Pax Romana & Our Violent Peace

Pax Romana & Our Violent Peace
On Sunday, I had a chance to hear a powerful message by my pastor, Dr. Dennis R. Edwards. In our 3rd Advent message, on the topic of PEACE, Pastor Dennis made a reference to the way in which the Roman Empire boasted about its peace (Pax Romana). In his reference, he challenged this false idea of peace, in large part because it was maintained by violently squelching any one who disturbed or dared to challenge it. This was especially true for the folks stuck at the bottom of society.  Crucifixion was one of many torturous methods of control utilized by the Roman Empire, and this was the end that Jesus met.

The image that I most often think of when it comes to the Roman Empire is called the Appian Way, where it’s believed that more than 6,000 slaves were crucified after a revolt in 73 B.C.  It is said that they were left to hang, suffer, and die along the roadside as a statement to the rest of the empire. Their bodies lined the Appian Way for more than 130 miles. Yes, 130 miles.

 
appian
 
Fast forward to today.  One could argue, as many have, that America is an empire in the truest sense of the term. Depending on your station in life, that may or may not be a bad thing. Political viewpoints aside, I pose this question: How should a follower of Jesus view an empire?
 
As you’re deciding, take a look at the photo below. It visualizes a weird juxtaposition from #Ferguson.
 
Fegurson - Pax Romana
 
 The brightly lit sign reads, “Season’s Greetings,” and it is especially well contrasted against the jet black skies and black riot gear of the Ferguson Police. Oh, the irony! Deeper than just the image, can anyone see the correlation between the violent peace of Pax Romana and the vicious nature of the American system of law & order?
  •  If the Roman Empire’s tactics are now seen as barbaric, why are so many Christians ok with what’s happening right before our eyes?
  • If Jesus was victimized by the Roman Empire, where do we see Jesus in today’s system of law & order?
  • Would Jesus take a place of privilege today or would he suffer with and on behalf of those who suffer at the hands of the system?
 Think about it…
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#GospelChallenge, Part 1

#GospelChallenge, Part 1

This summer, I took part in an amazing conference hosted by CRU Inner City. It was called the Creating Options Together Conference and took place here in Minneapolis.  The aim of the conference was,  “To come together to declare God’s glory, to lift up and empower the church, and to demonstrate the power of the gospel to create options for those in poverty…fresh options that address real needs.”  It was humbling to share a stage with noted leaders like Dr. John Perkins and Dr. Carl Ellis.  It was also  incredibly meaningful to spend time hearing from new leaders (new to me) like Pastor Adam Edgerly and the brilliant Karen Ellis.  I was a speaker and presenter, but I learned much more than I could have ever imagined!

I have realized over the last few years that I have some pretty unique and varied groups of friends and colleagues.  I also realized that they often don’t interact with each other.  That means that the conversations that I have with one group of friends doesn’t always get carried over to another group of friends. It happens sometimes, but it’s not guaranteed.  Additionally, I’m hardly ever present with friend group A and friend group B at the same time.  I’m constantly looking for ways to bridge that gap. Hopefully, this blog has been and continues to become one of those ways.

To that end, in my next few blog posts, I’ll share some of my messages from the Creating Options Together Conference 2014.  I hope that it sparks a dialogue between my different groups of friends and leads to some deeper connections.

The title of this particular talk was #GospelChallenge: Addressing Racial Strife as a Threat to Your Ministry.

Here’s Part 1 of 3…I’d love to hear your thoughts!


(July 2014 – Bethel University Underground)

Good Afternoon,

Friends, you may have noticed a social media trend over the last few months. I’m referring to something called the #GospelChallenge.  #GospelChallenge is where one person is “called out” by another and given 24 hours to record a personal video singing a gospel song. The videos were everywhere, and some of them were excellent!

Unfortunately, for every one singer with actual talent…There were 100’s upon 100’s of singers with voices that only their mothers could love…There were others with voices that were made for sign language or for a tightly sealed, soundproof shower…There were many others that gave new interpretation to the verse, “Jesus Wept!” As funny as some of these videos were and as inspiring as some the others were, I wasn’t invited here today to talk about THAT kind of gospel challenge but about another reality that we are called to be aware of and respond to IF we really desire to see the good news of Jesus Christ reach the inner city, take root, and bring about kingdom transformation.

Later this week, each of us will leave the comfort of this conference and head back into our communities, cities, and neighborhoods, and there, waiting on us, will be a troubling reality. Waiting for us in each of our cities is a challenge that is as old as this nation itself and is entrenched in the fabric of this great experiment that we call America.  I’m talking about racial strife, the struggle that exists in our past and even today, that makes it very difficult for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to connect, trust, and grow together. Friends, I wish that I could talk about this racial strife from a strictly historical & sociological perspective and say that this is an issue that exists strictly in society.  I wish that I could stand here and describe this as a situation where the Church is poised to step in and correct what is wrong, but the reality is that when it comes to racial strife, American society and the American church share matching scars. These are matching, ugly scars that cannot simply be ignored.

The reality is that when it comes to racial strife, the church, has “dirty hands,” and those dirty hands stand as a challenge to the Gospel.

At best, the church in America has been “impotent” when it comes to being an effective agent for healing racial strife. At its worst, the church in America has been an active accomplice, a tool, used to create and maintain racial strife and artificial racial divides. Even without looking too hard, the very people that we would seek to engage and minister to in urban communities, ESPECIALLY BLACK MEN, can see that the church has not always been a trustworthy institution.

So what exactly am  I talking about when I refer to our #GospelChallenge?

When I say that we have a #GospelChallenge, I’m saying that our history, even our present existence as the church, has become a stumbling block, an obstacle to the spread of the gospel among the lost and hurting in urban areas. I contend that we cannot simply ignore the church’s history and expect it to simply go away. Instead, I propose that must we repent of our brokenness and intentionally rededicate ourselves to the work of reconciliation. Doing so is a critical first step towards creating space for the healing of racial strife, and it must be a part of any Christ-centered strategy for seeing the Gospel reach every corner of every urban area in America.

Question: Would you agree that racial strife has been a “stumbling block” for the American Church? I’d love to hear your thoughts and explanations.  As always, feel free to disagree!

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Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

Have you ever been discouraged?  Unless you have some serious antisocial tendencies, I’d guess that you have been discouraged at one point or another in your life.  For those of us who serve in ministry, discouragement is very real and present danger.  The very nature of our work makes us more susceptible to discouragement because we are often so heavily invested in the lives of others.  The average person can go out of their way to live insulated lives, shielded and protected from “mess,” but not us.  The very nature of our calling seems to demand that we give others access to our lives, while at the same time wading into the murky waters of their lives.  Can you imagine a pastor who refused to care about others? How about a minister who openly expressed her lack of concern for the condition of those around her? Wouldn’t she risk being called a sociopath?  Nobody wants to be called a sociopath…so we dive in! Loving, trusting, forgiving, all the while believing that this is the God-honoring thing to do!

Discouragement comes in when even your most sacrificial efforts fall flat, and the expectations that you had of something or someone bite you in the butt.  It happens to every minister that I’ve ever known…that’s not the point.  The issue that I’d like to wrestle with is the proper Christian response to discouragement.  Do we curl into a ball, lick our wounds, and whine?  Worst than that, do we lash out at those responsible?  Both of these are pretty damaging responses that will ultimately do more harm than good.  How, then, do you deal with discouragement in ministry?

Josh Griffin, one of my favorite youth pastors/bloggers shared some thoughts that I’d like to pass along.  You can read the full article here, but here’s my recap with some personal thoughts:

  1. Identify the Source of the Discouragement – What is the perceived root of the discouragement and what is its real cause?  It could be deeper than any isolated incident.  Discouragement can show up after “mountaintop experiences” as someone seeks to bring you back to earth, set you straight, or  “read you,” as my people sometimes say; however, in most cases, I’ve been able to trace my own bouts with discouragement to something deeper than an incident.  The truth is that I like to be liked.  I like and respect people, and I expect them to like and respect me back.  When that does not happen, I’m often caught off guard.  I’ve come to accept that the majority of the discouragement that I deal with in my life comes out of misguided expectations of others and some insecurity on my part.  Being so, each period of discouragement that I face is now seen as a chance to confront my own issues, as well as the issues of others that may be involved.  
  2. Employ the Appropriate Response – Even in discouragement, I am accountable for my response.  My response will say volumes about who I believe God to be and who I am in God.  In every encounter, I have the option to be either the crazy person driven by carnal emotions or I can bear witness to the Spirit’s power to overcome my fallen nature.  In my discouragement, I have learned to cry out to God who encourages my heart, grants me wisdom and strength through His Word, and sends me back into the game.
  3. Search the Criticism for Truth and Grow From It – If God can speak through a donkey, surely he can use the harsh words of another human being to reveal truth to us.  In the course of facing the discouragement, take the time to search for God’s voice in the criticism.  Is there something tucked away behind the ugly words that could help you become a better leader/minister/pastor?  Be courageous enough to sit in the criticism and mine for nuggets that might be valuable to your future.  It may be uncomfortable, even humbling, but it can help produce a better you in the end.

Discouragement is not new.  Discouragement will be with us for as long as we live.  Jesus knew this and told his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble.”   That has not changed for the modern believer.  The encouragement, though, is that Jesus also said in that same breath, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!”  Although discouragement is real and painful, we find encouragement in knowing that Jesus is victorious over discouragement in the same way that He is victorious over sin, death, and the grave.  In Christ, our grief becomes joy.

To know and believe this is the key to dealing with any and all discouragement!

Grief 2 Joy

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Mic Check…

Mic Check…
Everybody has a story. I’m ready to share mine.
Everybody has a voice…
USE IT!!!
How many people are there in the world? 6 billion plus? Oh, it’s eclipsed 7 billion, now?
 Either way, that’s a lot of people! It would seem with all of those people that the world would be a very loud place.  It would seem that we would easily be overwhelmed by the deafening sound of billions of people speaking, singing, fussing and creating all sorts of audible chaos.  To the contrary, though, the world can often seem like a very silent place, and I’m using the term silent in the most unappealing sense possible.  The world is quiet, in my opinion, because many people have lost their voice.  Not like  in the case of laryngitis, but in the sense that many people have had their voice taken away simply because of their standing in life.  In many parts of the world, if you are poor, if you are female, if you are of a darker hue, your are silent.  That is the rule and the expectation.  It is a sad but true reality.  But does it really have to be that way?
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