Just read a great article by Paul Baloche on Ministry, Money, and Motivation. He calls to mind Paul’s words “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3) and applies them to the pursuit of ministry. As I’m finishing seminary and working actively to determine the next step, I am constantly wrestling with the temptation to do what is easiest and makes most financial sense. I am constantly being tempted to seek first my own kingdom. My prayer has to be, “Lord, help me seek first Your kingdom.” And right now, that’s not easy.
An article I read on loving the city the other day is worth a read. It is a helpful exhortation and a critique of many movements currently happening. The author makes 6 basic points:
(1) Fighting for marriage.”The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent.”
(2) Fighting against abortion, foster care, and for adoption. “In New York, for example, In NYC, Black’s have a 59.8% abortion rate, Hispanics have a 41.3% abortion rate, Asians have a 22.7% abortion rate, and Whites have a 20.4% abortion rate “(prob b/c of the pill). One-third of all kids in foster care are black. There is real race bias in this system.
(3) Working against ethnic violence. “The alarming statistics about violence among African-American boys and men is so oft-cited that they have become cliches: for example, “black men are the leading cause of death among young blacks [male and female]”; “1 in 146 black males are at risk of violent death”; and though comprising only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 43 percent of all murder victims are black, compounded by the fact that 93 percent of them are killed by other blacks.”
(4) Rescuing urban children from substandard education. The Schott Foundation recently reported that only 47 percent of black males graduate from high school on time, compared to 78 percent of white male students.
(5) Helping hurting people to not self-medicate their pain with drugs and alcohol. “The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that the highest rate of current (past month) illicit drug use was among American Indian/Alaska Natives (13.7%), followed by blacks/African Americans (9.8%), persons reporting two or more races (8.9%), whites (8.5%), Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islanders (7.5%), and Hispanics (6.9%). The lowest rate of current illicit drug use was among Asians (3.6%)”
(6) Working to fight HIV/AIDS proliferation. “Blacks/African Americans accounted for 52% of new HIV diagnoses and 48% of AIDS diagnoses in 2008. Of the total number of people living with HIV in 2007 in the 37 U.S. states and 5 dependent areas, 46% were black/African American; 32% white; 20% Hispanic/Latino; 0.8% multiple races; 0.6% Asian; 0.4% American Indian/Alaska Native; and 0.04% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.
See the rest of the article for the discussion of these points and the critiques of the “hipster” vision.
Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:3). If he stops speaking, you cease existing. The very laws of nature, are his words in action. Have you thought about that lately? God spoke, and the universe came into existence out of nothing. He breathed life into Adam, and did not destroy him when he fell. Are you in awe yet?
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
(1 John 2:1-2 ESV)
These verses struck me as I was working through 1 John 2 tonight. John writes, “so that you may not sin.” He sets out with this purpose, but clearly recognizes that Christians still sin. He doesn’t take that opportunity to beat us up for our failure. Rather, he points to our advocate. Jesus stands at the Father’s side, reminding Him, not of our failure to live up to his righteous standard, but of his own righteousness on our behalf. Christ pleads the merits of his blood, shed for us.
The word translated propitiation here, likely refers both to the satisfaction of the Father’s wrath against sin and to the expiation – the wiping away of our sin. The propitiation means that God is no longer angry. We no longer need to fear punishment! Jesus took our punishment! And not only this, but he is continually our righteousness, and every time we sin, he wipes the slate clean!
What good news this is to us as we struggle! Jesus Christ the righteous is our advocate! And so we say with the psalmist “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you!” (Ps 73:25)
I hear so many people talk about community in the church. We want to develop community. We want to foster community. We want to use the word as many times as we can so everyone knows we value community. But there is a danger in all this talk of community becoming little more than a buzz word that we use to identify ourselves, especially over and against those other churches, who don’t have such great community as we do (or so we tell ourselves).
I read a book about self-deception for one of my seminary classes called I Told Me So. One of the arguments in it that stuck out to me the most is that the things we value most often become the areas where we are most easily self-deceived and least likely to listen to correction. When we value things more than we should, they become untouchable. We find it nearly impossible to reassess the priorities closest to our hearts. What does this have to do with community?
In the church, it is easy to talk about valuing community without getting into the nitty gritty of putting it into practice. Sure you may say you value community, but do those around you feel like they belong? Are there outsiders in your church? People who don’t quite fit in? When they speak up about their frustrations, do you even hear them? Have you become so enamored with the successes of your community-shaping endeavor, that you don’t understand when someone feels like they aren’t a part of your super awesome close-knit tight community?
In all our talk about community, it’s easy to miss the fact that community is not an end in itself. Community itself is an elusive goal. The goal instead should be love and unity in truth, the natural result of which is community. If you are shooting for community, but not seeking love and truth, you will never find it. If you are not actively loving people, speaking the truth, and hearing people when they speak the truth to you, there can be no community.
So let’s talk about community. But let’s recognize the priority of love and truth. Let’s be open to the truth that our community may not be the best thing since sliced bread. We may just be insiders (and who doesn’t love having a good group of friends?). But the outsiders disagree with our assessment of how super sweet our community is. Are we listening?
There is a tension I wrestle with. I love the church. I’ve spent all my life in churches and serving the church. I’ve given the last four years of my life to studying to serve the church. But I am also intensely aware of the shortcomings of the church in this age that is passing away. I am constantly working through this tension, recognizing that the church is filled with fallen and broken people like me, who do things that fallen and broken people do, while maintaining hope.
Jesus died for his church, for those who were his enemies. He is preparing her “as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). This gives us a great hope. The church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). It is God’s arena for revealing His wisdom to the heavens (Eph 3:10).
But in the meantime, we have this group of people that sometimes leaves us scratching our heads… And sheesh! Have you looked in the mirror lately?! I’m a part of the problem. You’re a part of the problem. We all are.
Is it healthy to look at the church and see her flaws? I believe it is. It can certainly be unhealthy to look at the church and either not see her flaws or see only her flaws. But there is a healthy sense in which, we need to see the flaws of the church. These are the things that drive us to strive for purity and to dig deeper into the Lord and His Word.
The flaws in the church were what led the Reformers. They saw a church in need of washing and purifying, and they fought to do it. In the midst of this tension, there is an opportunity for us to wrestle with the Scriptures and seek the face of God. If the church is His wisdom and part of His plan for the advance of His kingdom, then He certainly is deeply invested in her. She is not a plan B. She is His plan for the redemption of sinners and the restoration of creation. We pray for His will to be done. May His will be done in our churches, as we continually press in to the Word together and seek to love one another more deeply.
Is it just me, or do Facebook and Twitter make it look like other people are having way more fun than you? For all the great things social media has done for us, it presents us with some interesting dilemmas. One is what we share. It is very easy for us to share the best part of our lives online and create the perception that all is well, regardless of reality. We manage our image so those around us know how cool our friends are, who we just hung out with, how great our date was tonight, or how hot our wife is.
We have to be careful on two fronts. First, we can easily create a perception of ourselves that is false. We can convince people that we are someone other than who we are. I’ve literally watched people whose marriages were falling apart, but their Facebook profile picture showed something different. The images and words were joyful, but everything was broken.
The other danger is to look at the public images of others, not realizing that it has been sanitized, whitewashed, and sugarcoated, and then never see the imperfections, the brokenness, the struggles, and the real life situations. As I have been looking at church websites recently, I have noticed how easy it is to judge a church by its online presence – its website, its media, the pastors’ tweets – all contribute to a public image that may or may not have any basis in reality. We say talk is cheap and a picture is worth a thousand words. The reality is, online talk – where there is no one to question our view of reality – and profile pictures – always posed at our peak moments of sheer bliss – create a romanticized version of our lives.
We need to be able to look through these things. We need to see through our own facades and those of others. We desperately need to see the brokenness, the fallen mass of humanity, and our need for hope and a redeemer. Nothing is what it seems.