Category Archives: Christian living
We pastors often find ourselves speaking during troublesome and difficult times. We address biblical texts with thorny truths that offend people. We appear at bedsides to comfort the dying and the grieving. We sometimes get called upon to help the wider community navigate calamity and crisis. Pastors speak. And there are times when not speaking amounts to a dereliction of duty.
But that doesn’t mean we always know what to say or how to say it. Sometimes circumstances defy easy speech. Add to that the fact that we pastors have not finally mastered our tongues, that there’s a world of fire in our mouths too, then we understand that not only must pastors speak but they must do so while warring against the flesh and facing the lions. You cannot be a pastor without courage.
That’s why I appreciate these pastoral comments from Sandy Wilson regarding events in Ferguson. Sandy serves as senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN and as a council member of The Gospel Coalition. Over the years that I’ve known Sandy, he’s been nothing but gracious, thoughtful, earnest and desirous of God’s best for all people. He’s a model of charity, clarity and courage in pastoral care.
Watch these five minutes as Sandy addresses his congregation and let us all grow in grace:
“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3)
That’s the haunting question the psalmist asks in light of Israel’s social deterioration. The psalmist lives in a time when the wicked under the cover of dark fire their arrows at the hearts of the righteous (11:2). It’s open season on the just.
The psalmist appears befuddled, overwhelmed with the extensive decay of society. So he asks poignantly, “what can the righteous do?” But as a person of faith, the psalmist places his hopes of righteousness beyond the reach of the wicked. He resolves:
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
5 The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
The Lord reigns from heaven. Righteousness provides the foundation of His throne. From His throne, the Lord sees and He proves the righteous. The Judge of all the earth “hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (v. 5) and will “rain coals on the wicked” (v. 6).
To that dual vision of upholding the righteous and casting down the wicked, the faithful shout a loud “Amen!” We rejoice that righteousness will finally triumph—even if it appears it may not happen in our lifetimes.
Yet though He looks to the Lord, the psalmist refuses to retreat into escapist faith claims. The Lord’s heavenly …
Several days after news broke that Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown, my shipping container from the Cayman Islands arrived. We’d been about two months without any of our possessions, “camping” in our new home, and adjusting to life in DC. The arrival of our container meant hours of unpacking and reassembly. As I began putting together what would become my home office, assembling bookshelves, unpacking and ordering books, I tuned into a Spotify channel that had escaped my notice. It was a channel dedicated to the sermons and addresses of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent the entire Saturday driving nails into shelves while Dr. King drove the message of the Civil Rights Movement into my mind and heart.
One thing in particular stood out to me in light of the then-recent events of Ferguson, Missouri: Dr. King often mentioned police brutality. In all my reading and years of listening to Civil Rights speeches and addresses, the theme of police brutality had somehow escaped my notice. Perhaps the symbolic value of the right to vote and the massive social rearrangement of integration had overshadowed it. But with re-tuned ears, I could hear Dr. King ringing that bell over and over again.
So for the last couple of months I’ve had this thought: The ending of police brutality is the final civil rights battle.
Our televisions broadcast to us stunning and haunting scenes straight out of the 60s. Homemade placards announcing “Black Lives Matter” is today’s version of …
Yesterday following the morning service a dear and faithful brother approached me at the door. In his customarily intense way, he looked me in the eyes and thanked me for the sermon. He expressed his appreciation for how the gospel was present throughout the exposition. Then he moved from appreciation to loving critique. Not about the sermon, but about my posts on Ferguson-related themes. He asked if I thought the gospel should run throughout Christian comments and responses to Ferguson.
Of course, I agreed. We are gospel people. We ought always make the gospel plain. He leaned in a little tighter and asked if I thought I’d done that. My honest answer was “no.” Not because I don’t believe in the gospel’s constant relevance, but because I believe escapist appeals to “the gospel” actually allow Christians to forsake Christian responsibility to be engaged socially and politically in remedying injustice in this life.
A few other people were beginning to bunch up in the line, so my brother graciously moved on. I think we both knew the conversation wasn’t finished. For my part, I’ve been thinking since then of how to speak about the gospel in a way that’s rooted and applied. When I told my wife about the conversation she looked at me with that “I’ve been telling you that” look. So, here goes. An attempt to apply the gospel in actionable ways to these Ferguson—Staten Island—Cleveland—New York kinda times we’re in.
Stick Close to Jesus Personally
I received a reminder of this …
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Isaac Adams, who serves as an editor at The Front Porch. You can keep up with Isaac on twitter @isickadams.
Amidst abounding blog posts, memes, articles, and tweets,
Amidst burning buildings and peaceful protesters’ stomping feet,
Amidst Heaven’s citizens: some outraged, some satisfied, some in ignorance complete,
We’re confused about how we think we should feel, and how we feel we should think,
When black bodies only further into the ground sink; And Lady justice?
She ain’t do so much as blink.
Let me make it clear: I have no exhaustive sociological analysis or physiological remedy for the convoluted, emotional, and deep-seated milieu surrounding Mike Brown and most recently Eric Garner. What I do have is a heavy heart, a Bible, a brain, a mouth, and the Spirit of the living God residing in me by the Father’s grace, and this was bought at the heaviest of costs: his Son’s blood.
And all of that informs the other thing that I do have: a suggestion (see my others here). I suggest that we use our imaginations as the means for genuinely empathizing with those who mourn; this mourning isn’t an option, but a command (Rom. 12:15). I’m not calling for a faux, Lennon type of happy-go-lucky imagination but one that’s Spirit-empowered. Here’s how I came to this thought and what I mean by it.
A Great Gift Most Everyone Enjoys
As I sit here on my couch, looking at my new Christmas tree, I’m reminded that this …
I am an evangelical. That statement needs explanation.
I am a theological evangelical. I believe the Bible is the divinely-inspired word of God. I believe it is inerrant and sufficient. I believe a person must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Apart from this spiritual resurrection, we die in our sins and we suffer God’s eternal wrath forever. Christ Jesus, the Son of God, atones for our sin in his death on the cross. He provides our righteousness by his perfect obedience. There is no salvation from sin and judgment apart from that Christ offered in the gospel. None. But by repentance and faith, all that Christ is and all that Christ has done is ours. Evangelicals at our best are “gospel people.”
But being “gospel people” comes with a peculiar pitfall. It’s possible to be the kind of “gospel people” who use appeals to “the gospel” as a way of escape rather than engagement. Let’s call this “gospel escapism,” that attempt to flee from either the banality or brutality of life by superficial recourse to the gospel. These “gospel people” use the word “gospel” in their writing and speeches a lot. They think simply mentioning the word is the same thing as applying the various truths of Jesus’ life and work to the exigencies of life. It’s escapism because it fails to see in any deep way how Jesus’ Incarnation, active obedience, sacrificial and substitutionary death, resurrection, heavenly session and imminent return for sinners speaks …
One of my absolute favorite books is Zack Eswine’s penetrating and healing work, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry As a Human Being (Crossway, 2013). I think this book should be required reading for every seminarian, new pastor and veteran pastor. I first read it about 2-3 years ago and I’m now revisiting it with a dear brother and friend. As we slowly read through it–and it needs to be read slowly for the rich depth and reflection that’s there–I’m helped with my heart and outlook in all kinds of ways. Last Saturday I read chapter 4 in preparation for our lunch discussion. There was a section there that prepared me generally for those moments of human brokenness that defy pastoral strength and for the specific news out of Ferguson that defy good explanation.
Eswine meditates on what he calls “inconsolable things.” I’m quoting the section at length, and I pray it helps you in life and ministry as it helped me.
“Inconsolable things” are the sins and miseries that will not be eradicated until heaven comes home, the things that only Jesus, and no one of us, can overcome. We cannot expect to change what Jesus has left unfixed for the moment. The presence of inconsolable things does not mean the absence of Jesus’ power, however. Rather, it establishes the context for it. There in the midst of what is inconsolable to us, the true unique nature and quality of Jesus’s power shows itself to be unlike any other power we have …
The United States continues to process the recent grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. As protests gain steam across the country and interested persons pour over grand jury documents, the debate seems to only gain steam and the “sides” seem to further entrench themselves. As I’ve written and tweeted, a number of persons have said they don’t understand my position or they think I’m acting out of a bias. Because I think this is a moment for public discourse and that such discourse actually strengthens the public when it happens well, I want to lay out my view of the grand jury process and why it looks unjust to me.
Truth in advertising: I’m no legal scholar. I’m depending on the comments of some who are. I may have some things wrong and I’m happily corrected where I do. Again, that’s one benefit of a civil public discourse in times of sharp disagreement.
But here’s my perspective as clearly as I can articulate it. It revolves around what I understand of the grand jury process, the role of prosecutor and jury, and the definition of “probable cause” in determining if it’s possible that a criminal action took place. I’m not here arguing the facts of the case. Nor did the grand jury. I will refer to some of the established undisputed facts later, but only as a means of illustrating where I think probable cause existed, not as a means of saying, “This is what definitely happened.” I don’t know that. That’s …
America has not failed us. We have failed America. “America” represents a set of ideals, a set of values organized into a polity and a promise. The thing about ideals and values is that we either live beneath them or we live up to them. What’s broken in the country is not the values and ideals, but the people who espouse but fail them. Last night Americans failed America.
We saw an American prosecutor fail the principle of “blind justice” by handling court procedure in a way most legal experts found a dereliction of duty. Over and over again we heard that the grand jury bar for an indictment is so low all it takes is a ham sandwich. Prosecutors who want to prosecute don’t “present all the evidence;” apparently, they present only that evidence that gets them the indictment and commences the trial. If that’s true, and I have to trust the majority opinion of legal experts since I’m not one, then Ferguson’s prosecutor failed to even live up to the low-bar ideals of his profession, much less America.
Shortly after President Obama took the podium, speaking from the bastion of American ideals and principles to all American people. Television broadcasts flashed the jarring juxtaposition of a President calling for peaceful demonstrations while tear gas canisters flew and angry protestors began the night’s destruction. President Obama began exactly where he should have: by reminding us that America is a country under the rule of law. It’s good for us to remember …