Church, Where Do We Go From Here?

City of God Church,

Like many of you, I spent much of this weekend watching the events taking place around our country. I was heartbroken to witness the amount of hurt, sadness, and anger on display in various cities. However, it was beautiful to see many pictures of love, humility, and unity, even in our own city. It brought tears to my eyes to see protesters, city officials, and law enforcement officers praying together, and standing in solidarity for much of last night. Deep down, I genuinely believe that most human beings want the same things. We want the opportunity to live freely in this country. We want the chance to support and raise our families. We want to live in a society that truly lives out the ideal “all men are created equal.” Admittedly though, for many in our country, this has not been their experience throughout American history.

This Sunday, we will have an opportunity to dive more deeply into these issues. Specifically, how can we become people who, “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isa. 1:17)? Jesus entered this world, and he announced the coming of the kingdom of God. As that kingdom of God spreads, it should cultivate righteousness, peace, and love. As Christians committed to continuing the work of Christ, we must look for ways to pursue these characteristics in the communities God has placed us.

Before we get to Sunday, I wanted to take a moment and address one of the issues that has been so disheartening to me over the past few weeks and months. It feels as if we’re in an age where most people have lost the ability to empathize. We’ve lost our capacity to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). As our society has grown more fragmented and divided, it feels as if moments like this, for many, have become a game.

These moments have become an opportunity to score points for our point of view. They’re a chance to solidify the way we see the world. Rather than stepping into the hurt and heartache around us, emotionally charged issues become evidence to solidify the way we see the world. If you feel a certain way about what’s taken place the past week in our country, you can find a video, article, podcast, or thought leader who will support the way you think. In light of this excess of information and competing narratives, many people simply retreat into familiar and comfortable ways of assessing the world.

The access we have to information is incredible, but it has led to one of the more dangerous aspects of our current society. We can curate content for ourselves that perfectly aligns with the views we already have. These sources don’t challenge us to think through issues from another person’s perspective; instead, they re-enforce ways we’ve looked at the world for years. By selecting just the right news sources, social media accounts, and even sermons, we can have our worldview completely justified without recognizing the simple fact that others have lived a different experience than us.

This process of personally amplifying and silencing diverse voices based on our preferences only further entrenches us in our comfortable camps and factions. We’re no longer dialoguing with various viewpoints, we’re merely trying to shout louder than the person with whom we disagree. Someone expresses the heartbreak and pain that they are feeling, and they are met with statistics, “but what about,” and reasons why they should be less upset than they are.

When this is how we interact with one another, we’ve lost the image of God in humanity. No longer is the person across from me an image bearer who I am called to love. Rather, this is an enemy who threatens my viewpoint. At that moment, what’s most important is not “mourning with those who mourn,” but winning an argument. Jesus never said the world would know we’re his disciples by our ability to debate and silence others. He said, “By this all people will know you’re my disciples, “if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). However, we are incapable of loving our brothers and sisters when our primary identity is found in our politics, racial identity, or social standing. As long as we see other people primarily as a threat to our way of life, there is no hope for moving forward.

It’s the opening pages of the Bible that give us a foundation for pursuing the goal of equality. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Every human being, regardless of race, gender, or political leaning, is an image-bearer of God. If that’s true, our primary goal should be to come alongside our fellow image-bearers and help them discover how Jesus is the answer to their deepest longings. However, before the world will listen to our gospel, it has to know that we care. We don’t listen to people who don’t love us, and many segments of this country have tuned certain voices out because they don’t feel loved.  They feel as if they have been cast as the enemy, the competing worldview, or the statistic to be explained away. They don’t feel like people who are loved by God and God’s people.

I’ve talked to many the past few days asking, “What can we do about these things?” How should we respond to the injustice and evil we see around us? Can I suggest one simple thing? Admittedly, I’m relatively new to taking a long hard look at these issues. Like many, I simply assumed racism was a thing of the past, and that America had moved beyond the point where this was a continuing reality. My suggestion might be naive, but it was life-changing personally.

Would you commit to hearing from someone who has a different perspective and point of view from you on these matters in the coming weeks? Would you be willing to step outside of the usual voices that you and I listen to and simply seek to understand what life has been like for others in our country? Would you buy a cup of coffee for someone and hear their story?

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and have dinner with a friend who is a black pastor in our church planting network. For the next hour, I was shocked to hear many of his experiences growing up. Mornings when he woke up as a child to grotesque and evil things written on his home and driveway as some in his neighborhood attempted to get his family to move. I heard about encounters he had with various individuals throughout his life who treated him in shameful ways because of his skin color.

As I sit here writing this today, I can honestly say I don’t know how that feels. I haven’t faced obstacles because of my skin color, but because that hasn’t been my experience doesn’t mean I need to try and explain away the experience of my brother or sister. I don’t know how we got to the place where we’re unwilling to recognize that individuals have had different experiences than our own. I don’t know why this feels so threatening, or why many buck so hard against this concept.

If we’re unwilling to listen, we will never see events like what is happening this week beyond our personal points of view. We will never see these moments in our country as more than evidence to support our way of seeing the world. Are you willing to listen? Are you ready to give a different perspective a hearing? If we can’t even take this step, I don’t know where we go from here.

A black man is dead in Minneapolis who should be alive today. We should mourn that.

Many people have had a radically different experience in America based on their skin color. We should mourn that.

And we should be able to mourn those things without feeling like we need to nuance our grief in a thousand different ways. Grieving these things doesn’t mean you condone the violence and evil we’ve witnessed in some parts of our country this week. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about other injustices in our world.

But it means we should be able to look at those around us who are hurting and weep with them. Our arguments, positions, and viewpoints cannot become more important to defend than the people in this world we’re called to love, but sadly, it feels as if that’s where many are.

Like our Savior, who was willing to leave heaven and come to earth to live with us, will we be willing to enter others’ experiences? We will step into their pain and anguish, listen, and provide a shoulder to cry on? Will we model our Lord’s posture who came “not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28)?

The church has an incredible opportunity to be Jesus to a desperate world at this moment. Still, it will require us to lay down our idols, lay down our false identities, lay down our comfort and convenience, and see the needs of those around us. Whatever it is that keeps us from loving our neighbor well; it must be cast aside for Jesus’ sake.

I truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. It is the life that we find in him that can heal all that divides us at this moment. However, that gospel will fall on deaf ears if the world hears it from a church keeping the culture at arm’s length. Our posture matters as much as the message at this moment. May we be known by our love.

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