What does Jesus have to say to Kaepernick?

August 31, 2016 Leave a comment

kaepernick

 

What does Jesus have to say about Kaepernick? What does he have to say about challenging the sacred cows and symbols of his day? Let’s examine something in light of #Kaepernick.

Think about this. Why did Jesus consistently heal on the Sabbath? He could have healed on a Tuesday. He could have given sight on Thursday mornings. Why on the Sabbath? Here’s what might be at work…

The Sabbath was one of the sacred cows of Jewish religious life. Yet, those who practiced sabbath often overlooked those in need (Luke 13). Jesus consistently heals (which according to religious leaders constituted work) on the Sabbath. Why did he do it?

Maybe because in this act he was protesting the inconsistency in their ideals (Torah) and their practice. He was exposing the dissonance of their spirituality. He offends the sensibilities of those who have held to the law of Sabbath, but not to the renewal it was to create.

Jesus could have healed on Tuesday, but it would not have as effectively called attention to the ways the religious community had gone astray.

Maybe we should try to see the protest of the Flag in this instance in a similar vein. There’s something under the flag that needs to be perpetually addressed.

Jesus didn’t get rid of the Sabbath, he wanted to see it reflect its original intention.

Kaepernick didn’t burn the Flag. As I see it he just wants to see it reflect its original intention.

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A simple Mother’s Day guide for pastors

Mother’s Day is a complex thing. At New Life we try to embrace the tension by offering words like these (below). As a pastor I’ve had my share of conversations with women who struggle on this day. If you’re a pastor, being aware of this tension is very important.

Here’s some words we generally offer when we gather for Sunday worship on Mother’s Day:
“Mother’s day is wonderful day to celebrate so many women in our world and in our church in particular.
Mother’s day is a time for joy and celebration…it’s a day to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we have for our mothers….
At the same time, Mother’s Day carries with it many different emotions and experiences.

For some, it’s a difficult day. Here’s why:
1) Maybe you’ve lost your mom.

2) Maybe you are a mom that has lost a child.

3) Maybe you’re a woman who’s been trying to have a baby, but you have not been successful.

4) Maybe you are single and you are waiting to meet the right person, and it’s been difficult, and this day reinforces your pain.
It’s complicated.
But, whomever you are, we want to affirm 2 things:
A) whether you have children or not, you are called to be a spiritual mother…you are called to birth and nurture children in the kingdom of God.
B) your identity is not determined by whether you are a biological mother or not. Your identity is based on the truth that you are loved unconditionally by God. That’s where your identity is found.”
At this point, we ask all women in the room to stand. We then offer words of blessing over them.

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My favorite books of 2015

December 27, 2015 Leave a comment

My Top 10 books of 2015 (#s 2-10 are in no particular order)
1) War against all Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis (provocative perspective on the complex relationship between the US and PR. Anyone who wants to understand and address the current economic woes of PR needs to read this book. My book of the year!

2) The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzero (Pete has been my most influential mentor in my time of following Christ. He writes from a place of experience and wisdom. Must read for all leaders.

3) Crossover preaching by Jared Alcantara (wonderful take on preaching in multiethnic settings using the great Gardner Taylor as a model. My favorite preaching book of 2015. 

4) Living gently in a violent world by Haweraus and Vanier (two very different men writing about gentleness. Incredible insights.

5) The imperfect pastor by Zack Eswine (every pastor should read this. Period)

6) Under the unpredictable plant by Eugene Peterson (Peterson has influenced my thinking and writing as much as anyone. This is my favorite Peterson book. Must read for leaders and pastors)

7) Redeeming sex by Deb Hirsch (An amazing treatment of the integration of sexuality and spirituality. I recently met Deb and was blown away by her insights and compassionate witness to Christ)

8) Black and Free by Tom Skinner (Tom Skinner preached what I believe to be one of the best sermons, if not the best, on racial justice. The book is basically his sermon in written form. Powerful powerful powerful. Here’s the link to the sermon he gave in 1970: https://youtu.be/bvKQx4ycTmA

9) Paul the Spirit and the people of God by Gordon Fee (my favorite book on the person and ministry of the Spirit. I met with Gordon a few months ago at his home and was inspired by his desire to see the Spirit move in our churches.

10) The Jesuit guide to almost everything by James Martin (I’m a huge fan of Fr. James Martin, SJ. I read everything he writes).

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Keep Christ in Christians

December 17, 2015 Leave a comment

keepchrist

Over the years we have witnessed an intensification of Christians campaigning for Christ to be kept in Christmas. This issue brings to the surface many different important discussion points, namely, the place of faith in the public square, the continued waning influence of Christendom, pluralism and the like.

All of these issues are worth discussing and engaging on some level or another. This Advent season however, I’m more concerned with a different issue.

I get the idea of keeping Christ in Christmas, but I’m more concerned about keeping Christ in Christians. What difference does it make if we keep Christ in Christmas, but our lives are not reflecting Christ in us?

Advent is the season to refocus our energies to create margin and space for the life of Christ to dwell in and flow through us. One of the fundamental contradictions of Christian spirituality (at least in the United States) is our deep desire to have Christianity pervade our culture but not have Christ permeate our being.

Advent is the time however, to recalibrate our lives and embrace the way of Christ. This is what fueled the Apostle Paul’s ministry. Paul clearly understood that it is possible to be fully in Christ but not have the life of Christ fully formed in you. Paul wrote,

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19)

At the core of Paul’s anguish is the reality that the way to a flourishing life that bears witness to God’s kingdom comes through people formed by Christ. This is what is critical for followers of Christ to focus on. However, it’s easier to focus on a slogan than it is to focus on our souls.

It seems to me that the widespread concern about keeping Christ in Christmas springs from fear. Christians have long enjoyed the privilege of framing the dominant cultural narrative through Christian symbols and values. Many Christians are holding on for dear life to maintain a place in society that is rapidly changing. But there’s nothing to fear.

Historically, Christianity has flourished when it’s been on the margins. When pushed to the margins, God’s power has been available in fresh ways. The early church experienced this. So did the Desert Mothers and Fathers and many others through the centuries.

This is why Advent is so important. Our primary task is the creation of interior space for Christ to be born in us afresh. This is the most effective witness we have.

When our focus is on maintaining control over the cultural landscape, Christ is often not “kept in us.” The need for cultural power and influence often drives Christ from our lives. There is an appropriate place for the symbols and values of Christianity to inform and influence public discourse and the common good. The problem becomes when our lives are oriented around dominating that conversation.

This is why spiritual formation matters so much to me as a pastor. I’m aware of the many insidious ways that Christ is not kept in us.

Christ is not kept in us when we take on the pace of our culture, living without any margin for reflection and prayer. Christ is not kept in us when we adopt the consumer driven mentality that bases identity on accumulation of stuff. Christ is not kept in us when we settle for the superficial definitions of happiness and disregard the joy that comes only from God. Christ is not kept in us when we spend our energy worrying about our cultural power and influence.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Every Advent season we are invited to a mutual indwelling with God. We are invited to root our lives in Christ, and allow Christ to be rooted in us. At the end of the day, Christ might not be kept in Christmas from a cultural point of view, but we can continue allowing Christ to be kept in us.

This season, let’s keep Christ in Christians.

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Midday Prayer – Sept 2nd 2015

September 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Centering verse:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,[e] just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…                                                               (Hebrews 4)

Silence: 2 minutes

 Psalm 89

1 I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
through all generations.
2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant,
4 ‘I will establish your line forever
and make your throne firm through all generations.’”[c]

5 The heavens praise your wonders, LORD,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
6 For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD?
Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings?
7 In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
he is more awesome than all who surround him.

New Testament Reading – Acts 12:6-10

 

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

Devotional

The number one enemy of Christian spiritual formation is exhaustion. As a result, one of the primary activities (or anti-activities) of human life is being neglected: sleep. The average person needs approximately eight hours of sleep in order to maintain health. This tells me that God has designed humanity to spend nearly one-third of our lives sleeping. This is a stunning thought. We were made to spend a large portion of our existence essentially doing nothing. Sleep is a perfect example of the combination of discipline and grace. You cannot make yourself sleep. You cannot force your body to sleep. Sleep is an act of surrender. It is admitting that we are not God (who never sleeps), and that is good news.

James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God

5 Minutes of silent prayer

The Our Father

Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours in the kingdom, power, and the glory forever, Amen.

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Midday Prayer (Patient Trust)

August 27, 2015 Leave a comment

Every Wednesday, our staff has a midday prayer. Here’s the daily office I created for us today. The theme was patient trust. Feel free to use it during your day.

Silence and Centering

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.  Psalm 37:7

Silence 2 minutes

1st Reading

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.

4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.

5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare.

New Testament reading   Colossians 1:10-11, 3:12-14

10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Devotional reading: Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete

– Pierre Teilhard De Chardin (French Philosopher/Jesuit Priest)

 5 minutes of waiting on God (which word or phrase stands out to you. What might God be saying to you?)

The Our Father (slowly pray this)

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, Amen.

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7 signs your church is working for racial reconciliation

August 19, 2015 Leave a comment

I have the amazing privilege of pastoring a church with over 73 nations represented. For 28 years we have sought to be a church that offers a sneak preview of what’s to come when Jesus fully and finally reigns. When it comes to racial reconciliation/justice, we have worked especially hard (while not always succeeding) to reflect the power of the reconciling gospel.

I wanted to capture a few signs of what it means to be in a church working for reconciliation. All too often diversity obscures (and even perpetuates the status quo of racial fragmentation) the vision of reconciliation described in the New Testament. Diversity is a good thing, but it doesn’t go far enough. Jesus died not so we would simply experience an aesthetic multiethnic experience, but that through his death and resurrection, we would be the new people of God. Here’s some of the signs that flow from our context in Queens.

How do you know you’re in a church working for reconciliation:

1) You talk about history, specifically the history of racism in the United States

2) Those in power (highest levels of leadership) reflect the ethnic/racial demographic in a church.

3) The gospel that is preached is not simply about personal salvation, but about becoming the new people of God

4) The church works towards addressing systemic and symptomatic issues pertaining to justice and mercy

5) The church doesn’t adhere to “colorblindness.” We see color and celebrate it.

6) We intentionally move towards others from different backgrounds, seeking to experience the gifts of God in that culture, ethnicity, etc.

7) Repentance and forgiveness permeate the church community

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