In the face of our racism fly to the cross

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In order to be gospel Christians we have to learn to hate any allegiance that attempts to eclipse our Lord or to diminish Christ’s church.

The uncomfortable Jesus

Jesus was one for making remarkably discomforting statements.

Among them is this: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . . Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27; 33).

I can’t say I’ve preached on this verse or its parallels in the other gospels. 

It’s not too hard to guess why. Not only is it a verse to make the congregation awkward; it does the same to the preacher.

It calls for careful exposition in order to avoid the sloppy excesses of radicalism on the one hand and apathy on the other.

What place then does this verse in the life of the believer and in the life of the church? The answer: a central place that must not be overshadowed.

Jesus relativizes our allegiances

There is a significant body of research on how Jesus relatives allegiances that would have been immensely significant in the ancient world.

In other words, Jesus takes the most important relationships in the culture of his time and–without denying or diminishing them–shows that they are of only relative importance in relationship to our identity as members of the mystical body of Christ, the church.

Father and mother? Wonderful. Are you willing to renounce them, to abandon them, if they attempt to stand between you and Christ?

Brothers and sisters? Great. Are you willing to turn your back on them if they attempt to keep you from following Christ?

There’s more… 

Your own life? Are you willing to turn from the life you once knew in order to follow Jesus?

Every baptized Christian has made an oath to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil.

To be truthful, we tend to echo St. Augustine’s prayer for continence at some future, unspecified date. We’ll start our diet, so to speak, after this last piece of cake.

How do we understand these verses?

Applying these verses to our lives is relatively straightforward (in discussing rather than doing) when we’re dealing with garden variety sins.

The problem is, however, that these particular words of Christ have no disclaimer limiting their scope to only those things ordinarily perceived to be sins by contemporary evangelical believers.

Would that they did; the list is getting shorter everyday.

No, the First Commandment demonstrates God’s insistence that we not displace Him: “you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The gods that displace God are simply idols. They are, in a matter of speaking, fake gods with now power to redeem or save us from our sins.

It has become trite to insist that the fish struggles to notice that it swims in water rather than something else. Yet, it is true.

Those who are, like me, white Christians have grown up–be it in the United States or Europe–not only as part of the majority culture, but as part of a culture “rigged”–again in a manner of speaking–to serve us at the price of exploiting others.

We are not used to placing race in the arena of things in which God is calling us to confess and repent. Like the fish white Christians fail to easily perceive that the ecosystem in which we thrive is toxic for others.

Can white people be saved?

If Jesus is to be taken seriously, however, we cannot approach him in faith unless and until we are willing and enabled to see that have made our whiteness something of an idol.

Our whiteness stands astride the path of grace that leads us to the cross. We cannot come to Jesus without “hating” it. Unless and until we see our race as something we are willing to lay down at the cross then we (white people) cannot be saved .

This is not the social gospel

I am not willing nor am I able to make policy suggestions to the government on this matter. I will leave that others.

However, as a struggling disciple of Christ and a wretched sinner saved by grace, and as a teacher in Christ’s church, I have no choice but to urge that we examine ourselves in this matter. 

And if the Holy Spirit and the Word of God convinct you, you must fly from sin and fly to the cross.

Five rules for leaders on Twitter

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Your Twitter interactions impact real life. Steward them well.

Senior leadership is a different ball game with different rules.

When I was a younger man and at the beginning of my career I labored under a significant illusion. I thought that occupying a position of senior leadership would allow me to speak my mind. I’d finally be free, unconstrained, to say what I wanted, when I wanted, about whatever bugged me. I could not have been more wrong.  When, at the age of 39, I moved into senior leadership at a large church I quickly (like in the first month) realized that I had been deluding myself. Speaking my mind 24/7 would have been a recipe for disaster alienating those around me, but more importantly alienating those I was seeking to lead and serve. What had failed to realized is that people listen to positional leaders in a different way.  In middle management I had the luxury of things I said being perceived simply as my opinions. As a manager I had position and influence but lacked the ability to fully implement anything I said. As a director people perceived–rightly or wrongly–that what I said was not only my opinion, but the way things were going to be.  An observation could easily be perceived as a policy proposal. And the truth is, especially during stressful times, people hear what they want to hear. As a leader your job is to mitigate the chances of counter-productive messaging.

Five rules for leaders on Twitter.

  1. Use the 1-5-5-1 rule. Write once. Read fives times. Edit five times. Post once. If you’re in too much of a rush to read five times, don’t post it. You’re being lazy. If you can’t get clear with five edits. Forget it. You don’t know what you’re trying to say.
  2. Write for posterity. Sure, Twitter is fleeting. You write a tweet and forget it. Others don’t. The ease of screen shots means that a five second comment can live in infamy for the rest of your career.
  3. Don’t sub-tweet. Sub-tweeting is “a post that refers to a particular user without directly mentioning them.” When you subtweet you run the risk of those you work with assuming (rightly or wrongly) that you’re writing about someone at work (or worse), possibly them. If you’ve got something to say, say it in person.
  4. If you start a spat, count the cost. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get into spats with other people on Twitter. What I am saying is that when you do there is a cost, trade-off. Be aware that in getting 25 people to like your Tweet you might be alienating 250. Is that really a win?
  5. Assume the best. If someone disagrees with you, it’s likely not because they’re a wicked person. Assume the best and ask honest questions. The best minds can pose questions that allow the conversation partner to reveal their true character.

Leaders should care about more than quick point-scoring.

Good leaders are in it for the long-term and not to quickly build a following on the basis of point-scoring from others. Good leaders care about those around them–including those they interact with on Twitter–and desire to positively influence them. It’s always good to remember that our fight or flight response was designed for saber tooth tigers, not conversations on Twitter. 

The church’s next move in the current crisis

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What the church needs now

How will we respond to the current crisis of evangelical faith and practice?

The Christian churches need, more than anything else, to provide an authentic alternative to the contemporary status quo. I’m not calling on American Christians to become Anglican, Orthodox, or even Presbyterian. I am calling on them–on us–to recover our sense peculiarity and different-ness from prevailing cultural norms. StockSnap_NJTXVEAEMC

Not a superficial difference

I’m not talking about the superficial difference that comes from a change in Christian tradition as if somehow becoming, for example, an Anglican is going to please God or make a difference in our culture although it may certainly do no harm (unless it is really the latest and cloaked version of the desire to be cool). The kind of difference I’m talking about is not marked primarily by vestments, by latin words and phrases, or by a churchly calendar. It is, instead, a difference marked by an experiential encounter with the grace and glory of God–J. C. Ryle refers to it as a “habitual communion”–that produces a change far deeper than ecclesial practices. It creates the willingness to lose our lives for the glory of God and for the sake of the world.

The current crisis

If the Bible tells us anything it tells us that the people of God are pretty gifted at wandering from God. Whether its becoming comfortable in Egypt, making a golden calf, failing to enter the land of promise, choosing violence over trust in Gethsemane, doubting the resurrection, placing our faith in the law rather than in grace, copying the sexual mores of culture, we see all of it play out in the pages of the Scripture. What’s more the church’s misadventures didn’t end with the close of the canon. As much as at any time since I’ve been alive, the churches of North America have lost our way. We seem to be grasping to preserve political influence at the cost of our deepest theological convictions. 

A parable

A line of four American Presidents stood together at the funeral of one of their number. Three of them actively recited the Apostles’ Creed. One of them refrained, standing close-mouthed at the end of the rank of leaders. It’s a telling image. This is a president effectively elected by evangelicals who, despite our trust, has repeatedly expressed his unbelief and hostility to the message of the gospel as well as his personal commitment to a way of life antithetical to it. In spite of all this he remains the closest association with a term–evangelical–derived from the Greek word for “gospel” or “good news.” It raises the legitimate questions. Have we sold our birthright for a mess of pottage? Do we even know who we are anymore? We are, at best, deeply confused and confounded.

We have believed a lie

In a sermon for Holy Week the late John Webster warns us of the power of the original lie. Holy Week was, in Webster’s words, “the triumph of falsehood.” In the moment of choice when presented with truth, light, and life, they chose the lie.It was a lie first told in the Garden. Israel believed the lie and they did so a representatives of humanity. You have believed the lie and so have I.

Learning to tell the truth

We cannot be the church while we are beholden to the lie. And we will always be beholden to the lie unless and until Christ shines the light of his grace into our faces and removes the scales that have formed on our eyes. The Christian message is a truth-telling one. The truth we tell forth is the person of Jesus who is God. Webster writes,
[Christ] dies because in him there is spoken the truth of the human condition. He is the truth. In his person, as the one who he is, as the one who does what he does and says what he says, he announces the truth of the world, and thereby exposes its untruth. He shows up human falsehood in all its depravity. In him there is a complete judgment, an unambiguous showing of the truth from which we may not hide. It’s this which is at the core of the conflict between Jesus and Israel; and it’s for this that he is sent to his death. What is the final terror which he evokes in those who hear him? Simply this: ‘they perceived that he was speaking about them.’

Little Lent

Advent is sometimes known as little Lent. Let’s look into the mirror this penitential season and ask God to show us how we’ve failed to live the truth. Resources: John Webster, Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian(Lexham Press). J. C. Ryle, Practical Religion. (Banner of Truth).

Beware the lie

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I picked up a collection of the late John Webster’s sermons published by Lexham Press under the title Confronted by Grace (2015). The first sermon in the collection, entitled “The Lie of Self-Sufficiency,” is a Holy Week sermon on Matthew 21. It’s a powerful meditation. One section captured my imagination and quickened my heart:

  At the heart of the story of the passion, therefore, is the confrontation of truth and falsehood. Why does Christ die? Why is he suppressed, cast out and finally silenced by death? Because he speaks the truth. He dies because in him there is spoken the truth of the human condition. He is the truth. In his person, as the one who he is, as the one who does what he does and says what he says, he announces the truth of the world, and thereby exposes its untruth. He shows up human falsehood in all its depravity. And he does so, not as a relatively truthful human person, nor even as a prophet inspired to declare what is hidden, but as God himself. His words, his declaration of the truth, are God’s declaration. He is therefore truth in all its finality; truth unadorned, truth which interrupts and casts down every human lie, every obstacle to seeing reality as it is. In him there is a complete judgment, an unambiguous showing of the truth from which we may not hide. It’s this which is at the core of the conflict between Jesus and Israel; and it’s for this that he is sent to his death.
 What is the final terror which he evokes in those who hear him? Simply this: “they perceived that he was speaking about them. 

John Webster, Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 6-7.