Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Articles, Magazines, Sermons, Conferences

I love reading articles, blogs, reflections and anything where people are expressing their feelings and offering some insight or opinion on a certain subject.  Literally, I read dozens of articles with catchy titles in hope that I might actually uncover something earth-shattering that will either change my circumstance, spirituality or ministry.  We all read to feel inspired or to hear another's story but at what point does all the words and crafting of prose actually lead to change or initiation?

A lot of the things we read are usually just affirmations on what we believe or have heard.  We rarely want to read anything that opposes our views and then we just build up our walls (preconceived notions) even higher. In all the written pieces I have read, I have barely changed my mind on a subject or actually done something as a result of reading said material.  Also, when we go to church or even attend a conference, we may feel awfully inspired by the words and presentations but still our behavior remains unchanged.

One website that I frequent is Fresh Expressions. Why? Because they write articles about what people are actually doing and was has or has not worked for them.  This is what gets my blood running and inspires me to be a better leader in the Church. "Actions speak louder than words." "Put your money where your mouth is." "Practice what you preach.": These are all statements that we use in Church circles because we want to see work being done in the world to further the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now I am certain that this article, like the many before and after it, will lead to little change in the world but through all the saturation of opinion and story telling I want you to turn inspiration into action. Easier said than done; I understand, but what will it take for us to make that step which leads to change?

In church, we ask a lot about what we can do to be a healthier community of believers or how we can reach out to those in need.  We need to stop answering that question by placing boundaries on God's will and have the faith to take risks. Get out of your comfort zone, try something new, make new connections with others, stop saying "we have tried that before", quit giving excuses and trust that by following God's lead we will be a better and more productive community of disciples.

I get asked many questions about church planting since I am involved in the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Frequently the purpose behind the question is "what is the secret to getting started?".  My answer is usually the same "When the Holy Spirit moves through you in your discernment, follow its lead."  Take risks, be bold in God's calling for you life, gather around people that have discerned a similar vision and trust that God will provide.

The next time you read an article and feel inspired to do something. Do it.  Your routine of life will be broken up for a small period of time but the consequences of your actions can be ground breaking.  Peter and the disciples took many risks when they preached the Gospel in a hostile environment but they were sustained in their ministry.  Sure they had a few bumps in the road but they followed the Holy Spirit as they went about growing the Church in the earliest days.

God has instilled in our hearts the ability and will to change, we just have to follow that lead.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr.: 50 Years Later

For millennials and those younger, Dr. King is a symbol of courage and he worked towards bringing words into action.  He is an example of what we can achieve when we come together for common cause and stand up for what is right. But we often forget MLK Jr.'s words and that he was a brilliant pastor and theologian.  He also knew that equal rights was not just an understanding of circumstance but a relationship. So on this day, I want to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day by pointing out where we have failed to change in the last 50 years and where we can continue his legacy through our building of relationships.

Since the Civil Rights Movement in the 50's and 60's we have certainly come a long way in bringing equality to our society in regards to racial discrimination. But we have also failed over and over again.  Gentrification of urban areas, police brutality and discrimination, educational systems that lack funding, segregated churches and organizations; I can go on and on with clear examples of how race relations have not progressed in the past decades. Our federal government has done little to curb this trajectory of race relations and society as a whole has lacked the initiation to stop the division of our culture. So how do we fix that? Let's refer to Jesus.

Now I could quote the golden rule or even talk about Jesus' comments on equality but I want to focus on the fact that Jesus had a profound impact on architecture.  This, of course, is in reference to social architecture.  In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus warns the crowds gathered to not build their houses on sand but instead on stone. We have to ask ourselves if our foundations in society are built on sand or are they built on stone?

Our foundations of society are the relationships of its people. How we interact and treat one another is the basis for which everything is standing on. If our first reaction to a stranger is a judgment because of their skin color then that relationship has been initiated by stereotypes and ignorance. However, if we begin our interaction with one another in an equal love for one another then the relationship will grow on equality, love and acceptance.

So if we want to stand up to the intolerance of racism in America then we need to begin by building relationships with people that are different from us.  I wish I learned this lesson a decade ago when I entered my undergraduate university. It is my hope that you can start doing this today because we can see the light in the darkness.  Racism has no place in this world, we are smarter than that. We need to learn to accept one another and celebrate that we are different but we are all equal in the eyes of God. Put down your ideas of hatred and fear and be the change in this world that will bring to life the dream that MLK Jr. had.

Over the past 10 years I have grown tremendously in my understanding of life.  This has included the rejection of culturally ingrained racism and the acceptance of people that are different than me.  I have learned to do this because of my faith.  And because of my faith I have decided to be a part of society that doesn't let the cultural-norm impose on me ideas that are blatantly wrong but stand up for what is right. Through this moral decision I have made relationships with people that are different than me (racial, cultural, religious) and have built my own foundation of love and acceptance.  If we all do the same thing then our society will have the same foundation.  We need to build relationships, ask forgiveness and make Dr. King proud.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


January 6th is the yearly celebration of the visit of the magi to the young and innocent Jesus Christ. This is the day after the last day of Christmas and is a celebration of the light that has come to the world through Jesus. The gifts that were brought to Mary, Joseph and Jesus were the means by which they escaped as refugees to Egypt in their attempt to escape the oppression of King Herod.
Over the years some theologians have questioned the biblical support for Epiphany.  This is a part of a greater movement that questions many holidays and celebrations that have become staples of Church tradition. Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions celebrate most of the same holidays and Epiphany is celebrated universally as well.
But why the opposition to tradition?  The holidays of the Church have been founded on the idea that we are to gather and celebrate as in the words of the Psalms and similar to the events at the Temple in Jerusalem (minus the sacrifices of animals). Although, finding biblical basis for many of the modern traditions can be stretching at times.  Holy Week and Christmas celebrations are a combination of the Synoptic narratives, Pentecost is celebrated but we are far cry from what Peter and the Apostles were like that day in their gathering space and the tradition of Lent and Ash Wednesday are merely of post-biblical origins.
So why would we celebrate biblically loose holidays? If we ask this question then we would be questioning 2,000 years of discipleship and discernment. The theology behind these types of questions has to ask more questions that just “Is it in the Bible?”.  Most of Christian theology is not fully expressed in scripture including many unfortunate stances on fear, racism and exclusivity that have found their way into modern thought.

Please leave Church holidays alone. Epiphany is a celebration of light. Unfounded criticism only brings more darkness into the world. I often question many aspects of the Church in our post-Christendom and post-modern world but they are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and not invented for an agenda. Peace be with you and Happy Epiphany!