we work for Jesus to be more fully known.