Working From Acceptance, Not For It

I have been recently contemplating a move back to my hometown to complete an internship with Redeemer Fellowship Church. It would mean a lot of sudden changes in a very short period of time. Since it would be such a drastic change, I thought I’d run it by friends and family, including my beloved parents. I love my parents dearly, but sometimes it can be frustrating talking to them. I know they only have my best interest at heart, but sadly something’s they just don’t quite understand.

As I was discussing the internship and other stuff, I had to endure statements like „maybe your not ready for the ministry… God only calls those who are ready. Maybe you should wait and do something else and God will call you later“. And things like, „Enough of the learning, you need a job“ (this one is real talk and also very humorous). Now there is validity to these comments. But for me, these words kind of hurt. Behind them is the assumption that the minister or pastor needs to have everything perfected. Clearly , my parents know me well, and they know I’m not perfect. This is called legalism, the very thing that Jesus confronted the Pharisees with in the gospels. No pastor, minister, teacher, or lay person has reached a perfected life. Paul says no one is perfect, not one (Rom 3:10). It’s unfortunate the we place these perfected requirements on the Pastor’s and we place them on very high pedestals. And if/when he fails, it’s so devastating. That’s not to say that we don’t press and do our best to live pleasing and acceptable lives, but we do it with the reality that we (pastors, teacher, ministers) are broken too, and out if that understanding of our brokenness should we minister to God’s people.

The beautiful thing is Jesus doesn’t require perfection. We find our perfection in him! Unlike the Pharisees who believed that there was something that we need to do to be accepted, God in Christ accepts us just as we are, broken. I realize I won’t be any more perfect 20 years from now than I am today. This frees me to continue to push forward in ministry. I don’t serve for Christ‘ acceptance , I serve from it! What I do hope to happen in 20 years is that my heart would be so deeply rooted in love for God and his people.

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Made In His Image….

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„Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness“ Genesis 1:26a

There is a voice in the American society that says that we need to fear African American people. That for some reason we are all ignorant savages that are looking to destroy everything- property, and people alike. And unfortunately those „images“ are what I see so often. Youtube is littered with videos of black people fighting one another, ripping clothes and pulling out hair. The most popular music from today’s black artists say things like sex, violence and money are good things to desire. In fact, I recently heard a song by Nikki Minaj that basically glorifies her derrière in the most sexual way. I had to get on my students for listening to it in Sunday school. (Yep, exactly)  There are nearly 2.5 Million people incarcerated. According to the 2009 census ~850,000 inmates were African American. The statistic only worsens when other minority groups are added. Much of this has to do with the prison industrial complex (believing that the best way to rehabilitate some is to institutionalize them, which in fact does nothing in terms of rehab), and the new Jim Crow (discussed in another blog).  All of this feeds this voice that gives way to so much fear. This voice would cause an otherwise confident individual to clinch her purse or lock her car door when a black man walks by. This voice would cause a store clerk to ask a black man for two forms of identification when paying with a check, meanwhile the previous lady (white) who paid with a check was not even asked for a one piece of identification. This voice cause another store clerk to secretly follow black kids around the store assuming they are thieves and are stealing merchandise . This voice would cause a supervisor to assume that because a black woman has a recent new hair doo, that she looted the hair from Ferguson shops. (Yes someone actually said this) This voice causes the police officer to assume a group of black men standing in a parking lot are conspiring to commit a crime. This voice causes law enforcement to point snipers and militarized police officers armed with rifles and tear gas to fire toward unarmed citizens who are exercising their first amendment rights to protest, yet they protect the Neo Nazis as they rally and protest on the city hall steps. And it causes the officer to reach for the lethal weapon before rationalizing the situation and allowing the laws of the land prevail.

But there is a problem with this voice. This voice is inaudible. It doesn’t really exist. It is something that we have conjured up that says „they“ are different than us. That last time I checked, my blood is still warm and runs red through my veins just the same as my white brothers and sisters. So, why the disparity? Why are we treated so differently? I believe a great portion of it has to do with the appreciation of the image of God, or lack thereof. Genesis 1 describes God’s creation plan. On each day of the first week, God created something and he called it good (טוֹב – „tov“ meaning very good, or forcefully good). On the six day, however, God would create his greatest creation, namely mankind. „Let us make man in our image…“ This has so many implications, more than I’m willing to unpack now. But what I will say is that humanity was God at his best. We bear his image! That doesn’t mean that its a physical appearance, but we bear his image in terms of his character. We can show goodness, and kindness, and love. We can create. We can show mercy and grace. We were created to bear God’s glorious image to the world that He created! This is central to our relationship to one another. Now I must say, that while we are created in His image, that image has been marred by sin. We don’t love perfectly. We don’t show kindness, goodness, etc., perfectly.  C.S. Lewis calls us „Glorious Ruins“. I think this is an accurate description. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t try.

1st John 3 says that those who love God, loves their neighbor. Neighbor is undefined here intentionally. Neighbor knows no color or ethnicity. It knows no socioeconomic status or mental capacity. It has no distinction. In the case of the gospels, when neighbor is defined it is usually the marginalized, and the outcast. This should move us to consider the superficial fear of other races. If you are reading this and have these fearful feelings, consider your heart. Why are you fearful? Is it because of the „voice“ that says you should be fearful. Maybe its because of the images you see on T.V. and the media. Or is it because of your own sin that prevents you from seeing the image of God in a person. Calvin says sums it up nicely saying, „The Lord commands us to do good unto all men without exception…, [The Scripture] teaches us that we must not think of man’s [real value], but only of his creation in the image of God to which we owe all possible honor and love.”

 

What I Learned In Seminary

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אהללה היהוה (Praise the Lord!). 100+ credit hours later, and I am complete. Yesterday marked the end of my graduate school journey. In a few days (Lord willing), I will be conferred as a Master of Divinity. That’s an extremely heavy title. I don’t claim to have mastered the divine, but I have been equipped to faithfully carry a message that has eternal implications. I feel the weight of the responsibility. Nevertheless, I believe God has and will continue to enable me to proclaim His truth. I am eternally grateful to all those who have supported me along the way. Special thanks to my parents who have been true blessings.

I have learned a lot over the last few years, and I would like to take a moment to share with you all some of the most significant lessons that have really impacted and shaped my view of scripture and life overall.

1. C-R-R-R (Creation-Rebellion-Redemption-Restoration)

Up until the last few years, I have always looked at the Bible as a book of random acts and occurrences that are seemingly disconnected from regular life. I have always reverenced the book, but it was hard for me to see how it was relevant or how it applied to life (outside of the gospel of course).

Post seminary, I understand the bible to be one story- God’s story! He is the main character. He creates, and he restores. It is a story of love and fellowship. God wants to dwell in his good creation, particularly among mankind for man is unique (created in His image) (Gen 1:26). He calls man to fill the entire world with His image (be fruitful and multiply).

But because man sinned and rebelled (Gen. 3:6-7), God could no longer be near to man in complete fellowship (1 Pet. 1:15-16). As we read through the story, we see the ways in which God makes it possible for man to be in His presence (The Law, Tabernacle, and Temple). And he establishes these covenants of which man is to obey (Gen 12:1-3; Gen. 17:9-11; 2 Samuel 7:5-9). Their obedience will guarantee blessings.

Alas, man did not keep the covenant and continued to break it. God then punished his people by sending them into exile. Yet he remained faithful to them- he sustains, and keeps them even in exile and will ultimately bring them back to their land (Isa. 14:1-3).

Jeremiah, who was a prophet during the exile of Judah, speaks about a new covenant that the Lord will establish between He and his people. A covenant that will not be broken by the sin of man, but, in fact forgives and forgets the sin of man. This covenant was established in the broken body of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:24-26). This is the gospel that we are all very familiar with. His death and his resurrection are the means of grace to all of his elect (Heb. 10:12-18).

It is through his blood, that we are redeemed. And as the redeemed covenant people of God in union with Christ, he calls us again to fill the world with His image by making disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) who will look to Jesus. The inaugurated Kingdom of Jesus has come and we can experience it, but it has not been fully revealed. We live in a tension of the already, but not yet. Christ’s eschatological Kingdom will be fully revealed on day, but we must wait and be ready in hopeful anticipation for his coming. He will restore all things.

What does this mean for you and me? The story is still being written with us!!! We play a role in bringing about God’s complete redemptive plan. God has not left us without encouragement though, for He has written that He will prevail in the end and we will join him in victory (Rev. 21:3-4). This is the story of the Bible (truncated of course).

2. Context Is King

Unfortunately, the Church has become a battle ground for doctrine wars. This is primarily due to the fact that untrained preachers read their presuppositions and assumptions into scripture, and regurgitate it as true interpretation. However, seminary has taught me to let scripture interpret itself. We do that by reading it in its context. Context is not limited to historical setting (a lot of preachers will do well if they only held to this one), but it involves the literary genre, audience, grammar and syntax (original languages), and the context of the Grand Story (C-R-R-R). Interpretation (exegesis) is an art, and the only way to perfect an art craft is to practice it over and over again. Yes, it does take time and effort. But we do it because we love the people who we minister to.

3. Secular- Sacred Distinction

I have been taught my entire life that I, as a Christian, must avoid „worldly“ or secular things (i.e. movies, secular music, video games, art, certain jobs and employment, etc.). I agree that Christians need to avoid all things sinful, but not all secular things are sinful. In fact, this mentality has bled over into relationships. I have heard preachers says we need not make friends with non Christians- they are worldly (as if Christian are not worldly???). However seminary has taught me to enjoy all things (that are not sinful of course) because God has created all things. All things are to be received with thanksgiving for those who know the truth (1 Tim. 4:1-3). We are called to full the world with God’s image. We do this by engaging the culture and especially loving people. God calls some to the workplace. We are to serve him where ever he calls us. If you work at an office or a warehouse, that office or warehouse becomes your ministry and you are required to serve God well by doing your jobs well. We are called to love non Christians. Invite non Christians to your home, spend time with them, and develop a relationship. In so doing, you embody Christ and you invite an opportunity for the gospel to take root in their lives. This is engaging culture. There is no divide between the „sacred“ and the „secular“.

Okay. enough for now. These are my top 3. I hope that you are encouraged by what I have written. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.