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A Christian in America

This is the weirdest, saddest, most distressing time of my life, as an American Christian. I believe that the church has strayed so far away from the needs of the ethnic minority, the poor, and the disabled of our own nation, that my generation is forced to choose a strange paradox: Do we vote for and actively pursue equality, knowing that eventually the exclusivity of Christianity will come under very strong fire in American Liberal politics? Or do we cover our right to religiously assemble, and by default (if not intentionally) perpetuate the divide that sees a Klan rally justified by an anti-biblical expression of “free speech”, to say nothing of the horror that blatant racism and willingness to harm other ethnicities reveals about our nation and its systemic racism as a whole?

Yeah, I think those are the two options. And they both suck.

That is not to say that there aren’t Conservatives standing opposed to the events of Charlottesville, and rightly condemning white nationalism, white supremacy, and the groups that represent those ideologies. But for the majority of those standing up now, there was silence until a white woman was murdered as a peaceful protestor or the leader of the nation made outlandish claims equating the KKK with people demonstrating in response to them. And why the silence? I think because American Christianity has largely become a game of safety and security. But why?

Patriotism Run Amuck

George McKenna, in his book The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, wrote that the idea of patriotism is in effect, “an affection rather than a syllogistic process, it is a highly evocative word, recalling all kinds of memories, stored up in images”. He goes on to address the origins and true adaptable nature of American patriotism in the 17th century. And I think he’s right on all accounts. My first image of patriotism is my grandfather’s Purple Heart, that he earned as a soldier in the Army, fighting in WWII. And I remember the first time I stood at the Vietnam Memorial, overwhelmed by the length of that wall, and the small print still needed to fit the names of soldiers lost on it. Oh, and the first time I read Letters from a Birmingham Jail, as a student at Elon University. These things, for me, ring of American patriotism.

But I also believe that the adaptability of American patriotism has neutered what it truly means to love our nation, and learn about and FROM its history. Somehow people have so bastardized American ideology that ethnic cleansing is taught by some as permissible and beneficial. And churches can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but most don’t know the Nicene Creed, or even that it exists. We study the news, but not the Bible. We know what we are against, but we have abandoned so much of what Jesus was truly for. We’ve traded in true belief and biblical conviction, for memes, prejudice, and the conviction to be right and loud. We don’t evangelize because we don’t want to be offensive or counter-offended, or we’ve just completely forgotten how to. We can’t be real in the world or “do life” with people because we’ve been so busy condemning gay people and Muslims, or standing for things that Jesus apparently forgot to make as pillars of his ministry. In so many ways, we’ve just stopped being the church.

So if you’re still reading this, you’re either in agreement so far, completely fuming but hanging in there, or you just came to see the fireworks. No matter what, I do believe that social media has influence. And as unbelievable as it may seem, altogether, roughly 5,000 people ‘follow’ me. And because I make everything I post public, many more can follow along too. So while I’m a pretty insignificant cog in the machine, I have a voice. And this is what I think needs to happen in American church and within the hearts of Christians soon.

Evangelism Lost

My sweet and brilliant wife reads my posts. She proofs some of them, and parts of all of them. In the introduction, where I mentioned evangelism and our fear of it, she rightly pointed out that we largely misunderstand it too.

We’ve lost American evangelism to a handful of unbiblical ideas. Here are a few that drive me insane:

Attraction – Being well-liked, or in a pretty building, or having an affable reputation is nice. It would be a whole lot more effective if that was coupled with being engaged in the community, financially invested in helping the hurting within that community, or being known as a haven for the hurting through programs or availability. But even then… if we poured money into the poor, and had a beautiful building, and were well thought of… none of that is evangelism. None. It’s nice. But it’s not evangelism. It may be a tremendous catalyst TO evangelism, but if you think it’s enough, well that’s called an idol.

Moral Superiority – I don’t know where to begin here. Christians are not superior in any way to anyone else. The moral superiority of Christianity resides entirely in the person of Jesus Christ. To posture that the rituals, habits, and platforms of faith cast a shadow on our cities that compel people to Jesus is absurd. Again, a positive reputation might lead someone to you, but if your excellence is your platform, again, that’s an idol that you’ve made in your own image.

Anti-Secularism – I grew up hearing the phrase, “no one has ever been argued into salvation”, and I’m 37, so the phrase has been around a while now. But we’ve gotten so good at being against things, that I think we’ve convinced ourselves that a Facebook video about what we find unbiblical or evil is some kind of evangelism. But it’s not. It never has been. It never will be. At best, it’s my opinion, gleaned from interpreting scripture, but at worst, it’s bullying that pushes people away from Jesus.

Lawless Love – My last one is the one I’m generally most accused of. As a registered Democrat, now living in Washington State, I get it. Since I don’t rail against things that are not permissible from Scripture, maybe I appear complicit. Maybe it seems that I treat people as though they are sinless, and that Scripture doesn’t really say hard things. But that’s not true of me, nor is it evangelical. The Bible is true for Christians, and it says hard things. In my experience, the best way to talk through them with people who do not view Christ as I do, is through (1.) earning the right to be heard, through loving them as they are and as I am, (2.) being humbly honest about Scripture, (3.) and reminding them that we are all on the same footing, as sinners. And then, after that, be consistent and steady. Scripture guides me as the Lord is my Savior. To reduce Scripture for the sake of love is not love at all.

Evangelism Reclaimed

It simply means that we bring the Good News. That’s it. And since, for Christians, that good news is the story of Christ and his sacrificial atonement, it means that evangelism is telling someone about Jesus. That’s it. All of that other stuff is either secondary or self-centered.

Period.

Choose For Yourselves

So yes, I’ve stepped beyond that crossroad of choosing which fight I’ll fight. But I do understand the real angst over potentially losing our freedom of religious assembly. I’ve been to countries where my function as a pastor and teacher was illegal. I’ve heard the knock at the door and watched a few dozen faces turn immediately from focus to fear. I have shaken the hands of a man who was disavowed, then condemned to die, and then martyred for simply believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And America is a long way away from that kind of existence… I think. But I could be wrong. I laughed at the idea of Trump as President.

Whether I’m right or wrong about the trajectory of faith in America, I’m captivated by Joshua’s call for covenant renewal: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the god that your fathers served… and serve the Lord… choose this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:14-15a]

My dad loves Jesus. It’s a humble affection that I’m forever grateful to have grown up under. But it’s not my faith. Same Jesus. But I’m not my dad, and his faith doesn’t save me or fuel me. It saves him and only him. And for me, I choose the God that says we are all equal (Gen. 1:27; Eph. 2:14; I John 2:2), and that our chief aim is to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; Hab. 2:14; Ps. 115:1) through loving one another (Rom. 12:9, 13:10; Mk. 12:31; I Cor. 13:1-3), even those who feel the need to oppose me for my faith (Luke 6:35), because I must fight as someone that has been called out by God to those who need him, need hope, and need help…

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Aggressively for the Love of People

Maybe you still disagree with me. That’s fine, but I think I’m standing on Scripture here. So unless you can convince me that Jesus isn’t real (& you cannot), that we have not been called to bind up the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1) and that somehow does not include black Americans right now, but other minorities, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the refugee, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the foreigner, and that the eventuality of religious persecution in America is justification to hide, or defend the love of Christ that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:35)…. what are you standing for?

A fight just broke out in the cafeteria of the American consciousness, and everyone wearing a WWJD? t-shirt just collectively stood up and picked a side. And with the whole world watching, but more importantly, our neighbors, classmates, family, and friends saw us rise, and they saw us run to defend the hurting, as Jesus did, or to the defense of anything else.

So if one day, I lose the right to freely claim that Jesus alone is the way to God and that the Bible is uniquely true…. well ok then. I’ll go to jail for that. I’ll go to the mat for hope and faith. And until then, I’ll stand for Christ’s love for all people.

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Good Grief: Making a Choice

I wrote a blog last week. Over 3,300 people have viewed it. And I wrote it because I was sad, hopeful, & inspired I suppose. Tripp had died the prior week, I had been called in by his sweet wife & awesome parents to officiate a funeral that I was not remotely prepared for, & I had spent every day back home in N Carolina with someone who was suddenly fatherless, husbandless, or sonless. And that blog exploded. 

For perspective, I hadn’t written anything in over a year. And when I was writing, it would be impressive for one entry to get 200 views. And that was more than enough for me. It was an exercise in fun & public journaling, & not much more. But then Tripp died, & my name was in his obituary, & it seems like a lot more people were watching. A lot of them still are. And to all of you, thank you. Tripp’s influence will forever loom large in my life. 

So I wrote a blog on a Tuesday morning flight. And then late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, Tripp’s mom died. She had been battling a rare & terminal illness that had certainly taken its toll, but she was still sweet & caring, up to the very last second. And grief came rushing back. I could not stop thinking about Tripp’s dad & sisters. And then his wife. It’s a process…

Grieving Healthy

As I write, I’m outside of an Sicilian bakery in Tacoma, Washington. I’m literally on the coastline of the Puget Sound. It’s a breathtaking picture. And the bakery is crazy good. So many awesome things that I can’t pronounce, but none of them healthy. So I make a choice; eat healthy or not. 

The cannoli was incredible… Don’t judge me. At least I walked here.

And similarly, I have found myself parked right at the door of grieving. And my options for consumption are unending. I can grieve however I want. I can numb the grief by ignoring it & pretending I’m fine, or I can find some thing or person that gives me a false & temporary feeling that just masks grief. Or I can eat healthy… but if you’re like me, there’s a dark secret about healthy living. It kinda sucks. 

Choosing

Allow me to sermonize for a moment. In the book of Joshua, God brought his people through some incredible difficulties & challenges. Often, those challenges were met by the raw emotions of people who knew God, had seen His work, & been blessed by his provision. But in the midst of their crises, some felt hopeless. Usually, it was a lot of people. And they were desperate for answers or revelation or solutions. And in a moment of profound wisdom, Joshua asks them to choose this day whom you will serve (ref. Joshua 24:15). Because, like the bakery beside me, in grief we have a choice.

I spoke with Tripp’s dad today. We talk/text daily. And today is his wife’s birthday. Yes, four days after she passed away, their family was faced with funeral visitation on her birthday. Horrible.

But they made a choice. Someone had the idea to give mom some balloons. So they gathered a bunch of the family together & sent some balloons heavenward. And while it is a small gesture, it’s a healing one. It forces them to smile through sadness. It doesn’t ‘grief-proof’ their day, but it makes the daily process better. And when the story was relayed to me, it was a happy story. And there is nothing better then happiness when you’re sad. I’m so glad that they chose good grief. Because tomorrow will have its troubles, & they will need more reasons to look heavenward. More chances to place some happiness in their sadness will be needed. So if you’re in Durham & you know any of them, send a text & tell them you love ’em. That stuff is gold!

As Joshua was finishing his challenge to Israel, he turned it personal. And that’s how I should end this blog too. It would be arrogant & foolish to pretend that I didn’t think of Tripp the moment I woke up today. And I was immediately sad. And I’ve had a rough dream or two. And when my oldest son, Parker asks me about Tripp or if I’m sad, I admit my grief & occasionally get a little lost in it. But I have a choice in my grief & sadness. And there are two things that Tripp’s family has shown me this week: choose happiness & look heavenward. So I’m going to try & do that more often. 

I hope you find a balloon today, & send your heart to Jesus. 

Brad
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ‭‭Joshua‬ ‭24:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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And Drift Away…

Do you ever read a passage of Scripture that just grabs a hold of you? Perhaps it wasn’t profound. It may be obvious, repetitive, or so simple, but it’s God’s Word. And even the most cursory reading can be provocative & challenging.

I’m reading through Hebrews. Generally, as I read through Scripture, especially large chunks, I read it all once attempting to hear the Spirit of how it was written. After I read it, I’ll go back to the beginning & begin some from of ‘Bible study’. And I’m just starting my first reading, as I come across this:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. – Hebrews 2:1

Boom! Just reading through that quickly, my mind was brought to a halt. Three things pierce my heart about this passage:

1. I am so arrogant.

Chapter 1 in Hebrews is a restatement of Christ’s supremacy & His lordship. It’s a restatement. God is anointing men of faith to repeat themselves, often to people who already profess faith. Paul begins nearly every Epistle reaffirming his apostolic ministry or Christ’s authority. Jesus is often reminding the Apostles of what they had already heard Him say about himself, the Church, God, the lost, or persecution. And if I were in their shoes… I’d go crazy.

I hate repeating myself. My voice carries. I’m probably easily characterized as a loud guy. And nothing confuses & confounds me more than someone not hearing what I just said. Forget importance. I’m certain that most of what I say is useless. But if we locked eyes & I spoke up, how could you miss it?? So imagine my horror & severe dissatisfaction with the reality that I’m the reason God repeats himself so much. I could probably rattle off a few dozen verses from Scripture right now. Even call a few of them my ‘favorites’. And if God so chose to audibly respond in that moment, He may well ask, for all the world to hear, “If you love those verses so much, why don’t you live them?” And he’d by right… & I’d be ruined. I am ruined. And it is wild that I ever think that there are things in God’s Word that I ‘get’ so fully that I can move on to what’s next.

2. I like drifting.

When I was a kid, I wanted a lazy river ride surrounding my house. Nothing is easier & more relaxing than sitting on a tube, out in the warmth of the sunshine, just floating along with the current. And that fascination seems to have become a disease that inflicts believers today. We don’t have to fight, argue, or do bad things. We can just drift. Some current offers a simple, lifeless way of moving through every day, & we take it. And we can convince ourselves that this relaxation is merited. We’ve somehow earned the right to relax our devotion to God & our determination to His work in this world. So we drift, having forgotten what we’ve claimed to know, away from what saves us.

I need to hate drifting. Maybe I should install an electric fence around the house instead. Get a jolt every time I go off in the wrong direction.

3. Paying attention is hard.

What can keep us from perilously drifting? What mystery of God can quiet our arrogance & keep us held tightly to the Lord?? What wisdom, hard to find but necessary for us all, must we endeavor to seize?…

‘we must pay much closer attention…’

How embarrassing. Pay attention? No deep theology or philosophical mystery? Pay attention?!? The key to this passage is being aware, keeping vigilant, & giving notice to what you are already a part of in the Kingdom of God. It can’t be that simple. Can it?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to simply commit to giving God your time & attention, & have Him reward you with intimacy, peace, & purpose? I pray you find that commitment worthwhile. I pray that I fight my love of drifting. And that together, we can all walk so closely to God that His presence is visible on one another.

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