Does Your Salt Work?
Jesus said we are the salt of the world (Matthew 5:13). What did he mean by this? Some suggest that he was referring to the fact that salt is a preservative. It keeps food from spoiling. If they are right, Jesus meant either that we keep society from going bad, or that because we have the gospel, our presence gives people the chance to avoid destruction.
Others think that Jesus was referring to the fact that salt makes a person thirsty. Do you remember the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink?" I heard one wise farmer reply, "No, but you can put salt in the oats!" Our joy-filled lives should cause others to be thirsty for what we have.
Whichever idea Jesus intended, there is something important to keep in mind: salt has no effect whatsoever if it is still in the shaker. Salt, to do its work, must be in contact with the food!
There is an interesting pattern in the life of Paul. In Acts we see him going to the synagogue and talking to people about Jesus. This was natural. They were "his kind of people." Some of Jews responded to the gospel and became Christ-followers. But in city after city we see that there was a moment when no further response was occurring. Sometimes, Paul was opposed and his message rejected.
When that happened, he wasn't content to simply say, "I tried, but they aren't interested so I'll stop." Instead, he went to the Gentiles and they responded and many became believers (for example see Acts 13:42-49). He never lost the passion for "his people", but he moved on to talk to people who were more receptive to the gospel, even though they were different ethnically (Romans 9:1-3). His saltiness needed to be placed where it would do the most good!
Perhaps you have tried to share the gospel with those who you know and they are not responding. If so, the Lord may be calling to you expand your field. Your salt needs to be placed in contact with those who are responsive. Ask the Lord to show you new relationships to develop in order to share the gospel. There might be a new hobby, a different barbershop, or a new neighbor to get to know. Like Paul, there might even be a new ethnic group God wants you to reach!
To use a different analogy, you are called to be a fisher of men. Is your line in the water? Good for you! If not, cast it out there! If your line is in the water and nothing is even nibbling, perhaps it is time to try a different spot!
A Tale of Two Revolutions
Two revolutions rocked the world in late 18th century. The first was in the British colonies of the New World. The colonists had grown tired of the abuses of power by the English king and after many attempts to have their grievances heard they finally voted to declare their independence from the crown. They would form a new nation without a king. Decisions would be made by the people or those elected by the people to represent them. It was a radical idea because for over a dozen centuries the countries of Europe had been ruled by kings.
Underneath this idea of a country without a king was another more radical idea: freedom of religion. Since the time of Rome, the kings had ruled by “divine right” and a single religion was the religion of the state. The church affirmed the power of the ruler. The rulers supported the church. In the colonies of the New World, there were both Catholics and varieties of Protestants that held majorities in each colony. Rather than declaring one new national church, the American decided that each person would continue to be free to worship (or not worship) according to the dictates of their conscience. It was a revolutionary concept driven by both historical forces and expediency.
Several years later in France, inspired by the Americans, the French revolted. In France, however, the situation was different and the revolution went in a different direction. The French king and the church had created an unholy alliance that made its leaders incredibly wealthy while the average French person lived in poverty. Local bishops made millions of dollars a year but spent all of their time stroking the ego of the king in Versailles while the average person was forced to pay taxes and mandatory offerings to the church. They were mired in poverty. In the French Revolution the people threw off not only the king, but the church. Church properties were confiscated and many were set up as “temples of reason”. In the period of the revolution, many believers were killed. In Vendee, France, historians estimate that over 100,000 Christians were killed (5,000 in mass drownings). Needless to say, French evangelicals are not as prone to celebrate Bastille Day as we are July 4th. Bastille Day is a day when the French celebrate their independence from both God and king. Evangelicals remember Vendée.
While the freedoms that we celebrate as Americans are important and the idea of democracy has spread around the world, we must also be aware of one of the ideas that fueled both revolutions: humanism. Humanism is a broad term, but in general it is a philosophy that puts humans in the place of authority (individually and collectively) and stresses critical thinking and evidence rather than submission to outside authority.
In modern evangelical circles the word humanism is often used with derision. But in European history humanism came to be a force several centuries before the revolutions in America and France. The Renaissance brought a breath of fresh air to the scholarly world. Academia had become stale with scholars writing endless tomes about what other scholars had written. With the Renaissance there was a renewed interest in going back to the original sources of ideas and studying them firsthand. The Renaissance brought with it the idea that each scholar was to go back to read the original works for themselves to see what they said rather than relying on what the experts had said through the centuries. This effort to examine the originals led to exciting new discoveries as old ways of thinking were challenged and sometimes discarded. It was rooted in the idea that each person could think for themselves and that by doing so humanity was progressing. This is one of the hallmarks of humanism.
This drive back to the originals and allowing each person to think for themselves rather than relying on historic beliefs is what led Luther, Calvin, and other reformers to challenge the dogma of the Catholic church. Martin Luther was a humanist when he boldly said that he would not submit to the pope or councils. He needed to be convinced based on the Bible and “cogent reasons” that he was error or he would not recant his teachings. The 16th century Protestant Reformers valued critical thinking about the text of the Bible. Applying logic and common sense to the study of Scriptures was the right of everyone and not just the Councils of the church. They valued education and translated the Bible into the common language of the people so that everyone could read it for themselves.
Humanistic thinking gave the colonists the boldness to reject the authority of the king. The authority to govern should come from the people rather than being based on the divine right of kingship. Dictatorships and monarchies were seen as inherently wrong because they violated the idea that each person is equal and should have a voice in the government. In France, humanism was carried to another level. They discarded not only the monarchy but they rejected the authority of the church and the Scriptures. Many of the key French revolutionaries rejected theism altogether and chose to place their faith in science and reason. This has had a lasting impact on France. Atheism and an anti-Christian attitude are rampant in France.
Most of America’s founders were members of Christian churches. Churches were often the hub of social life in the community as well as being houses of worship. Some of the founders were orthodox Christians. For example, John Jay was President of the American Bible Society and Patrick Henry distributed gospel tracts during his travels. Without a doubt these men were Bible-believing followers of Christ. They were humanists who believed that each person had the right to think and decide for themselves and rejected the idea of the monarchy as an absolute authority.
But many of America’s founders were impacted by a popular religious idea: deism. Deism holds that there is a god who created the world according to certain principles, but that god was not interested in humanity and had left us to figure things out for ourselves. Deists rejected the authority of the Bible. Thomas Paine called Christianity a fable, Benjamin Franklin denied that god had ever communicated anything to man, and Thomas Jefferson rejected the miracles of the Bible. Their deism allowed them to refer to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and to the Creator endowing men with rights, but just what those laws and rights were was left to humans to figure out.
These humanistic forces are still at work in our country. Our individualism is one indicator of it. Americans have a strong independent streak compared to many other cultures. We still have many who hold to an orthodox view of the faith and the Bible and stress the humanistic idea that each person is to study the Bible for themselves. American Christians tend to gather in like-minded churches and bristle at the thought of submitting to church authority if they disagree with it. At the same time, an increasing number of Americans are like the French revolutionaries or the deists of the American revolution. These humanists reject all authority except “science and logic.” They reject the authority of the church and the Bible. They reject any outside standard of morality except what makes sense to them.
Because many in America are rejecting God and the Scriptures as having ultimate authority, the culture will slowly spiral downward in the manner outlined in Romans 1. Bible believing Christians will face increasing headwinds and the belief in accountability to God and his Word will be assaulted from every angle. The temptation will be to accommodate to the ideas and “moral causes” of the day rather than to be faithful to the Bible.
We must remember that the Bible is the Word of God and not the invention of man. We are not to sit in judgment of it, but must all it to be our judge and guide. Jesus told us that we must continue in his word if we were to truly be his disciples. We must not allow the extreme form of humanism that is increasing in our culture to lead us away from the salvation that God has provided in Christ.
For America, this year has been unlike any other year in my lifetime. We are in the midst of a pandemic that is spiraling out of control. So far, a quarter million people in the United States have perished. Many more are suffering long-term symptoms. Large gatherings are a thing of the past. Some businesses have closed and others are struggling. Kids are attending school…from home. In fact, for the next four weeks, the Governor of Minnesota, at the request of our healthcare leaders, has asked us not to gather socially outside of our household.
The image of George Floyd dying on the street in Minneapolis was seared into our minds. It opened a long-festering wound that is the result of the after-effects of racism. Some citizens protested, peacefully. Others rioted and looted. Cities burned. Monuments were torn down. “Black Lives Matter” became both a rallying cry and a subject of intense debate.
Our nation is increasingly polarized, and the President appears to have lost the election by a small margin. Allegations of fraud have been hurled on websites and news programs. Rumors of nefarious plots abound online and spread like wildfire on social media websites. So far, nothing has been proven in court that would overturn the initial results, but there is growing mistrust of the election process by some of our citizens.
It’s Thanksgiving. Isn’t that jarring?
It is a day to give thanks to the Lord for the many blessings that we have received this year. Perhaps this year we need a day of giving thanks more than we ever have before. When we are in the midst of struggles, it is easy to focus on the difficulties rather than our blessings. While a quieter holiday may seem less celebratory, it may lead to deeper reflection on the many ways the Lord has sustained us during this trying year.
Let us take time this week to truly give thanks. Begin by taking a piece of paper and listing all of the blessings that you have received from the Lord this year. Salvation in Christ, to be sure, but also the many small things. The strength to make it through the day, the daily bread, and a thousand other ways he’s sustained you. Craft a prayer of thanksgiving as a gift to Him.
Take a moment to give thanks for the people in your life. Some are close at hand and others are far away. There are those who are unknown but in your life because of the work they do: scientists, medical professionals, and government officials, to name a few.
Friends, coworkers, and family members whose relationships you value are worthy of remembering. During these difficult times, it would be good to thank them and tell them how much you appreciate them. A text, email, or phone call would brighten their day, wouldn’t it? As an act of thanksgiving, connect with those who you are most grateful for or those who you think might need encouragement during this season.
So, give thanks to Him, from whom all blessings flow in a never-ending cascade. God is good, all the time, even in the midst of a difficult year.
On Attending Church in a Pandemic
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
We are in the midst of a pandemic. The highly contagious COVID-19 spreads through both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. While many recover at home in a week or so, others require hospitalization and some even spend time in the intensive care unit. Most survive, others have lingering health problems, and some will die. Those with underlying health problems, the elderly, and the overweight are most at risk of having complications from the virus. In order to prevent patients infected with the virus from overwhelming the healthcare system, the government has issued a series of emergency orders limiting the size of gatherings, requiring masks and social distancing, etc.
Word of Life has sought to comply with these orders to the extent that they do not go against Scripture. Signs are posted requiring masks and asking people to socially distance while in our building. We dismiss by sections to avoid congregating at the exits. We have also invested in equipment to be able to stream our services online so that people can watch from home. We’ve done this to help reduce the spread of the virus while continuing to do the work of the Kingdom.
Having our services online raises a question: Should you watch from home or come to church?
Let me give you some pastoral advice as you consider your situation.
Stay home because of health concerns.
You or a family member may have a risk factor and your doctor has advised you to stay away from large gatherings, restaurants, etc. Like waiting out a long Minnesota snowstorm, you’re protecting yourself and those you love. You’re participating on Sunday morning the best you can by watching online. You are being wise. You are the reason that we live-stream our services.
At the same time, remember that watching online is not the same thing as being at church. You miss out on the extremely valuable interactions that take place naturally before, during, and after the service. There is something missing.
So let me challenge you not to simply watch online and cross “attended church” off your list. Take time to intentionally pursue those connections with the people you would have seen had you been in the building. As a start, let’s say that when you were attending services you normally left for church at 9:30 and got home at noon. That’s at total of 150 minutes. The service itself lasts about 75 minutes. Why not take the 75 minutes you “saved” by staying at home and spend them actively investing in your relationships of those in your church family?
You could call, text, email, or write them. Find out how they are doing, pray with them, encourage them, and share what the Lord is doing in your own life. Talk to your friends, but also those you don’t know well. It still won’t be the same as being there, but your church family needs to interact with you more than you realize. And you need it, too. We'll all be better off!
Don’t stay home because it is “easy.”
During the early days of the pandemic, WOL was online only. I recorded my sermon early in the week. On Sunday morning I slept in, had a nice breakfast, and then watched the service in my sweats from the comfort of my recliner. When it was over at 11:15 am, I was instantly at home and could go about my day. Easy-peasy! I even watched a different church’s service afterwards…I’m so holy!
But no one asked me about my week that morning. No one encouraged me. No one challenged me or held me accountable. No one told me that they were glad to see me. No one prayed for me. No one asked my opinion. It was just me and the TV.
Nor did I pray for anyone. I didn’t encourage anyone. I didn’t look anyone in the eye and ask how things were going. I didn’t meet anyone new. I didn’t challenge anyone. I didn’t interact with anyone about the message. I didn’t share what God was doing in my life. It was just me and the TV.
You see, watching online is a poor substitute for actually gathering with other believers on the Lord’s Day. It isn’t the best way to grow. It isn’t the best way to have an impact for the kingdom of God. You miss a huge opportunity to do the “one-anothers” that are to be a part of our lives.
So if you’ve gotten in the habit of staying home simply because it is “easier”, let this post be a kick in the rear to get you moving again. You need to be “in the game.” We need you.
So pursue Jesus with all of your might during this season.
Don’t be afraid, but walk in wisdom.
Don’t be lonely, but actively seek to love others.
Don’t hide who you are, but wear a mask.
Don’t stand too close to others, but don’t be distant relationally.
Don’t forget to wash your hands, but be willing to get dirty.
A Secret of Faith
In hope he believed against hope,
that he should become the father of many nations,
as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body,
which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old),
or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God,
but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:18-21 ESV
It did not make sense that Abraham would become a father at all, much less "the father of many nations." He was old. His wife was old. They had tried to have children their entire lives and had been disappointed month after month until finally it became biologically impossible. In spite of circumstances which seemed to mock the promise of God, Abraham believed. Where did this perseverance in faith come from? Romans 4:20 gives an important clue. Abraham gave glory go to God and this caused him to grow in the capacity to believe his promises. Worship increases faith.
If we are to walk in Abraham's footsteps we need to forge the spiritual discipline of worship into our lives. Glorifying God means ascribing to him his true value. As we do that each day, we will find our faith in his promises growing stronger. So spend time meditating on the psalms, listen (and sing along!) to a worship playlist, write prayers of love to Jesus, and turn your gaze upon the Triune God. It will slowly but surely increase your "faith muscles."
Almighty Creator and Redeemer, I confess that often I have failed to discipline my heart to worship. Teach me to glorify you moment by moment. May my faith become strong like Abraham's faith. But may I not expect that growth to come without grace-infused effort on my part. I ask that you would draw me to the place of worship over and over again. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Reflections on Racism
A friend of mine has a delightful 10 year-old daughter. She’s smart, funny, and a joy to interact with. Earlier this week she saw the photo of the policeman with his knee on the neck of George Floyd. She instantly burst into tears and cried, “Why does everyone hate people who look like me?”
Read that again, especially if you are Anglo. Because George Floyd doesn’t look like you.
Consider the experience of LZ Granderson. He writes, “I was 12 when an officer placed his gun to the back of my head while his knee rested in the center of my back. I had been sent to the store to buy a gallon of milk. I came home with trauma. As the officer placed me in handcuffs, he said I looked like a burglary suspect he was searching for. I was told something similar in my 20s, a full-time reporter fresh out of graduate school, after I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. The officer asked what I was doing in the neighborhood. When I told him I lived in it, he asked what I did to be able to afford to live there. In my 30s, shortly after moving in with my now-husband, Steve, in his predominantly white Michigan suburb, I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. Another officer telling me he thought I ‘looked like someone.’ Six years ago, now in my 40s and on assignment for CNN during the Ferguson uprising outside St. Louis, I was pulled over yet again for looking like someone. And those are just a fraction of the times I’ve been pulled over for ‘looking like someone.’”
As a white man in America, I have never been stopped for “looking like someone.” The closest experience I’ve had happened in France. Early one morning I was taking my friends to the train station. One was from Indonesia and the other from Singapore. After we got into the car, a police car pulled up blocking us in the parking space. He wanted to see papers and asked questions. Although the police were allowed to do this because France was under an emergency order due to recent terrorism, every fiber of my being wanted to scream, “you have no right to do this because we were doing nothing wrong!” I was angry on the inside, but calm on the outside. I cannot imagine how I would react if I was placed in handcuffs multiple times because I “looked like someone” just based on the color of my skin.
We must see the history of our country for what it is. The colonists threw off the authority of the king and set up a representative republic. It was a heady time and many of their ideals are worthwhile. But we are a country with a birth defect. Enshrined in our constitution is the idea that slaves were to be counted as only “three-fifths” of a person. It took almost a hundred years and a civil war to abolish slavery. It took several more years to make sure that race could not be used to keep someone from voting. That doesn’t mean that the blacks were welcomed into the polling places. Threats, violence, and insidious means were often used to keep them away.
Segregation became a way of life. Jim Crow laws made sure that whites were given priority in every facet of life. The “free” descendants of slavery lived as second-class citizens serving or entertaining white society. This troubled some whites, was delighted in by others, and for many was just accepted as the way things were. For the blacks, it was all too apparent that society was set up to keep them down.
Then came the civil rights movement. With leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., the movement awakened the country to the many injustices in the laws of the land. Laws were changed. Jim Crow disappeared. Schools were integrated. “Separate but equal” was rightly destroyed for being the farce that it was. True progress was made in the laws of the land.
The legacy of a society structured in both law and attitude to keep a group of people down leaves a deep and painful wound. Merely changing laws does not heal the trauma of generations of discrimination. The attitudes of people toward those of another race are difficult to change. Furthermore, several centuries of systemic racism have resulted in large swaths of African Americans mired in poverty. The work of healing and reconciliation is far from finished.
This isn’t simply about the actions of some members of the police. Discrimination still exists on many levels. Rev. Timothy Keller writes about a couple of them. He tells about a town in Virginia that was made up of 25-30% blacks, but because the system stipulated that the six council members be elected by a majority vote, there was never a black council member. The area where the whites lived got all of the resources of the town. This seemed “normal and right” to those in charge, but it was a grossly unfair voting system that discriminated against one group.
Rev. Keller also talks about a car dealership. The salesmen had a lot of leeway in negotiating prices. There was a bottom amount, but the top end was open. You dickered until a price was arrived at. That seems fair, doesn’t? When the owner starting thinking about discrimination issues he did some research and discovered that African American women always wound up paying significantly more than white men. He realized that was not fair, even if it was unintentional. He changed his policy so that everyone was offered the same take-it-or-leave-it price.
Or consider the story of Christian Cooper. A man birdwatching in Central Park. A woman is breaking the local law by not having her dog on a leash in an area set aside for birding. He asks her to put her dog on a leash and she refuses. She then calls 911 and says in an affected voice that an African American is threatening her. The implication is clear: the police better come quickly to protect her, a white woman, from one of “those” African Americans. Fortunately he videotaped the incident so her claim was exposed for the lie what it was. While she later apologized, it was a window into the America that African Americans live in every day. The color of their skin can instantly be used against them.
Racism is evil and it needs to be dealt with in our society and in our hearts.
It is often said that social justice issues are “liberal” and as evangelicals we aren’t supposed to be involved with social justice. Many white evangelical congregations have a sense that “we are just supposed to get people saved and everything will work out. Besides, Jesus said things would only get worse, so why work to better society?”
There was a time that conservative white Christians had a different attitude. They ran soup kitchens, many worked to abolish slavery, started schools, and were involved in a myriad of other projects simply to lovingly serve their neighbors.
Then there came a division as the mainline churches drifted away from biblical Christianity. They were left with a vague notion of Christian “love” and focused on issues of social justice to the exclusion of evangelism. It has been called the “social gospel”. The reaction by the conservative white church was to say, “what good is feeding someone if they are still going to wind up in hell?” They moved away from involvement in social justice issues and focused almost solely on evangelism. As a result, in many evangelical churches any talk of dealing with injustice in society is labeled as “being liberal”.
Still, conservative white evangelicals do get involved in social justice issues. This is readily apparent in the pro-life movement. Across the country, evangelical Christians raise awareness, run medical clinics, provide resources, lobby congress, and vote for pro-life candidates. They see the wrong in society and work hard to put an end to the injustice of abortion. This is good and is to be applauded.
It is a also a “safe” issue for white evangelicals. They can do all sorts things to support the pro-life cause with little personal risk. They might get into some disagreements with pro-choice supporters, but that’s about all the personal threat they face.
Dealing with racism is different. It means admitting that there are advantages in being white, even if you yourself are not prejudiced. Perhaps being white improved your chances of getting your job. Or maybe it means that you are more likely to move up the corporate ladder. Or less likely to be pulled over by the police. Confronting racism would create a more level playing field for everyone when it previously had been tilted in your favor. Dealing with racism could affect you and your way of life.
Would you deal with the issue of racism if it could alter your lifestyle? Or would you choose to ignore it? As followers of Christ, we must look to the teachings of Scripture to see how important the issue is and what we are to do.
So let me lay out some things to think about from the Scriptures:
1. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
This passage is a great equalizer. Every person on the planet is created in the image of God. As a result, all of them have both enormous and equal value. It doesn’t make any difference where they grew up, what color of skin they have, what gender they are, or what language they speak. They are created in the image of God. It doesn’t take much to see that one of the first steps in racism or discrimination is to say that a particular group of people are of lesser value than another. Think of the blatant expression of this by Hitler regarding the Jews. They were considered sub-human and the resulting logic was the “final solution” and the death of millions. That’s an extreme example that shows us that this issue is not just a white-black issue but involves any attempt to say that one group is less valuable than another.
2. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23).
Like being made in the image of God, this verse is a great equalizer. We are all guilty before God. We simply cannot say that we are better than another person. Nor can we say that one people is better than another. Latinos are not better than Anglos. African Americans are not better than Japanese Americans. You get my point. We are all guilty before a holy God and none of us deserves better treatment because of our ethnicity.
3. Love is our marching order (Mathew 22:37-40).
We are to love others and to treat them the way we would want to be treated. It’s a simple thing. Would we want someone making disparaging remarks about us because we are ____? Then it is wrong for us to make disparaging remarks like that. The command is to love others. Even our enemies. There isn’t an exception and the order has not been rescinded.
4. We are to pursue justice (Micah 6:8)
The Bible is full of commands to work towards a just and fair society. James warns us against the horrible sin of showing partiality (James 2:1-13). Discrimination is partiality and sin. It can become systemic in society and when it does Christians need to speak against it. We have an obligation to help those who are marginalized (James 1:27). We dare not be silent: “Open your mouths for the mute, for the rights of all those who are destitute. Open your mouths, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
5. In Christ we are one (Galatians 3:28).
One of the glories of the gospel is that we are all one in Christ. Just as we are made in the image of God and equally sinners, in Christ we are all united. Ephesians 2-3 goes into great detail to say that the dividing wall that separates people from one another on the basis of ethnicity has been destroyed.
6. God’s delight is in all nations (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 5:9-10).
The Lord is building a kingdom made of people from every nation and language. This is the heart of God. As participants in that kingdom, we are called to love one another, bear one another’s burdens, and look out for their interests. Racism and discrimination are anathema to kingdom people. And we work to both prevent it and to defend those who suffer from it. It’s what kingdom people do.
Do you see it? Dealing with racism is a gospel issue. It is biblical.
But what can you do?
Here I simply share what Kelvin Walker, the Sr. Vice President of the C&MA wrote on Facebook.
I’ve received a lot of requests from a number of people for me to address these two questions: “What can I do?” “How do I help?” First of all, thank you. That you want to help, speak out, and be a part of bringing an end to this means more than you know.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and prayer over the past couple of days. I realize that everyone has a different view on this. And, I’m sure that not everyone will agree on what I’ve listed. I’m sure there will be questions like, “Why didn’t you say this?” or “Why did you leave that out?” or “Why did you say THAT?” This is not an exhaustive list of suggestions by any means. That being said, here are some thoughts that I offer to you:
1) Sit in the lament with those that are lamenting – without offering suggestions on “Another way to see this…” or “At least, things aren’t as bad as they were.” Lament is not a time to soothe or escape the discomfort of the pain. Neither is it a time to invalidate the realities that Black and Brown people face every day in this world. Lament is designed to openly and honestly express the pain of the situation. You bring hope when you sit in the pain with me without trying to discredit, ease, or escape my pain.
2) Listen to learn, not to refute. They say that experience is the best teacher. While it may not be your experience, listening to the experiences of Black and Brown people in TODAY’S America, and what we’ve been forced to learn and endure just so we can survive, will teach you more than a course on racism and injustice detached from story and experience will ever teach you. Story and experience are POWERFUL.
3) When acts of racism and injustice happen, break the habit of vilifying the victim and putting his/her past on display. And, don’t allow others to do it. There is no justification for any act of racism or injustice. Whether it is caught on camera, or (as in the majority of cases) is hidden from the camera, it is wrong. It is sinful. It is dehumanizing and strips people of their dignity – PERIOD.
4) Use your voice to speak out against it. Do not give in to the fear of the backlash you might possibly receive from your friends, your community, and/or, your colleagues. When we sit silent, we sit complicit. This perpetuates the injustice and allows the racist acts/attitudes/patterns to go unchallenged.
5) If you are a pastor, let this subject make its way into your preaching series before an act of racism or injustice happens. That being said, a statement this weekend that speaks against injustice followed by a prayer that cries out to God for justice is a way to begin to speak out from the pulpit if you’ve not done it before. If you have been one who has spoken out in the past, or you have already spoken out recently, thank you. Don’t stop. Your voice matters and is appreciated.
6) Read and educate yourself on the ongoing issues with racism and injustice in the world. Listen to podcasts. Watch Ted Talks. Further, and this is the hard truth, educate yourself on the ongoing issues with racism and injustice in the Church. Then, with the power of the Holy Spirit, refuse to allow it to continue under your watch.
7) Hope with me that Jesus will return soon and right every unjust and racist action that has taken place in the world. Until then, we lament, we speak out, we challenge unjust systems/actions/attitudes, and we long for the day where life will be here on earth as it is in heaven.
I close with this quote from Nicky Gumbel: “When injustices around the world are screaming ‘your life is of no value,’ the Church cannot remain silent. Apathy makes excuses. Love finds a way.”
We are moving in uncharted waters. Things are emotionally charged. There are many conflicting "expert" opinions about the virus and how we should respond. We all want the churches to start holding public services: it's just a matter of when. The Governor of Minnesota says it is too early. Catholics and the the Missouri Synod Lutherans are planning to ignore his order. A judge will be hearing a case about the issue on Tuesday. President Trump is demanding that churches be opened immediately. It is a fluid situation and you are hearing from many people. I hesitate to add my voice to the din, but think it is important that you know how I am thinking about this situation.
Given my conversations with European friends, I know that this virus has the potential to cause our hospitals to be overrun so I am grateful that our leaders have taken steps to be ready. I sympathize with those who have been harmed economically. While this has been hard on all of us, it has been significantly more difficult for some. I desperately want to get back to normal life, but I am concerned that opening too quickly may cause unnecessary suffering and loss of life if our hospitals cannot handle the surge. I also don't want our church to become a hot-spot. It would be a tragedy to have any of our members become seriously ill or die. Furthermore, it could damage our ability to reach into our community for a long time. We need to move with the wisdom of the Lord.
As the pastor of Word of Life, I have a deeper concern than just when we open: it is how we walk through this time together. Given the strong emotions and diversity of opinions, there is an opportunity for the enemy to sow divisions in our relationships with one another. The broader culture is one that seeks to separate issues into "us" versus "them". It is quick to assign derogatory labels to people with different opinions. This tendency can easily spill over and affect how we regard other people in the church who may think differently than we do. I want us to be an example of being unified in Christ despite having differences of opinion during these emotionally charged days.
Toward that end I am asking each of us to spend extra time in prayer and reading the Word. We need to be careful to hear his voice in the midst of this storm. So let's intentionally turn down the outside voices and seek the one who knows all things. Let's ask him to teach us and to break any sinful thought patterns that have developed in our lives. Let's ask him to purify our thoughts and give us gracious words to speak. He is the one we seek to follow together. May the fruit of the Spirit be remarkably present in our midst.
I would also ask each of you to spend time praying for the leaders over you. Pray for President Trump and his advisors. Pray for Congress. Pray for Governor Walz and local leaders. They are all faced with difficult problems and need wisdom.
Finally, please pray for the leaders of Word of Life. The elders will be meeting on Tuesday evening to pray and discern the way forward for our church. Lift them up in prayer. In fact, I would encourage you to consider fasting at least one meal that day to seek the Lord. It is that important.
May we bring him glory in these days.
Re-Opening: The Next Phase
Governor Walz is allowing the stay-at-home order to expire at the end of the day on May 17. What does that mean for us as a church? On Tuesday evening, the Governing Board met and anticipated this move and I would like to share with you some of our thoughts.
We are excited that things are beginning to re-open.
Like everyone, we are looking forward to things returning to something approaching normal life. We are grateful for the efforts of many people to make our online services a good time of worship together, but nothing compares to coming together as a church family.
Our leaders are trying to navigate an economic and health crisis.
We have seen in Europe the results of waiting too long to impose social distancing restrictions. We are dealing with a contagious virus that can overrun our medical system causing unnecessary suffering and death. It makes sense to curtail activities to lessen the infection rate. We also realize that our church gatherings, with their hugs, singing, laughter, and extended times together create situations where it is easy for the the virus to spread. As much as we wish we could all be together on Sunday mornings, we are committed to following the Governor's guidelines for churches as we re-open.
The current emergency declaration will allow gatherings of 10 people who keep proper social distances.
The declaration does not give us the ability to meet together as a church family. However, we want to encourage our members to connect with one another. Why not invite some friends over to watch the service together and have dinner afterwards? All of us are craving time together, so let's do what we can within the framework of the emergency declaration!
At this time there will be no meetings in the church building. The office will remain closed except for operating the food shelf on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 - 12. We check phone messages frequently and are available via email and SMS and will respond as quickly as we can.
We expect that the Governor will gradually allow the opening of churches and other groups over the course of the summer.
We have been discussing a variety of scenarios depending upon the size of groups allowed to gather. Each scenario stresses the need for proper social distancing, lots of hand sanitizer, and extensive cleaning procedures after we meet. We are also working on how to respond should someone who attends a meeting be found to have been infectious while they were there. There are many details to be worked through in the coming weeks.
There will be adaptations in the way we do things in order to comply with the mitigation protocols that are put in place. One possibility is having a group meet in the Sanctuary and another in the Fellowship Hall, watching the service via video feed. We will be altering things like how the offering is received and how we distribute the communion elements, and what types of children's activities we will be having. We'll have more details about that as the Governor makes more information available.
It will probably be several months before things are fully back to the way things were and there may be setbacks along the way. That's okay. We are part of a missions movement, and that means that we are willing to be flexible in the way we do things and make the most of each situation.
We will continue our video streaming of services for the foreseeable future.
Once we begin holding public services again, we will be live streaming them via YouTube. We recognize that there are a number of people in our church family that are in the high risk category and may not be comfortable meeting in large group settings for some time. In addition, anyone who doesn't feel well will be urged to stay home (no more "powering through" a cold!) in case they are actually coming down with COVID-19. We want our online service to be available live for those who cannot come to the building.
I am looking forward to seeing all of you again in the near future. Use this time of relaxed restrictions to build his kingdom. Encourage one another and share the good news about Jesus!
Life in the Stay-at-Home World
I’ve been working from home this week.
The stores do not have some of the things I want.
Strangers seem distant and suspicious. They are not interested in conversation.
I’m missing family events like birthday parties.
It seems like a different world.
I’ve been here before.
This feels familiar.
When Janet and I moved to France it was like this. No, there wasn’t a deadly pandemic hiding in the shadows, but the life seems strangely the same today as when we arrived in France.
I worked from home because there wasn’t a church office.
The stores didn’t have many of the familiar items I longed for (No cottage cheese, really?).
I couldn’t communicate very well.
As a foreigner, people were naturally suspicious of me.
I was grateful for Skype, but I couldn’t give my granddaughter a hug through the screen.
So, what are some lessons from that time that might apply today?
1. We must deal with vulnerability.
Living in a new world puts us in a scary position of weakness. This forces us to look for security. What are we turning to in those times? It exposes what we are trusting in and what we are afraid of. This can be a good thing! We want to trust in the Lord more fully, don’t we? Being placed in this situation is a training ground for trusting Jesus. Lesson: Spend time focusing on Jesus through Scripture, worship and prayer in order to build faith.
2. There is stress on our relationships.
Adjusting to life in France was difficult at times because of the stress that it put on our marriage. One day I would be up and Janet would be down. The next day it would be reversed. Sometimes I would be crabby because of what I was experiencing and found myself needing to apologize for my behavior. These difficulties were good because they forced us to work on our relationship. You might find yourself spending much more time with family members. Use this stressful time to work on those relationships. But this means working on your part in those relationships, not trying to fix other family members. Lesson: trying times can expose relational cracks that can then be fixed.
3. We want to be independent people.
We love our independence. Standing on our own two feet is something we all aspire to. I know I do. Moving to France made me incompetent in what felt like every area of life. I didn’t know how to mail a letter. I was constantly lost. I felt foolish trying to order something at the bakery. The driving laws were different. During those months I learned the value of relationships in the body of Christ. There will be times when you feel alone. Perhaps you will be quarantined at home and need something. Perhaps you will run out of toilet paper. Perhaps you will lose your job and the money is gone. Lesson: It’s okay to ask for help.
4. There is no such thing as a small act of kindness.
When I was adjusting to life in France every kindness brought tears to my eyes. I remember the clerks in the store who were patient with my poor French. The couple that dropped off chocolates on their way to work still brings a smile to my face. The friend who helped deal with an internet service problem by making a phone call relieved so much stress that I felt like I could fly. Simple gestures made life so much better. Lesson: Be intent on doing little things to help others. It’s not only the right thing to do, but each act is immeasurably valuable.
5. We are adaptable.
It took a while, but the new and awkward became familiar and comfortable. While I hope that this “Covid-19 lifestyle” doesn’t last long, if it does, we will adjust to this new way of doing things. Aspects of this new lifestyle will become increasingly routine. Lesson: New lifestyles are difficult but become easier with time.
6. We’ll dance in the streets again.
There will come a time when this epidemic passes and we will be back “home”. And when we arrive it will feel really good. We’ll feel like the sun has finally come out after a month of clouds. We will see the old things with new eyes…and we will dance!
What Are You Asking For?
What have you been praying for lately?
How big are your prayers? Sometimes we forget that the God we serve is the Almighty Creator of the universe. Compared to who he is, the things we ask for are not even pocket change…they are more like pocket lint!
So what is the biggest thing that you could dare ask for?
What is the biggest thing that he could give you?
Your answer is probably too small.
The biggest thing that God could give you is himself. It’s also the best thing that he could give you.
So I challenge you this week to ask him.
Ask him to give him more of himself.
Ask him to make you more aware of his presence.
Ask him to help you see his provision and power in your life.
Ask him to fill you with a greater measure of his Spirit.
Ask him to help you hear his voice.
Ask him to show you his glory.
Not only are these prayers the biggest things you can ask, but they are also prayers that he delights to answer.
Ask him. I dare you!
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Word of Life Staff
A place for the Word of Life staff and guest writers to share of themselves in writing with the Word of Life family.