Category Archives: Religion

We Must Not Be Silent: Why the Only Gospel is a Social One

WE MUST NOT BE SILENT

A few days ago, in the midst of this past week’s series of tragedies that included the horrific deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five members of the Dallas Police Department, Christian leader John MacArthur appeared in a video titled “Racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement.” The video was posted by The Master’s Seminary, where MacArthur is the president. The video addressed the topic in a fairly roundabout manner, closing with MacArthur stating that “when the Gospel changes your life, you go from social issues to spiritual issues.”

Let me begin by saying that the aforementioned statement is a downright theological disaster. The Gospel — the pure, unadulterated Gospel — does not set us free from taking part in social action. Instead, the Gospel demands our presence when social problems arise. If we care in the slightest about the temporary and eternal well-being of our fellow humans, we MUST respond to social issues. In fact, we must be at the forefront of response. Christian rapper Trip Lee responded to MacArthur’s video on Twitter by saying “The Good News doesn’t mean ignore social issues, because it’s all that matters. It means we can’t ignore them. God cares & we should too.”

If we believe God is a God of justice, we must be His hands and feet during times of social turmoil. If we do the opposite and remove ourselves, retreating to what some would call “more spiritual things,” we’re doing a poor job, to say the least, of reflecting God’s character. Scripture clearly states that God loves justice. Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah’s love for justice in Isaiah 61:1-3:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.”

Jesus did not only care about justice. It was His mission. He came to this world as a man, He felt our pain and He chose to die so that we’d hear a resounding “NOT GUILTY” come Judgment Day, if we simply believe in His love for us. While on Earth, He demonstrated this justice by refusing religious passivity and instead showing compassion for prostitutes, loving those who were at the time the very symbol of injustice (tax collectors), and declaring that His followers should do the same. He was the greatest humanitarian the world has ever known.

The Gospel preached by this man, this Jesus, demands social action. To instead build a wall between sacred and secular is to misunderstand such a Gospel. There is a false theology circulating amongst many Christian communities and even believed by pastors and leaders, even in this day and age, that there is some sort of barrier between the sacred things and the secular things. Those who subscribe to this barrier attempt to push Christians to the side of the sacred. This could mean simply reading Bibles, praying, attending Bible studies, memorizing Scripture, etc., WITHOUT involvement in non-Christian circles. In my humble opinion, such a way of life has detached Christians from engaging with culture in the name of creating Christian countercultures that have little potential for spreading the Gospel. Instead of seeking and saving the lost (the words of Jesus), we retreat to our Christian bubbles.

It’s safe there, right? We won’t be affected by the world’s evils and we won’t have to face others who don’t think like us. Bring your notebook and your acoustic guitar! (Please don’t take this the wrong way).

While studying for my undergraduate thesis project, I read a book by Al Wolters entitled Creation Regained that deconstructed this sacred/secular divide and instead provided the outline for a reformational worldview of Christianity. A reformational worldview calls Christians to step directly into what some would call “the secular,” proposing that Christ is sovereign over every square inch (Abraham Kuyper). Christ is sovereign over politics, art, sports, government. He is sovereign over the world’s problems and injustices. There’s not one space in the universe over which Jesus Christ is not sovereign.

The implications of this worldview are many. One of them is blatantly clear: as Christians, we MUST care about justice. It’s simply a requirement of following Christ. He cared about justice, so I must. It was His mission, so it must be mine. And that doesn’t mean I should start to care about justice when I die and go to Heaven, when I’m finally surrounded by every nation, tribe and tongue.

It starts here and now. It starts with the thrust of the Gospel: love your neighbor. Most of your neighbors don’t look like you, and many times it’s uncomfortable to love them. Sometimes you won’t feel like you belong. Sometimes you won’t know what to say. In those times, simply listen. I promise you, if you take a step toward hearing the story, the pain, the joys, the life experiences of a neighbor unlike yourself, the GOSPEL will come alive to you as you begin to love the person’s very humanity. I promise you, this Gospel will taste much sweeter than the one whose rulebook instructed you not to associate with anyone who regularly commits taboo sins you’re supposed to be afraid of.

Jesus both taught and demonstrated that we should go to people who don’t act like us, don’t look like us and don’t believe the same as us in order to hear their stories and love them in response. Through this love, the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).

This is why, as a white Christian, I must be involved when my African-American brothers and sisters tell me they’re hurting. When they release cries of oppression, I listen, because Jesus was sent to bind up the brokenhearted. Therefore, I will attempt to do the same. When they mourn, I mourn, because Jesus was sent to comfort those who mourn. When they are grieving, I grieve, because Jesus was sent to provide for those who grieve. 

If I want to be like Jesus, I must step into the social narrative of our day and do what He would have done. If I settle for what is merely “spiritual,” I have completely missed His Gospel of love and compassion. On the other hand, if I have made an intentional move toward the so-called secular sphere and have there made a conscious effort to hear the stories and pain of those who don’t look like me, responding with pure compassion, I’ve actually stepped into the spiritual.

I challenge you to take that step. You’ll meet Jesus there. He’s already there, binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted. His Spirit is in the shouts of “we shall overcome.” His love is in the hearts of those who respond to the cries of the oppressed.

I want no part of a gospel whose believers would prefer to remove themselves from social issues, simultaneously refusing to validate the pain of others with passivity and instead retreating to what they’d call “more spiritual things.”

I’ll take the social Gospel instead… the one Jesus preached. I will not be silent.

Live it with me. Reject the fear-motivated, false dichotomies that have been perpetuated in the voices of those who prefer comfort over compassion. Reject safety in the name of love. Jesus didn’t save the world with safety. He saved it with a daring, reckless love.

Get woke. Stay woke.

Note: An incredible piece of art that encompasses the beauty of the social gospel is Kendrick Lamar’s song titled “How Much A Dollar Cost.” I challenge you to listen, read the lyrics, and act accordingly. Search for the metaphor at work in the song and read Matthew 25 to understand how it’s not so metaphorical after all.

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Your Left Didn’t Make Me Right

 

Your Left Didn't Make Me Right (1)

To the dude turning left,

All I could see was your left turn signal. You had it blinking, hoping you could get over into that turn lane, but we were all waiting behind you. The light was green. You weren’t moving. Which means I wasn’t moving, because I was two cars behind you. Didn’t you know I had to get to work by 4:15pm? It was 4:06pm, and you weren’t moving. What if I got to the parking lot by 4:12pm and couldn’t find a spot? The parking lot at work is usually packed on a sunny afternoon around this time. But you sat with your left blinker on, trying to get over to turn left while a huge line of cars, including mine, sat behind you. It’s as if you didn’t realize the parking lot might be full when I got to work. What were you thinking?

I was pretty frustrated with you. Not frustrated… angry. Not angry… furious. I screamed out my window and waved at you. “MOVE! You’ve GOT TO GO!” I half-assumed you wouldn’t hear me, but you did. You heard me loud and clear. You heard my words and you heard my anger… my fury.

Luckily for you, I negotiated a deal with the car in the lane next to me to let me in so that I wouldn’t have to wait behind you any longer. You were being selfish, anyway. Holding up a whole line of cars just so you could attempt to turn left. Didn’t you see the oncoming traffic that would prevent you from turning left, anyway? Your whole plan to turn left might not even come to fruition, anyway. But your plan to make us all late was sure working out alright.

The car in front of me pulled off into the right lane. Now I could see your whole car…

Your right blinker was on, too.

Right and left, they were both blinking simultaneously. You responded to my yelling and angry waving: “DUDE, MY CAR IS BROKEN DOWN!”

In an instant, we switched roles. You were innocent. I was the selfish one. You still weren’t moving, and I was still likely going to be late. But now you were justified in being stuck. Because that’s what you were…stuck.

I blew it, man. I was the merciless jerk that failed to see you were enduring through the horribly embarrassing experience of being broken down in the middle of a busy intersection at rush hour. But didn’t you know I had to be at work by 4:15?

I wasn’t even late.

Your left didn’t make me right.

 

 

 

 

Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis can be Everything Right with our Christianity

Syria Blog Post

This morning, I went to church. This is a typical Sunday morning activity for me and for other people who follow Christ. It’s kind of just what we do. I’ve been doing this my whole life. When I was younger, it’s because, by the grace of God, I had no choice (which I’m now very thankful for). Now, I choose to spend Sunday mornings worshipping with other believers and learning from God’s Word.

This particular morning, the guest speaker at our church spoke about The Gospel, which is a pretty great topic for a Sunday morning if you ask me. He delivered an inspiring, convicting, and grace-filled message about moving from a posture of consumption (a conception of Christianity in which we merely partake in Christian activities to “get filled up”) to a posture of faithful presence (following the call of Christ into the surrounding community and bringing the Gospel to the lost and broken through word and deed). I was inspired and moved throughout his message as he beautifully articulated the recent meditations of my mind and heart. One of those, you know, “this guy must have read my mind before going to the pulpit” kind of sermons.

He slipped in one phrase, though, that really captured me.

“A Gospel that doesn’t interact with strangers and outsiders is no Gospel at all,” he said gently.

This is a hard and inconvenient truth. It implies the risk of my safety, my security, my comfort. But it’s true. To experience the fullness of the Gospel, we must risk. We must defy social norms. We must travel beyond the borders of what we already know.

Isaiah 61:1-3 says:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption in order to salvage some type of control over our own security, I fear we won’t see the good news reach the poor, or the captives set free, or the bound escape their shackles.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll stare at our own reflections as we look down into our wells full of “the oil of gladness,” wishing we had poured it out when the time was right.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, to whom will we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor but ourselves?

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll be safe. We’ll be secure. We might even be happy. But we’ll never experience the true Gospel joy that floods into the heart when a captive is set free.

It just so happens that right now, the captives are knocking at our door. They’re begging for the oil of gladness to replace the smell of the burning of innocent flesh. They’re begging for the garment of praise to replace the deafening sound of bombs that’s too quickly becoming normal. They’re begging to wear a beautiful headdress to replace the ashes that already cover them in sorrow.

I know we’re scared. I know we don’t have the money. But I also know that if we follow Jesus into the unknown and the impossible, He will show us something we never expected to see. He will turn ashes to beauty. He will provide the oil of gladness instead of mourning. He will cloak us – and others – with the garment of praise.

We’ll suffer along the way. In fact, that’s inevitable (see 1st Peter). Our comfort and our security will be compromised, but our joy – and the joy of the captives – will multiply into eternity.

To my fellow believers: fear is real, but we already have the antidote. In fact, we’ve got an eternal supply. We can choose to simply consume our faith, or we can assume a faithful presence. If the latter becomes just what we do, we’ll hear these familiar words:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

Then the feast will begin, and we will not merely consume… We will, for the rest of eternity, be fully consumed by the love that risked all of its comfort so that we would truly live.

 

 

 

Why #MerryChristmasStarbucks is Everything Wrong with American Christianity

#MerryChristmasStarbucks Blog Photo

A few days ago, former pastor Joshua Feuerstein posted a video announcing a campaign against Starbucks due to their switch from festive holiday cups in previous years to a new plain red look for the 2015 holiday season. In the video, Feuerstein claims that Starbucks wanted to “take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups” because, according to the caption on his video, “they hate Jesus.”

Feuerstein goes on to explain that when he visited a Starbucks store, he told the employee making his drink that his name was “Merry Christmas” so that his cup would read “Merry Christmas.” He later says “Guess what, Starbucks? Just to offend you, I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt into your store, and, since you hate the 2nd Amendment, I even carried my gun!” Three days after the initial post of the video, it has over 130,000 likes and 380,000 shares. Feuerstein has started a #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign in which he urges other Christians to post pictures of themselves performing the same prank in an effort to stick it to Starbucks and keep “CHRIST” in Christmas.

This, my friends, is complete and utter ignorance.

This, my friends, is the reason my fellow students at Colorado State University think I’ll hate them when I tell them I’m a Christian.

This, my friends, is why my African-American brothers and sisters are left begging for answers from an evangelical community who turns a blind eye to their suffering.

This, my friends, is everything wrong with American Christianity.

Full disclosure: I’m now a Starbucks employee. I’m also a follower of Jesus. I also have no issues with the new plain red Starbucks holiday cups. As I start my job as a barista at Starbucks in the coming weeks, I’ll probably familiarize my taste buds with the Starbucks Christmas blend – yes, Christmas blend – by drinking from these plain red cups.

I do have issues with #MerryChristmasStarbucks, though. Most of American Christianity’s blatant problems are exposed in this one excruciatingly real social campaign.

First, I’ll take us back to WWJD. Yep, the four letters that perpetually encircled your wrist if you grew up as a Christian kid in the ’90s. I can certainly tell you that if Jesus walked into a Starbucks store and found that their new cups celebrating the occasion of his very own birthday were simplified to a new plain red look, he wouldn’t have boycotted the store. He wouldn’t have told the employees his name was “Happy Birthday Jesus” so that they’d have to glorify him by writing the phrase on his cup. He wouldn’t have done anything “just to offend” them. Instead, he probably would’ve done something like what my good friend Caleb wrote in a Facebook post concerning the #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign:

“If Jesus was to walk the earth today and enter the nearest Starbucks, what would his agenda be? Would he zero in on the closest employee and tell them to write, “Merry Christmas” on his peppermint mocha? Would he then smile smugly at the pained barista who had nothing to do with the corporation’s decision to implement a new design? Would he later boast about it to all his friends as they marvel at his moral victory?

Or perhaps Jesus would choose to order his coffee and ask the barista how her day has been. Perhaps he would invite her to sit with him during her break so he could get to know her. Christian, would he not choose to love her? Invite her to church, tell her what he did for her on the cross, explain grace and mercy, ask how he could serve her with the same humility he demonstrated 2000 years ago?

Christ is our example in all things, including everyday interactions that may seem inconsequential. Let us not lose sight of that this Christmas season, and let us boast in Christ and Christ alone as we live in a world, country, and state that is not our home and never will be.”

Beautiful. Profound. This looks more like the Jesus I know. This looks like a more accurate answer to “WWJD” than choosing to “offend” Starbucks and their disdain for the 2nd Amendment. As I consider what Jesus would have done upon walking into a Starbucks and finding a simplified red cup, a word I’ve been pondering lately comes to mind.

That word is meekness.

What’s meekness? Good question. It’s a tough term to define. I once heard Jefferson Bethke (a dude whose biblical stances on social issues I’d recommend paying attention to, by the way) call meekness “the inability to be offended.” That struck me hard, because I’m someone who struggles with being easily offended. Meekness is an extremely difficult characteristic to develop, because… what about my pride? What about my ‘being right?’ What about the fact that American corporations are trying to take Christ out of Christmas?

Meekness, however, is a fruit of the Spirit. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). When Jesus went to the cross and died for my sins, your sins, and the sins of Starbucks’ governing board, he showed the epitome of meekness. When he saw the sins of the world, he wasn’t offended. Instead, he was heartbroken. He went to the cross with full knowledge that Starbucks’ corporate decision-makers would one day change their holiday cups to a simple red design in an apparent attempt to take his name out of the season that exists only because of him. He subsequently died for their sins anyway, in hopes that they, too, would accept the free gift of his all-consuming love and live with him for eternity.

When we’re offended that Starbucks changes their cups, we completely fail to show the Christlike characteristic of meekness. Instead, we settle for the moral upper hand.

Another reason #MerryChristmasStarbucks is everything wrong with American Christianity is its improper, miscalculated expectation of Christian values from a non-Christian entity. Simply put, Starbucks is not a Christ-centered company. That doesn’t make Starbucks bad. In fact, Starbucks employees – many of whom are Christians, like myself – often show Christlike characteristics in their jobs, even if they do so unknowingly. Starbucks is a very friendly, comfortable place where millions of Americans enjoy drinking tasty coffee.

What Starbucks’ position as a secular entity does imply, though, is that we shouldn’t expect the corporation to make decisions based on Christian tradition or Christian values. What if Starbucks’ holiday cups were black? What if they featured upside-down crosses? What if they were embroidered with pentagrams? If these outlandish scenarios were in fact realities, I’d hope that Christians would be no less surprised – and no less offended – at the changes. Yet at the simple change to red, we’re shocked, offended, and filled with an anger that’s anything but righteous.

American Christianity has adopted the unfair, improper, and potentially hurtful position that non-Christians should somehow live by Christian moral standards before Christians show love to them. “If we fix their behavior, we’ll show ’em,” we think. Did we forget the words of Romans 5:8, that God presently and continuously demonstrates his love to us because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us?” 

This is sick and twisted. Jesus loved us while we were at our worst. In fact, in the words of Matt Chandler, without Jesus, even at our best we were utterly offensive to God! But he still loved us as his own, still chose us, and still appointed us to be representatives of his sacrificial love. Sadly, we’ve chosen to settle for spreading around our political opinions, allowing ourselves to be filled with pride after our preaching to the choir garners praise from those who already agree with us. We’ve settled for the sickness and self-righteousness of moralistic therapeutic deism rather than the life-changing and eternally powerful message of the Gospel. We’ve settled for religiosity, which frankly doesn’t attract anyone to Jesus. Instead, our moralism repels potential believers while we high-five our fellow Christians for sticking it to the man.

News flash: Jesus already stuck it to the man named death so that we wouldn’t have to. Stop expecting somebody to behave like you and agree with you before you love them. If Jesus expected perfect behavior out of you as a requirement for spending eternity with him, you’d be doomed from the start.

Lastly, Boko Haram has killed 3,500 people in terrorist attacks in Africa this year, many of which have targeted Christians. Up to 340,000 people have been killed in the crisis ravaging Syria over the last four years. ISIS continues to target both Christians and Muslims as it terrorizes the Middle East. Don’t forget, about 30 million people are currently stuck in the horrors of modern slavery. Let’s also add the racial injustice that’s drowning America in turmoil.

James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

But hey, have you seen those new Christ-less Starbucks cups?