On September 15, 1999 I waited up through the night to see if my best friend was still alive. Dax Hughes was my college roommate years before and at the time of the shooting both of us attended the same seminary. He was also college pastor at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas and was on campus that night when Larry Ashbrook opened fire in a crowded sanctuary at a See You At the Pole rally. I left phone message after message (this is before we had cell phones) for him in hopes that he, and his wife Christi were still alive and not injured. It was around 3:30 a.m. that I finally received a call from him and although my fears were briefly relieved, the carnage left by this event would rock a church and community. It would also mean that Dax would forever be linked to any other massive violent event, especially church shootings. Today, Dax and I serve as senior pastors together in the same church. When I saw the news of the Charleston shooting, I immediately went back to that fateful night.
I’m so disturbed by the Charleston shooting. As a pastor I can’t help but think about my own vulnerability. As a church goer I’m hit by the irony that the church is supposed to be a place where broken people can find love. Love certainly makes us vulnerable. As an American I fear the violence and hate all around us whether it is motivated by race, religion or some other source. As a Christian I seek to understand events like this from the perspective of my faith and the Scriptures that I have so diligently studied to shape me.
With that in mind, here are my initial thoughts that I pray are shaped by a truly Christian perspective.
(1) All people should grieve this event. Black, white, Christian or not – this is pure tragedy.
(2) I don’t blame anyone for thinking that race might have played a large role in this tragedy. No, not every act of hate or injustice is racially motivated. Hate is a human issue not just a race issue. Many acts of violence are against people of the same race. However, racial violence has been an epidemic since the world began. If you are a Christian and don’t take racism seriously then you haven’t read your Bible closely enough. It is a major biblical topic including the dominant question of the New Testament church (Acts 15, Galatians 2:11ff). This is the reason that part of the glory of Jesus will be gathering people together of every race, tribe, and language.
(3) Our culture struggles to believe in God but how can it deny the existence of sin? The culture’s view of humans rests on a philosophical assumption very different from the Christian one. The culture tends to believe that we are born neutral or good. When things like this shooting occur we want to find what went wrong in the shooter’s environment. From a Christian perspective, we will never deal with the root cause of hate, violence and injustice until we look within ourselves. Sin is breaking the world. It breaks individual hearts and communal harmony.
(4) Unfortunately, every public place must prioritize security, including churches. I’ve been told by many people, “we have a small church so we don’t need a security plan like large churches do.” This is just naive. Shooters rarely use any logic at all meaning every church must consider security a priority.
(5) If you are a white Christian then the victims of this shooting aren’t “their” people, but rather “your” people. I have more in common with a follower of Jesus whose skin is a different color than mine than I do with another white person who rejects Jesus. My primary identity is Christ not color (Gal. 3:28). My spiritual family includes all those who have also been adopted into God’s family by Jesus. These are the people with whom I will spend eternity.
(6) The gospel means that God is the greatest victim of violence and injustice in the history of the world. Instead of ending injustice, God entered into it through the cross. He didn’t end violence with force; but instead, He countered it with love. At the cross the only sinless one that has ever existed was violently executed. In doing so, He redeemed injustice and turned it into saving love. For me, there is no answer to injustice more beautiful and satisfying.
“The darkness and the light are both alike to You.” (Psalm 139:12b)
Private eyes…are watching you…they see your every move. Hall and Oates might not have liked rich girls very much but they did get one thing right way before their time. Secrets don’t exist. They aren’t real. Secrets are imaginary. Complete privacy is a myth. Sorry, Mr. Roboto…you don’t really have a secret.
Sony found this out the hard way. If you haven’t heard, the movie making mogul was hacked. Materials they thought were private are now very public. The CIA now believes that the hacking was done by representatives of North Korea in efforts to get Sony to drop the forthcoming movie The Interview. The plot of this movie poses kings of comedic bawdiness Seth Rogen and James Franco as two buffoons who are set to interview Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, and are instructed to assassinate him.
The threat worked. The movie is being at least delayed if not completely dropped.
There are no secrets. Not really. We didn’t need advances in technology for this to happen. Secrets didn’t exist way before “big brother” did. There have never been secrets. Secrets are nothing more than another defense mechanism created by the human need for protection. We think that we can bury the things we don’t want others to see, but it’s a lie. Secrets will be exposed one way or another. The Bible has been clear on this for some time. In fact, there are two reasons that secrets will never remain incognito.
(1) God sees and knows everything about you (Psalm 139:1-6). Even if you think you have bamboozled everyone else, you haven’t fooled God.
(2) The hidden things inside of you will eventually come out of you (Matt. 15:19). Even if the secret doesn’t get fully revealed to others, it can express itself in various ways. For instance, it takes a great deal of emotional energy to keep a secret. Mental gymnastics are necessary to deal with the fear of exposure and the management of guilt. No wonder we are so depressed and fatigued. Family secrets find their way to influence even those who don’t know the secret, like water finds cracks in a container. Secrets contribute to broken marriages, ability for intimacy, stress level, fatigue, depression, and even physical illness.
Is there any good news? Of course. God is full of grace for the humble who acknowledge the truth about themselves. If we could only see the love of God we would no longer exhaust ourselves trying to apply fig leaves to our nakedness. We can find peace in confession, which can only occur when we are convinced that God’s response to our honest assessment is love. The gospel is not an image based attempt to earn God’s love, it is a resting in the truth that He already loves us. It beckons us out of our shadows and secrets, to find peace in the truth.
You know the story. A married couple falls out of love. There used to be a spark, but it’s gone. “We just fell out of love – it happens” is the mantra of this culturally-accepted narrative in which marriage supposedly kills romance.
This is backwards. It isn’t marriage that is killing romance; it is romance that is killing marriage. No other society in the history of the world has so inflated the importance of romance for the sake of life fulfillment like we have. Having an explosive, chill-creating, heart-fluttering romance is now a civil right…no, it’s more than that – it’s a human right! We need it like we need air to breathe. (I believe it was The Hollies who told us that “all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you;” and wasn’t it LeAnn Rimes who wondered “how can I breathe without you?”)
Romance, in and of itself, is a good thing given by God to create bonds. However, like all things God has created, we turn it into an idol. We are so intoxicated by romance that our joy and worth are based upon whether we currently have a thriving romance. When we don’t, life doesn’t feel worth living. What was meant to be a tool for us has become a toxin. Toxins kill, and this one kills marriage in particular.
Here’s how the homicide takes place:
Step 1: Romance idolatry creates inflated expectations that one’s spouse could never live up to.
Step 2: Romance idolatry creates dissatisfaction in the marriage because those expectations were not met.
Step 3: Romance idolatry creates the idea that the spark of romance is available outside of the marriage (affair or divorce).
What’s the answer? We have to view marriage according to God’s design. Marriage isn’t built upon emotional or romantic intensity. It is built upon intimacy (“two become one flesh”) – the sharing of life together. Intensity is not a bad thing, but it should be the result of intimacy not the cause. Intensity is the joy of being known and knowing someone deeply (intimacy) and graciously. It is the joy of true intimacy in which life is shared with your spouse uniquely because he or she is set apart from the other 7 billion people in the world.
When intimacy is the cause of intensity, then love grows because time affords more shared experiences to value. When intensity if the cause for intimacy, then it will dwindle because it will value the relationship on fickle emotions.
On the commute to my office this morning, I was listening to ESPN radio, as I often do. Jorge Sedano (@SedanoESPN) is filling in for Colin Cowherd today and discussing the activity of the Freedom From Religion Foundation that has filed a complaint and called for the firing of Dabo Swinney, the Clemson Football Coach, over allegations that he has forced his religion upon players. Coach Swinney has apparently distributed Bibles, encouraged prayer and devotion exercises, and even baptized a player. The FFRF claims that his actions are a violation of Church and State given that Clemson is a public institution.
So go ahead and do it. Tell him that he cannot involve his students with certain religious activities and conversations. That’s fine. As an evangelical pastor and a follower of Jesus I can be fine with that IF YOU SHOW SOME CONSISTENCY BY CALLING OFF ATHEIST PROFESSORS WHO PREY ON CHRISTIAN STUDENTS. Jorge Sedano’s “take” is that you can’t push religion on these “kids” as a football coach who is the “gateway to your future.” Well, Sedano, what do you think is happening every day to Christian students who enter the class of an atheist professor? Atheism is a take on religion, isn’t it? It makes a claim about God and a philosophical viewpoint of the world. Are professors not also gatekeepers to a student’s future? Do they not also have power over their students? As a pastor, I have seen scores of students launched out of our church to attend a university only to be inundated with atheistic or anti-religious beliefs by professors. They distribute atheistic material to these students (just like Coach Swinney distributes Bibles) and they make a joke out of people of faith. What a DOUBLE STANDARD!
Some will say that college is a place to explore worldviews and to be challenged. It’s a place for a free flow of ideas, therefore the atheist professor is covered by academic freedom. Then we must say the that the same is true for Coach Swinney. You can’t have it both ways. You can either tell Coach Swinney and others like him that they cannot use their position to influence people toward faith, and then do the same with atheism, or both must be free to express their views. I’m not asking for Christianity to be given the freedom to violate anyone’s conscience. I am, however, asking for consistency.
A study by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reveals that selfies are responsible for a rise in plastic surgery. If you don’t know, a selfie is a picture taken of one’s self using a phone. Apparently, selfies have resulted in leading many people to criticize their appearance to a greater extent, which has led to more plastic surgery.
How do you see yourself? I’m not talking about your physical appearance alone. I’m talking about how you see the entirety of your life – your attitudes, priorities, relationships, behaviors, and soul. This is an important determiner for each of us concerning how we live our lives. For Christians, it is especially important because the Bible has much to say on the topic. Here are a few thoughts about self knowledge.
(1) We all have blind spots (Psalm 139:6; Matt. 5:3-7; James 1:23-24). There are things you don’t see or know about yourself. Physically, you have never seen your own face directly with your eyes because the placement of your eyes won’t let you. You and I are limited to know ourselves just as easily spiritually and emotionally.
(2) Other people can harm our view of ourselves (James 3:1-12). Toxic and ugly words flung by injured people can infiltrate our minds and blur the foundational worth we have of being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27).
(3) Other people can help us come to see the truths that escape our own sight. A person who loves you and can speak the truth (Eph. 4:15) can help you come to know your self better. Accountability and soul-reflection are universally needed. Blind spots hurt us. They keep us in destructive patterns. But exposing the truth (Eph. 5:13), as difficult as that can be, sets us free.
(4) The Christian gains self-knowledge in Christ (find the phrase “in Christ” throughout the NT). Christ reveals three things about us. First, Christ reveals the truth of our sin by exposing it on the cross. Destructive blind spots are revealed and our denial is challenged. Second, Christ reveals our worth to God through His gracious love that cannot be stopped by our sin. Third, Christ reveals wisdom about the best way to live, in that He shows us the goodness of a selfless life. The example of Jesus is the wisdom of God right before our eyes.
Also published on http://www.ronedmondson.com/2013/11/the-myth-of-a-pastor.html
Leprechauns, the Yeti, vampires, and the American pastor have one thing in common. They are all subjects of mythology. A rich folklore exists for each of them. However, the pastor is the only one being smothered by myth. Why? Because only pastors are real, and only pastors are dying by trying to live up to the myth that surrounds them.
If you are a pastor, you need to be aware that your church has built a narrative about you that you can never live up to. It’s not completely your fault, although you are probably contributing to it. The myth was well and alive before you ever arrived on the scene. The focus of this myth is that you are hardly human. Here are a few possible myths:
- You can meet needs without having needs. Your calling is to empty yourself in the lives of others, but very little room exists for you to be lonely, hurt, insecure, tempted, and needy.
- You are the perfect family member. Your marriage should be strong at all times. You are to be a parent like Ozzie Nelson not Ozzie Osbourne.
- If you happen to struggle, make sure it’s with something minor and in the past. The myth would love to state that you never struggle, but if you must struggle, it needs to be with something harmless. Certainly depression, lust, addiction, and broken relationships are off the list of viable options unless they occurred years ago and have been triumphantly defeated.
- Your spiritual life constantly sizzles. You have a special “line” to God. Your moral life has no failures, and you always “feel” close to God.
- You live up to your sermons. Every preacher must decide whether to preach up to God’s standards or down to his own life ability. Many people who hear you think there is no difference.
- You are excellent at all of the various aspects of ministry. You’re an introvert that can study like a scholar. At the same time, you are an extrovert like a cruise director. You must be funny and stern at the same time. You must be simultaneously creative and well structured.
The result of the myth is that pastors are burning out, falling out, and breaking down morally in record numbers. Souls are empty, leaving pastors susceptible to moral failure and depression. What can we do?
First, it is up to every pastor to avoid the pride that desires to live up to the myth. It’s not simply a matter of workload management or needing more encouragement (although these can help). The issue comes down to whether or not a pastor tries to live out the myth or if he rests in the truth and grace of God. The myth demands so much energy, while authentic and honest living, including confession concerning our neediness, brings rest.
The heart of the Gospel is that we are helpless and needy. The Gospel does not become obsolete once we are initiated into salvation. It becomes the anthem of our new existence, resulting in a Gospel-spirituality that operates out of the same daily, honest confession of neediness.
Second, our churches must adopt a culture of nurturing the minds and hearts of its leaders. Most churches spend more time and money on landscaping than on cultivating the souls of their leaders. Churches can begin to demand Sabbath, healthy boundaries, strong investments into family time, and regular spiritual feeding for pastors and leaders. Unfortunately, the culture of many churches is skeptical, oppositional, and unrealistically demanding. If churches nurture and safeguard the wellbeing of their leaders, it would be to their own benefit. Inspired, enduring, and motivated church leaders will empower a church as much or more than any other factor.
Can attraction increase through the years in marriage or is it destined to fade? How can a marriage rekindle its spark if it’s been lost? How would God lead us to think about sex, romance, and intimacy? Join us at Heartland Worship Center for our “no holds barred” study of Song of Solomon. It’s steamy and biblical all at the same time! Starting Oct. 13th @ 9:15 and 10:45 a.m.