Shhh, listen. The gospel is whispering

22 06 2020

The other day I was reading ROADMAP TO RECONCILIATION, by Brenda Salter McNeil, when I came up a quote which I immediately recognized as drawn from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

As we conclude our study of that epistle, and as we are currently living through a time of unrest due to discrimination, I wanted to bring this scriptural teaching to our attention.


We believe

  • that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);
  • that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
  • that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);
  • that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity

Reading this statement brings to my memory the occasion when I took communion in a church in South Africa. It was a liturgical church, with many mixed ethnicities. The practice was to walk toward the front and receive a wafer from the priest, who would wipe the rim of the communion chalice and serve the next person in line. This was during a period of time when there was much publicity about the HIV outbreak.

I think of that occasion because, like this doctrinal confession, my taking communion with a common cup was, for me, a courageous act of faith.The doctrinal statement which I have excerpted above is a courageous act of faith on the part of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of Southern Africa during the apartheid era. Called the Belhar Confession, it was formally adopted by the denomination in 1986 as a theological confrontation of the sin of racism. 

Somewhere along the way, many of us adopted the notion that discipleship is risk-free and the gospel anemic. Truth be told, the good news of Jesus and His teachings are dangerous and revolutionary. It calls us to quiet activism, to sacrificial hospitality, and extravagant love.

The body of Christ, connected to Christ the head, is a reconciled and reconciling community. It’s counter-cultural power for good whispers quietly, and many people, even believers, fail to hear its call.

I declare my independence from rancorous diatribes filling today’s social interaction.

I reject the accusatory barbs by Christians, as anti-Christian.

I affirm love which has not lost sight of truth.

I decry divisive prejudice while honoring distinct cultures and views.

I appreciate protest for the “other,” but see greater hope in true friendship with another who is different.


If you would like to read the entire Belhar Confession, click here.
As a good resource for moving forward in reconciliation, see Roadmap to Reconciliation, by Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil here.





The problem with church highlights

6 10 2017

Some people don’t care for soccer because, in their view, there is not enough scoring. They may watch a few game highlights, but an entire game?  No way.

I identify. There are sports I don’t understand and therefore don’t watch. Like cricket.

But I undstand soccer and therefore know that where the uninitiated sees scoreless activity, I see skill, coordination, teamwork, fluidity, build-up, and maybe even a GOOOAAALLL!!!  I also see struggle, frustration, play-acting, and momentum change — all of which add to the exhilaration of a score.

Highlights do not tell the real story.

To state the obvious, the insistence on highlights has infected the church. I’ll spare the details, and merely say that we are not getting the real story of what God wants to do in His churches.

The real story of the church includes patience, confession, discussion, training, forgiveness, and decline.  And yes, the occasional SCOOOORES of teamwork, good preaching, reconciliation, amazing worship, and new disciples!

Ancient believers in the monastic tradition practiced the “vow of stability.” After an initial period of time, during which the individual and the community assessed their mutual “fit,” the individual would take a vow to stay with that community through good and bad. Why?

Does this speak to you current experience in church?





Here’s why your church has ups and downs

16 04 2017

Everyone has a church story.
…It was wonderful. It was horrible.
…I quit for now. I quit for good.

There are many statements we hear about the church:
…If it weren’t for the people, I would love the church.
…If you find the perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll wreck it.
…I love Jesus. I just can’t stand the church

We often think that when we have a good church experience we do well in our Christian life, but when the church struggles we fall back. This can be the case. Division, apathy, immorality and many other problems can cause harm to believers.

But consider this:

–>> Every church will have struggles and these struggles are essential to spiritual maturity.

One of the primary ways God will conform you to the image of Christ is through your positive and negative experiences in Christian community.

Please allow me to explain with these three points:

1. True Christian community is gospel formed.

By “gospel formed” I mean that the gospel (which at the core is Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ) is the pattern God uses to shape mature disciples. This is true for us as individuals and Christian groups.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, only to say that when communities go through death-like experiences, it is very hard!

2. Hard times in community call us to greater growth.

The Apostle John reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice remains the pattern for true community, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16).

Do you see the death of Christ in that verse? Do you see the sacrifice asked of believers in community? The church goes through hard times so that you can learn to imitate your sacrificial Savior.

I know, not easy to hear!

3. Because Jesus rose from the dead, His communities can experience His risen life.

The community of Christ is to be conformed not only to His death but also to His resurrection!  As we endure, we will experience His grace, and will realize that we are living a supernatural life in community. And the world will see that we are different because Christ is living His life through us.

It is sad that we sometimes bail out on a church in its death-stage and miss out on its resurrection-stage!

That’s why most times we should hang in there.

Would you like to learn about being gospel-formed? God is conforming you to Christ in many ways — not only in community. Also in your family, in holiness, and in suffering.

I have written some lessons which explain it. They are prepared and ready to go. All you need to do is sign up for my “good news giveaways”!

Hope to see you soon!

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A real hope for racial equality

15 01 2017

In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I write out of my burden for our wounded nation. For my African-American friends who I believe when they tell me of their experiences with institutional racism, and for those in the privileged class who are prone to hear but not listen, look but not perceive the plight of so many of our fellow citizens.  So I write briefly to hopefully add light and a challenge:

1. “Racial equality” will never happen across the United States.

2. Cultural and economic interdependence is embedded in the true church.

Let me seek to prove these statements:

First, “Racial equality” will never happen across the United States.

Dr. King, who is a person in American history I deeply admire, invoked Biblical themes in his blend of Christian ministry and social action. One only need read the brilliant and beautiful “I have a dream” speech to hear the echoes of the prophet Isaiah (in chapter 40) who foresaw mountains being leveled and valleys lifted. Isaiah’s forecast referred to making a highway for a visiting king, the Lord.

That hints at the reason I say racial equality will never happen across the U.S., because America is not equivalent to the people of God. I wish it were different, but a secular state like America can never muster the selflessness and compassion needed to bring racial equality. As much as I believe that the sacred and the spiritual should not be separated, this is one case where the distinction is necessary. 

The greed, love of power, clinging to comfort and privilege are too embedded in our secular country to expect that which only a sacred people can effect. Government will not bring equality. A movement of citizens will not bring justice.  This leads to a word of hope.

Second, Cultural and economic interdependence is embedded in the true church.

I have sought to choose my words carefully. When I say that racial equality will never happen “across the United States,” I refer to the kind of broad scale transformation which some seem to demand when they speak of America changing completely. Evil forces which divide and destroy will not let this happen.

However, the true church of Jesus Christ offers hope of supplying enclaves of interdependence between people of all ethnicites, cultures, and social standings. Many scriptures support this truth, and I will here cite just one. The Apostle Paul writes about the “body of Christ,” i.e. all those, everywhere, who have placed their faith in the saving work of Christ alone (His sacrificial death, His burial, and His bodily resurrection). In calling this massive host of people a “body,” Paul says that we are inseparable from one another and cannot live out our purpose without each other. We are spiritually and practically interdependent.

The chapter containing this teaching (1 Corinthians 12) primarily refers to the interdependence of Christians with regard to “spiritual gifts” such as teaching, healing, and administration. But there is a reference to social issues embedded in this teaching that is easily overlooked and therefore ignored:

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13 New King James Version)

All genuine believers in Jesus Christ, no matter what their descent or language, whether they are privileged or trapped in cycles of obligatory service, are dependent on each other. The love of Christ, and our love for Christ, is expected by the sacred writings to so dominate our way of life that the divisiveness of society is eradicated by the oneness of our faith. Conformity to the character of Jesus is to create in His followers a “new man” that reflects Him (Col. 3:10-11).

I do not say that it is pointless to work for justice and equality in society at large.  My plea is that we who truly know Christ intentionally demonstrate that the only true way to bring hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak is by realizing our interdependence on each other in the body of Christ. We are incomplete without each other. The new community in Christ can only reflect Christ when we intentionally love those whom the world expects us to hate.

Photocredit: WPImageSmart





Have our fears sent Jesus away? -6 observations

25 11 2016

As promised in my prior post, I draw these six observations from the story in which Jesus cast demons out of a man, after which the village asked Jesus to depart because they were afraid (Luke 8:26-39).

  1. Where demons bring fear on one person, they have affected many others as well.  Let’s not imagine the possessed man was an isolated case. This was a society infected with a spirit of fear. The deliverance of the man was needed by many others. So why didn’t many others desire deliverance?
  2. A group of people can be so held by fear that they fear deliverance. I expect some say that the people wanted Jesus to leave so He would not ruin any more herds of swine. This misses a more significant truth. The people were seized with fear. This incident teaches us about spiritual dynamics of fear, as well as Jesus’ response to it.
  3. The beginning of deliverance triggers increased demonic resistance. This is not primarily a story of pigs and villages, but of spiritual conflict taking place on earth. The presence of Jesus stirs up trouble in the demonic world. The demons know they could be cast from terra firma into the abyss by a word from Jesus. We earthlings are that close to the spiritual battle (Lk. 8:31). The demons did not want to be sent out of that area (Mk. 5:10). They clung to hold on to the control they had gained.
  4. The presence of Jesus does not remain where a spirit of fear asks Him to leave (Lk. 8:37). We rightly struggle when rejected for our commitment to Christ. We are burdened by the plight of the lost who are destined for hell. Jesus is very realistic as He encountered rejection of His help. Hr provides us an example. It is a matter of fact that fear eliminates the possibility of seeing God at work. American society, and even Christians, are seized with fear today. No wonder the presence of Jesus is being withdrawn from us.
  5. Those who have been delivered by Jesus are charged to remain as witnesses of His miraculous power. Jesus forbade the man from accompanying Him and instead charged him to stay and proclaim all that Jesus had done. We are not told whether the delivered follower had any positive effect. The point is that Jesus entrusts His witness to those who follow Him.
  6. Jesus was not, and is not deterred by rejection, but brings His word intentionally to resistant cultures and leaves a witness. Jesus was rejected in His home town because people were offended by Him (Lk. 4:28-30). Here, on the far side of the lake, He was rejected because people were afraid of Him. But that did not prevent Him from going there.

Does Jesus withdraw Himself from Christians today, regretfully hearing us protest His deliverance as we cling to our cherished fears?

Do we idolize safety such that we fear the risk of the cross-life? Do we fear disease and extremism such that we have abandoned faith in His power to deliver?

Do we treasure government and medical science to the extent He can do no miracles in our society nor heal our diseases? Do we assess the risk to our livelihood and beg Jesus to leave our possessions undisturbed?


fears cripple

In our next post, we’ll look at what can happen if we invite Jesus to stay and help us with our fears.

[photo credit: christianchat.com]