It’s Time!

deathtostock_sweat-10My first big trip took place the week of my 18th birthday. I was part of a small group that toured Jordan and Israel. Until then, I had never ventured far from the East Coast.

I planned everything I would take on my big excursion out of the country. I made a list of what I would wear each day of the trip: shirt, pants, sweater or jacket, underwear, socks, and shoes. It was all preplanned.

At some point later in life, I stopped planning. When I travelled, nearly everything in the closet ended up in my suitcases, “just in case.” But, the extra load caused me to move slower, it was difficult to carry, and made the trips less enjoyable.

It’s a life lesson for us, I think. Along the way, we’ve accummulated a lot of extra stuff. We’re weighed down with worry or cares of life that weren’t meant for our journey. We’ve accepted responsibilites that should have been handed to someone else. We’ve taken up a secondhand offense that became our own. We’ve been weighed down by helping family and friends when they refused to help themselves. Now, we’re stuck wondering how to let go and move forward.

If you haven’t noticed, no one is coming to your rescue. It seems the people around are so self-focused that they can’t even see your need for help. So what do you do?

I have a suggestion. YOU make a decision. You can choose to live differently. You can refuse to accept responsibility for someone else’s mess. You can free yourself from relationships that are dragging you down. One by one, you can see the entanglements for what they are, roadblocks. You will never reach your destination if you continue to carry baggage that isn’t yours.

Paul wrote in Hebrews 12:1 “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”

Throw. It. Off. That’s your job. Whether or not it’s a sin, if it’s holding you back, get rid of it. Whether or not it’s “good,” if it’s holding you back, get rid of it. Whether or not it’s fun, if it’s holding you back, get rid of it.

Examine everything. Ask yourself, “Is this moving me forward or holding me back?” If it’s holding you back, get rid of it.

At this point in my old age, I’m at some happy middle ground. When getting ready for a trip, I don’t overplan, but I also don’t overpack. I want to travel with only one bag, if possible. It makes the trip easier for me.

There’s something to be said for throwing off extra baggage.

Listen Linda

This is a powerful piece that deals with an important topic. I think it’s more powerful to realize the greater truth behind this: When a real person is involved your opinion will change, your words will change, your attitude will change, and OUR future will change.

It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and wax eloquent about how everyone else’s opinion is wrong (I know!). It’s easy to make a big deal out of nothing. It’s easy to demonize those with whose opinion you disagree. It’s easy to create a hero or a villain out of someone you’ve never met.

If you sat in a chair looking into the eyes of Hillary, Donald, Colin, Ryan, Shaun, Kanye, Justin, Miley, or Tony and LISTENED, you would probably want to delete most of your Facebook posts.

Our world would change if we sought first to hear rather than to be heard.

What Shall Separate Us?

We live in a world of division. We’re divided by race, nationality, city boundaries, which side of the tracks you live on, which team you pull for, or sometimes even more inane things.

Christians are not exempt. We divide ourselves by denominations, ethnicity, worship styles, which version of the Bible you prefer, or sometimes even more inane things.

However, that’s not the church that Jesus created. He did not create a white church and a black church or a Pentecostal church and a Presbyterian Church.

By his grace, Jesus tore down the wall of petition between Jews and the rest of the world, between men and women, between races, between the Pharisees and the publicans, between the sinners and the saints.

If you ever wondered why I’m passionate about unity or why I insist on having multi-ethnic and multi-gender leaders in my church, it’s because Jesus called me to do that. I believe he called all of us to do that.

It has never been my place to point out our differences or to separate people into groups. The haves and the have not’s may make for good television, but it is not the way of the kingdom.

The way of the kingdom is that in our reconciliation to God we are also reconciled to one another. We have been called to proclaim good news to every creature.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17-19‬ ‭NIV‬

No More Shackles

57939271 - silhouette image of barbwire fence in sunny day

You may not know that today there are people who hate the Gospel of Grace that Paul taught. There are “Christians” who spend time and energy trying to refute the claims of freedom found in the Bible.

They insist on staying in the confines of the Law, enslaved to a system of rules that they can never keep. To do so they have to rewrite Paul’s words or completely ignore them.

I’m grateful for the freedom that comes through believing in Jesus Christ. That’s the true message of the Gospel – the Good News. You don’t have to live in chains or in a barbed-wire fence, afraid to wander to close to the edges.

Jesus calls us to pure freedom through boundless grace.

Jesus is Enough

 

23211327 - the approaching storm over the black sea at sunsetThis past weekend, three of my favorite preachers used the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water in their sermons. You can read the incredible story in Matthew 14. I love this story because it’s such a great picture of our walk with Jesus too.

We heard Jesus call us, and we started out with smooth sailing. Before long our peaceful existence was interrupted by a storm. We don’t like storms. We don’t like interruptions. But what kind of life would a smooth-sailing, non-interrupted life be? He asks, tongue in cheek.

And how many times in a storm have you tried to find Jesus? Why does it seem like he is out for a stroll while we’re concerned that the storm may kill us? In Peter’s case, Jesus’ stroll was toward Peter in the middle of the storm. That’s probably always true for us also.

Peter thought water-walking was pretty cool, and he wanted to try it. Jesus invited him out of his safe boat into the raging waters. I wonder if you’ve ever heard that same call. “Come out of your comfort, away from your comforters.”

Then, reality sank in – no pun intended. Peter was not on a solid surface, this was water beneath his feet! When he realized this, he began going under.

“Lord, save me,” he screamed.

I wonder what Jesus would have done if he hadn’t asked for help. Actually, I think I know. I think Jesus would have reached down and pulled him up.

When you’re in the middle of a storm and all you have is Jesus. Jesus is enough.

 

My Town – My World

 

Tony 1960
I’m (front right) with relatives on a Greenville street in 1960.

I grew up in the South during the latter years of the Civil Rights Movement. My first schools were segregated. There were no minorities in my church, neighborhood, or family. Much has changed in my lifetime to make my life and my world more diverse. In fact, for most of my adult life I have been far removed from racism.
At least, I thought I was. I would have told you that I may be the least racist person I know. The churches I’ve served have all included people of different races, and skin tone is generally irrelevant to me. I’m inclined toward the underdog. For many years, my ministry has been geared toward the underprivileged, underserved, marginalized, and unwanted. I hate seeing people mistreated. I don’t like put-down “humor,” and I think most sarcasm is really rudeness in disguise. I get angry when someone criticizes other people for something that’s out of their control. I have little to no tolerance for racism.

About 20 years ago, I started a job that put me in contact with many lower-income people in our community. The majority of them were African-American and Hispanic. After several months on this job, I began to realize that I wasn’t as colorblind as I thought I was. While racism didn’t rise in me as anger or hatred, I sometimes felt indignation. It became obvious that I often felt that I was better than “those people.”

I knew better. I knew that was not the way a Christian should act, think, or feel. What gave me the right to think I was any different from any of them? I am not, nor have I ever been, rich. I didn’t grow up on the affluent side of town. Our homes were small, our streets were narrow, and our lives were simple. Why did a lighter shade of skin give me an advantage?

The more I became acquainted with these new friends, the more my thinking changed. The more my thinking changed, the more I saw the darkness in my heart.

This change came by being aware of the thoughts that arose rather than suppressing them, by acknowledging the sin of pride that fed those thoughts. I have had difficult conversations with my friends about what I’m really like rather than the image I prefer to portray. Little by little, what I’m really like and the image I prefer are coming closer together as I have learned to value others above myself, to see everyone as a child of God and as my brothers and sisters.

The recent spotlight on deaths of black citizens at the hands of police has been difficult for me to reconcile in our civil society. I know the issue is debateable, but regardless of blame and despite political posturing, we have to admit that our pride still fuels our feelings and actions toward our minority friends. When I respond in humility rather than bucking up in pride, the “changed me” feels sorrow for those deaths and longs for a way to make this world right.

I try to walk in that place of grace-filled humility daily. Recently, as I was walking down Main Street in my city, I saw scores of people playing Pokémon Go. Most were wandering quietly almost zombie-like. Soon, I heard a raucous behind me. As I glanced around, I saw a group of young black men running up behind me, phones in hand, yelling at each other, cursing loudly, and weaving in and out between other pedestrians. My serene stroll was shattered instantly.

The old me would have wanted to scold these men and shame them for their disgraceful behavior in public and particularly, I would have said, around women and children. This time, it was different. I wanted to run after them alright, but I wanted to run with them. I wanted to protect them and urge them to use caution as they enjoyed our city. I wanted to warn them to blend in more.

Wait, I thought, that should not be necessary. 

These guys shouldn’t have to stop being black any more than I should have to stop being old. How can they stop being themselves?

As I write this, there is a black young man in my living room and a mixed child playing in one of the bedrooms. I don’t want either of them to live in fear that their skin color will bring them harm or disadvantage. The way I see it, that starts with me. I must treat all persons equally. I must speak up when there is disparity. I must walk in humility and constantly challenge my misinformed thoughts with the truth.

I guess I have two points.

  1. Racism is a heart issue.
  2. Racism can be stopped by changing one heart at a time.

This past Sunday, our scripture was the “we’re all different, we’re all the same” verse. I believe it is truth.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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 ‭3:26-28‬ ‭NIV

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Who Gets In?

42918647 - table setting for an event party or wedding receptionThe church is a living, breathing representation of Jesus to this world. Jesus left his disciples with these words:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

After that, the very first sermon preached by a disciple (Peter) used Joel’s prophecy as a text. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

I think it’s time the church take these words seriously, and literally. Stop vetting people and deciding who’s disciple-worthy based on their race, class, gender, age, or any other factor. What are we missing by omitting “all nations” and “the ends of the earth”?

“All people” means “all people.”

Jesus created an open table when he told the parable of the man who planned a party for his friends who declined his invitation.

The man’s response was to say to his servants, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” 

And the servant said, “Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.” 

And the lord said unto the servant, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”

Let’s not forget the heart of our Father is inclined toward those who are forsaken, those who have been marginalized and deemed unfit. If the church would live like Jesus and love like Jesus, the world would have more disciples and his house would be full.

There’s an empty seat beside you at the table. Who are you inviting to fill it?