Race Relations – A Lesson from Barton Stone

I am not a member of a Christian Church or the Restoration Movement but that does not mean that I have not learned a thing or two from Barton Stone. In this brief essay, I want to look at what the modern church can learn from Barton Stone regarding race relations. As I point out the term race is used here only because of its popular context and not because I feel there are different races of people.

What can the modern American church learn about race relations from Barton Stone? This may seem to be a simple question and one can ask why it should matter what Barton Stone thought on the topic of race. The rationale is partly because Barton Stone was a founding member of the Stone Campbell Movement which today consists of the Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and the Independent Christian Churches. His influence is felt far and wide around the world. The second reasoning is because he lived in the time of American slavery. His antislavery position at the time of slavery and his voice as a leader in the movement should give one cause to listen to his words and hopefully gain insight into our modern situation.

This essay will seek to first answer the question of what the modern American church can learn about race relations from Barton Stone based on Stone’s view of slavery and service as a Christian. Stone lived during the period of slavery in America and the question of race relations was one of slavery and what, if anything, should be done about it. Second, it will then seek to apply those lessons to the modern world. This will be done by first giving the lesson from Stone and then applying it to the current situation in America and the injustices that many African Americans face.

America no longer has slavery as a law but many other race-related issues divide the country. It should be noted briefly that the term race is being used here but the concept of race is a human concept and not a biological one. The term race is being used because of its connection to the idea of race relations which often means the relationship between white Americans and African Americans.

The question for Barton Stone was not should slavery be done away with, that was a given for him. For Stone slavery was a “moral evil [and] very heinous” and in the early days at least it was enough to disqualify someone from fellowship.[1] At one point during the 1830s, Stone did own slaves but these were men and women who were left to his wife by her mother. Stone decided that because he could not emancipate them where he was, he would move to Illinois which was a free state in order to accommodate their freedom.[2] This is just one example that one can take from Stone. If one has within their power to do something to alleviate the suffering of another, they also have the responsibility to do so.

The answer to the main question is threefold and the first two points can be understood from Barton Stone’s letters titled an Interview Between an Old and a Young Preacher published in 1859 in the Christian Messenger. While these letters were written regarding Christian service as a preacher it should never be assumed that service to Christ and love for others are items that can be separated. Stone makes this clear in the subsequent letters. This is in part because of the universal priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5–9) and because all are commanded to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). These letters give an insight into the mind and thinking of Stone.

First one must have a dedication to Christ and an understanding that one can do nothing apart from Him.[3] For Stone charity, love, and service started with Christ. The affection one has towards Christ should move them to lay down themselves and their desires in order to see Christ’s kingdom come. Stone understood that because God has a love for all then slavery with its lack of love could not be Scriptural.[4] This desire to serve Christ was a motivating factor for Stone to leave Presbyterian denomination and seek unity with other Christians. This is mentioned so that one can see Stone was a man who was willing to act and not only speak.

Taking the example of Stone, one must look and see that if they call Christ Lord then they cannot also call another human, created in the image of God, a slave. In the same way today, one cannot call Christ Lord and turn a blind eye to the injustices that African Americans face. Between false incarcerations, a whitewashing of recent history (redlining, the 13th amendment, etc.), and other systematic racism Africa Americans have suffered in America. Christians who call Christ Lord must move in a charity, love, and service in keeping with their Lord. This means acting and not only speaking about what must be done to promote change and healing.

Second, and intimately connected to the idea of Christ being the priority is that one must be filled with the Holy Spirit because “the Lord will have no servants in his Church without this qualification.”[5] While the Stone-Campbell Movement is not typically known as a charismatic movement the early days of Stone’s “Christian” movement was infused with the power of the Holy Spirit.[6] The Cane Ridge Revival saw thousands in attendance and many who came became converted and fell “as men slain in battle.”[7] Even in his autobiography Stone seems to recount with affection stories of those who received the presence of the Holy Spirit. For Stone, the power and need for the Holy Spirit was not just a sight to behold but the power to do the work of God and “penetrate the heart of the sinner.”[8]

The obvious question is how does the empowering of the Holy Spirit that Stone saw as essential relate to race relations in America? The answer is found, partly, in Galatians 5:22-25. In this passage, Paul writes that Christians are to have the fruit of the Spirit and that because of the Spirit they will put away the fleshly desires. The power of the Holy Spirit was essential in his day to help create a new person who was not capable of owning another human being and this is the same Spirit today who causes people to not be complacent while others suffer unjustly.

Thirdly one can take from example of Stone to not turn away from the pain of their fellow brother and sister when their distress is presented before them. Stone recounts in his autobiography that while on his way to Charleston he rested for a few days with a man and witnessed first-hand the condition of the slaves near him. He saw them chained, abused, lashed, and abused. This he states was the “exciting cause of my abandonment of slavery.”[9] When presented with the truth of how slaves were treated Stone chose not to look away but change the way he looked at the people in bondage.

How many times today do white Americans turn a blind eye to the injustices and suffering of African Americans. In the modern world, there is no shortage of news reports, social media posts, and other instant headlines that can awaken people the sufferings of their neighbors. Yet all too often it is easy to change the channel or keep scrolling and ignore the truth before us. Stone witnessed the oppression of slaves and it caused him to change his mind concerning the issue. Today people have the opportunity to learn and become educated about the issues facing their brothers and sisters, but all too often they chose to remain ignorant in the face of evil and oppression.

The idea of Christians should be at the forefront of the discussion regarding race relations is not a new idea. Stone was an ardent abolitionist and not only preached against the evils of slavery but as witnessed acted on his beliefs as well. In his own words, he was “ignorant of the means by which” it would be done but his lack of knowing the full answer did not stop him from persisting.[10] Christians should never allow not having all the answers stop them from calling out evil.

Looking outside Stone, the most vocal groups opposing slavery in the 1830s were religious groups.[11] It was those who studied the Scriptures, were devoted to Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, and witnessed the evil that called out against it. While some in favor of slavery attempted to use the Bible to justify their position the truth was that “slavery in the Bible and slavery as it existed in the American South” were not the same thing. Biblical slavery was permitted but with limits while Southern slavery was barbaric. Neither has their place in a Christian world but one is far worse.

Today as mentioned we do not have legal slavery, but we do have other issues. African Americans have never been dealt a fair hand in America and while they have the same legal protection under the law they are marginalized and often regarded as second class citizens. They are arrested at higher rates, have higher conviction rates, and are often forced to take plea deals instead of fighting. The news shows how some African American males are killed by police during routine stops or questioning. This is not something that Christians devoted to Christ and filled with the Spirit should be ok with. This is not something that we should turn a blind eye too.

American Christians can take the example of Barton Stone and show their devotion to devotion to Christ by caring for those who are treated unfairly. It does not seem to be a far stretch to think that Stone would support the idea that black lives matter (not the organization but the idea and truth that black lives indeed matter and they have not always been seen as people who matter). That is not to suggest that he would attend a rally or anything of the like, but it does seem that he did in fact believe that black lives mattered which is why he argued for their freedom in the name of Christ.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

[1] David C. Roos, The Social Thought of Barton Warren Stone and It’s Significance Today for the Disciples of Christ in Western Kentucky, (DMin thesis, Vanderbilt Univ, 1973), 83.

[2] Douglas A. Foster, Paul M Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, D. Newell Williams, “Stone, Barton W., Support for Colonization of Free Blacks and Move to Illinois,” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, (William B. Eerdmans Publ Co. Grand Rapids 2004), 717.

[3] Barton W. Stone, “Interview between an Old and Young Preacher.” Christian Messenger (Georgetown, KY), vol. 14, no. 2, June 1844, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=h9j&AN=53341343&site=eds-live.

[4] D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, The Stone-Campbell Movement, A Global History, (Chalice Press; St Louis 2012), 14.

[5] Stone, Interview between an Old and Young Preacher.

[6] Stone-Campbell Movement hereafter referred to as SCM.

[7] Douglas A. Foster, Paul M Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, D. Newell Williams, Cane Ridge Revival, 164.

[8] Stone, Interview between an Old and Young Preacher

[9] Voices from Cane Ridge, edited Rhodes Thompson, A Short History of the Life of Barton W. Stone
Written by Himself (1847), Barton Stone, 146.

[10] Barton W. Stone, “An Explanation, Christian Messenger,” 1835.

[11] Jonathan Olson, “Abolitionism and Antislavery.” Encyclopedia of Religion in America, edited by Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, vol. 1, (CQ Press, 2010, pp. 1-4). Gale eBooks, https://link-gale-com.elibrary.johnsonu.edu/apps/doc/CX1725800013/GVRL?u=tel_a_jbc&sid=GVRL&xid=32e45c8c. Accessed 19 June 2020.

The Image We Bear

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I like country music and there is one song by Jessica Andrews called Who I Am. In the song, she says she knows who she is, and even if she never sees the great things of the world or wins great accolades that is ok because she knows who she is. She then starts saying who she is. She is Rosemary’s granddaughter, she looks like her dad, her mommas her biggest fan. The point of the song is that she has a firm grasp on who she is so that determines how she lives and what she does.

I know that before Christ I looked like what I was. I was a sinner. I was selfish. I was only concerned with my own desires and wants. That is what I was. I had the nature of sin in me and I reflected that nature. I reflected Adam’s nature. Adam’s nature is one of sin. He was not made that way, but we all know what happened. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and sin and death entered the world. All of their children followed in their footsteps. Now some are worse than others, but we all carry around the propensity for sin. Without Christ, we look like our parents Adam and Eve. We bear their image. Before Christ, I looked like Adam. I did not know that, but I showed it well.

Now in Christ, I am new. I have been changed and made new. My life has been changed and the Bible says because of that, I should reflect Jesus. The question is, do I? When I was in Adam, I did not have to work at showing who I was it just happened. I could embrace it and show it more, but it was always there. However, in Christ, I have to work at it. I have to be conformed to His image. So, the question is, do I?

If I now bear the image of Christ do I show that when I am at Walmart, Sonic, the dentist, in traffic, in Social Media? Do I show the image of whose I am? In Adam, it just happened but in Christ, I must choose to show His image. After a while, it becomes easier and natural. It does not become second nature, but it becomes primary nature.

If I know who I am do others? Do they see that in me? If you belong to Jesus do you show it? Do others see it? Do you see it?

Just a thought,
Mike

Disciple Life

We all have different types of lives. There is thought life, love life, work-life, and so on. We spend a good amount of time looking at and discussing these different lives and for good reason. How we think determines our actions. When we think of the right things, we typically, do the right things. Paul writes in Philippians 4:8 that we should think about good things. In all honesty, a case could be made that Paul talks about our thought life a lot. He says things like, be innocent of evil but wise about good, transform our minds, have the mind of Christ, and on and on. God cares a great deal about our thought life. Our love life is important because it should be healthy and biblical. When a couple has a bad love life, other areas of their life suffer as well. Our work life is important because we spend a great deal of time at work. On average we spend about 1/3 of our lives at work. A bad work-life will spill over to other areas. But what about our life as a disciple of Jesus?

I believe that our life as a disciple is made up of at least 4 other lives just like how our thought life, love life, and work-life create a bigger life. I will not get unto too much detail with them, but they are our Word life, our worship life, our prayer life, and our service life. When we look at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus these are 4 key areas of what we do and where we live (so to speak). Whenever I am counseling someone, discipling someone, or walking through a problem with someone these are the 4 areas that I want to know about first because as disciples as Jesus everything comes from that place.

Our Word life is how much time or devotion are we giving to God’s Word. If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that He communicates truth to us through it then it makes good sense to read it and know it. If we are to be transformed in the way, we think then we need to read the Bible and allow the truth found therein to transform us.

Our worship life is how much time or devotion do we give to giving God the praise He so rightly deserves. I will admit as a new Christian I struggled here because I thought of it only as singing. I found more growth from reading the Bible and gaining knowledge and wisdom then I did from praising God. My worship life was weak, but the more I learned about God the more it drove me to worship Him. It is about having an attitude of worship and praise that is directed towards God. He is the Lord of the universe, the maker and sustainer of all things, does He not deserve our praise?

Our prayer life is how much time or devotion do we give to praying to and listening to God. The best description I heard for prayer was to think of it as a currency exchange. In prayer, we take our thoughts, wants, desires, and pleas to God and exchange them for what He has for us. So many times, in prayer we stop short of receiving from God what He would want to give to us because we end the conversation after we list our side. Prayer connects us to the Lord Almighty so why would we not spend time in prayer. I love the song What a friend we have in Jesus. One of the verses says “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” I have prayed with people and seen them delivered from all sorts of things because they took the time to bring it to God in prayer. We have to remember that talking about God is different than talking to God.

Our service life is about how much time or devotion do we give to walking as Jesus walked. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and we are called to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). We are called to emulate Christ and that means doing what He did. Isaiah wrote about this when talking about what an acceptable fast was. We are called to feed the homeless, clothe the poor, love the wounded, care for the sick, and so on. The amount we serve will be related to the amount we love God. James writes that if we send someone away with only a verbal blessing and not actually care for them, we have shown what our faith really is (empty).

When we get our Word life, worship life, prayer life, and service life right we move closer to the heart of God and that is what we are called to do as disciples. We are called to be transformed into the image of the Son and become more like Him. We are called to be mature believers of Jesus and to move forward. So, the question is if we find that we are not becoming more like Jesus then what do we need to do?

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Biblical Treatment of the Poor

In this article, I want to look at how the Bible tells us to treat the poor. There are many ways to examine the numerous passages in the Bible concerning the poor, needy, orphans, aliens, and so on. There are also various designations that can be given to the groups who are in need. Each of them carries a different meaning and highlights a different group of people. The poor for example can be a larger category of individuals that have needs they themselves are not able to meet. Foreigners, sojourners, or aliens in the land are a group who by their national identity cannot, biblically speaking, inherit the land and need care for. Widows are those who were more than likely once able to be self-sufficient and now rely on aid. Orphans who can in some senses be considered the lowest group have nothing and no one to provide for them.

The message throughout Scripture is clear that these categories of people and the larger group as a whole (the poor) are in need and those who have the ability to help are obligated and required to assist. Two passages from the Old Testament and one from the new help show why people should help the poor. There are many that can be used but these have been chosen to show there are reasons behind the commands.

Before that examination, it is also helpful to create categories for the Scripture that are found concerning the treatment of the poor and needy. There are perhaps better ways to categorize the verses but this one is helpful in creating lists. It is also important to note that there are some if not many verses will cross-categorical lines.

A first possible way is to list a verse as compassion. Compassion is to have concern for others. Christians are called to have a concern or care for those who are in need and helpless to help themselves. Those who are poor and needy require compassion partly because they have a lack of honor and esteem. To show compassion is to acknowledge their situation. Job says in 30:25 that he has wept for those in trouble and grieved the poor. Christians should have concern or care for those in need to the point that it drives them to action, but compassion is of high importance.

A second possible category is justice. This will be discussed further below but throughout the Scriptures, there is a constant call to give justice to the poor and needy. The Psalms especially are ripe with commands and verses to either notice the lack of justice or that God will execute justice on behalf of the poor. Psalm 12:5 is an example of God saying that He will rise up to rescue the poor because of their cries. While 82:3 is an example of people calling for God to rescue the needy. Proverbs continue the theme of justice for the poor in 29:7 where it says that the godly care about the rights of the poor. The poor and needy require justice and they are often not able to obtain it on their own.

A third, and final for this list category is provision. This is where the action the stems from concern and justice come out. It is the actual meeting of needs, the providing of goods or relief, the help to better a situation. This too will be discussed further below but suffice it to say there is a clear command from Scripture to meet the needs of the poor. This can be seen in verses that discuss how to clear a field, the year of rest, and so on. The book of Ruth is an example where one can see what it was like for the poor and a foreigner to need the left-over grains.

Now the attention will turn to three Scriptures to see how they show why people should have concern and care for the poor and needy. First, from the Old Testament, Proverbs 14:31 says, whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.[1] The first and most simple reason to help the poor is that it honors God. God is the maker of all and to neglect the poor and needy is to neglect God’s creation. From the Christian perspective all people have the Imago Dei or image of God and to refuse to help or provide dignity to them is to insult the image of God. In the reverse, to care for or be generous to the needy is to honor God Himself. Christ uses the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46 to highlight this and says clearly that as it has been done to the least of these it has been done to Christ. When the Lord appears to Saul in Acts 9:4 He asks why do you persecute me? The Lord takes the blessings and insults to the poor as actions directed towards Him. The conclusion is that the reason to care for the poor and needy is that it directs honor to God.

The second passage from the Old Testament that explains the reason why one is to care for the poor and needy comes from Isaiah 58:6-7. Here God explains to Israel what true fasting which could also be read as true worship is. This is an important passage as it shows in rapid succession what those who claim to be religious are to do. In this passage, God tells Israel that true worship is to free those wrongly imprisoned. False imprisonment has always been an issue and can come from various sources from unjust laws, mistaken identity, false testimony, and so on. This is a serious issue and needs to be addressed by the community. The goal of this paper is not to examine current laws or the penial system, but the Christian community should be at the forefront of the battle to advocate for those incarcerated unjustly.

The second item in the Isaiah passage is that the people of God are to let the oppressed go free and remove the chains that bind people. This can be seen as tied to the first point, but it can also have other implications. Drug addiction, for example, is a chain that binds people. Drug addiction is not exclusively an issue that affects the poor, but the poor are at a higher risk of substance abuse or becoming poor because of drug addiction. The people of God are to be concerned about this issue.

Another chain that binds people is that of financial ignorance. While poor people often do not have enough to save for large purchases there are issues and ignorances that affect their spending habits. This includes behaviors such as spending money on unneeded items to ensure they do not lose the money. Not understanding the concept of interest which causes them to seek immediate cash for checks or item pawning. This is more of a Western poor issue, but it is still an issue that should be addressed. People in poor neighborhoods are taken advantage of by those who run check-cashing businesses or title loan companies. These fees seem worth the tradeoff to those in the communities but there are often cheaper alternatives. Christians who have should be teaching and helping those in poor communities learn about more affordable options to receive their money. Some have created some wonderful systems to help educate but some of these are not only cost prohibitive due to the price of attending the sessions but aimed at those who have disposable income.

The next three from the Isaiah list are to share food, give shelter, and give clothes to those who need them. This is quite simply the most basic and easiest of people to accomplish. While prison reform or debt repayment for those who are in prison are issues that require some deeper knowledge and rehabilitation for those caught in addiction require skillsets giving material items to the poor are easily done by almost anyone.

From clothing and food drives to buying groceries for someone, it is not difficult to help meet a basic need. Yes, in different places the requirements may be different, but these are not problems that should still exist in society today. The point is that even if someone’s motivation for care is obligation the Bible directs them to what their obligation is. James writes on 1:27 that true and proper or pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. If some one desires to claim religious obedience than care for the poor and the needy is required.

Moving the third passage and the one from the New Testament. In 1 John 3:11-18 John addresses the topic of how to treat those around you. He writes that Christians are not to be like Cain who killed his brother but are to love. Love is the motivation for the Christian, love for God, and for people. In what could be considered a rhetorical question John asks how God’s love can abide in someone who closes their heart to their brother’s needs (v 17). The answer is implied that it cannot. If love for God is professed, then love for others is required. This is not only required by God but exemplified by Him.

In the incarnation, God in Christ so fully identifies with His creation that He seals the connection between concern and action which was motivated by love. John 3:16 expresses this connection and motivation. The incarnation is the most powerful statement on how the concern for the poor and needy because of what is being said. Jesus read from Isaiah 61 when he began His public ministry and in doing so He was showing that not only does God have a religious standard concerning the treatment of the poor, but He puts feet on the ground to show how it can be done.

Isaiah 61 discusses the year of the Lord’s favor and in that it discusses bringing good news to the poor, binding up or as the HCSB says to heal the brokenhearted, liberty to the captives, and opening doors to those in prison. These are similar to the items in Isaiah 58. Again, here what is seen is that there is a religious requirement to have concern for the poor and needy and that it can be done. Not only this but that the motivating factor was love. There could hardly be a better example of what to do than in Christ.

The New Testament church understood this well and went about preaching the message of Christ. They did not have to command people to sell their goods to give to those who needed but the people did this as a freewill offering because they were motivated by love. Love requires action because it seeks the welfare of the recipient more than the cost to the giver. The church is called to serve in love and act in love. There are always people who may not be motivated by love and only wish to do the bare minimum but as seen even if obligation is your motivation care for the poor and needy is still required. The Bible leaves no room to not take up the cause of the poor and needy. It leaves no excuse to not serve. It gives no out for anyone who claims to have devotion to God.

[1] All Scripture taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

Fully Human and Fully God

One of the things I love so much about Jesus is His humanity. Jesus is God the Bible does not leave room for any other option (see here) but He is also human. One of my favorite theological terms is the hypostatic union of Christ. It a really fancy term but it just means that Jesus is fully God and fully man and these two natures do not diminish each other. Really cool right? Sometimes I am so in awe of Jesus as God that I forget about some of the important human features of Jesus.

When we ask the question WWJD (what would Jesus do) we sometimes think about how He would trust God and have hope or something else. These are true statements but there is also so much more that Jesus would do and in fact so much more that Jesus did do. Hebrews 4:15 says that we have a high priest (Jesus) who can empathize with our weaknesses. He can understand our humanity. He knows the human condition because He while being fully God is also fully human.

This sounds comforting and it should but for it to be truly meaningful we need to look at Jesus’ life to see how He expressed His humanity. Warning this is not for the faint of heart because for some it might shatter your expectations and show you a whole new Jesus, but that’s OK because we are always seeing Him in a new and more glorious light. We move from glory to glory and faith to faith. We need to always study Christ and when we do, we see more of Him that we did before. So, what would Jesus do, and what did He do?

He called His friends dull and foolish. In Matthew 15:16 Jesus tells the disciples a parable and they just are not getting it. Jesus asks Peter if he is still dull. The Greek for the word there is asynetos and can mean without understanding, foolish, and stupid. Jesus was asking Peter how he could still not get it.

Jesus would flip tables and get mad at people who were stopping others from coming to the Father and I think we all know that story.

He asked the Father for another way. In the garden we see Jesus praying, sweating blood, and asking the Father if there was another way to do this. In the end, He accepted the Father’s will but still, there was a moment when His humanity wanted to know if there was another option. He was honest with the Father about His feelings. He chose obedience but He was still honest with the Father about His emotions.

He did His job. This should probably go before the last one, but Jesus did His job. He knew what was coming and in Luke 9:51 it says He set His face towards Jerusalem. Again, here we see Jesus choosing to make the choice to do His job.

He wept with those who were weeping. Every child’s favorite verse to memorize is John 11:35 “Jesus wept” but this is a huge statement. We do not need to get into why Jesus was weeping right now but what we can see is that He wept. I think it was Charles Spurgeon who said, “a God who never wept could never wipe away my tears.” Jesus can comfort us in times of crisis and pain because He felt crisis and pain. Jesus knows what it means to cry. He knows what sadness feels like. He knows what it is to be broken-hearted. He understands. That is huge, and it gives me great comfort.

He knows what it feels like to be alone. I could talk about the disciples fleeing but instead, I would say look to the cross. In Matt 27:46 Jesus does not say “My God my God why have you forsaken me” He cries out in a loud voice. Those are two very different things. I cannot even express how important that is. Jesus in the middle of His pain and suffering cries out God, where are you? He is feeling alone, and, in His pain, He yells out. This is huge and should give all of us comfort and hope. I don’t care how big you are, how tough you are, or what a fake face you can make, at times we all feel alone and confused. Jesus says Yes, I get it! He knows that feeling and when you feel that He is right there with you saying it’s OK to let it out.

We could go on, but the point is that Jesus expressed the full range of human emotions. He gets it. He understands. He empathizes with us. Because of this, there is nothing you cannot take to Christ and have Him help you with. He is fully human, so He gets it, but He is also fully God, so He is present with you. He is able to understand and be there.

Back to the question. What would Jesus do? He would be honest about how He is feeling. He would be straight with the Father and say I am scared, I am hurt, I am feeling alone, I feel abandoned, I would prefer another way. Whatever it is He would be honest about how He is feeling. That is the Savior we have. We have a Savior who can completely understand what we are dealing with. We have a God who can relate to us because we could never relate to Him. We have a Comforter.

The world is crazy, and people will hurt you. Dreams and people will die but Christ gets it. He knows what you are feeling so do not go to Him, run to Him. Do not say God where are you, let it out and cry out God I need you!

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Dreams and Service

What do we do when we are faced with opposition to the dream God has placed in us? We have a lot of options but not all of them are right. Today I want to take a quick look at Joseph because Joseph had a dream. In Genesis 37 Joseph has two dreams and while we can debate on whether he communicated those dreams to his family properly the point stands God gave Joseph a dream. God gave Joseph a dream and he was excited for the dream God gave him. The dream, in essence, was that he was going to be over his family. He had no idea how this was going to come about and I can only imagine that in his foolish youthful mind he wanted to see his brothers literally bowing down before him. He was one of the youngest, so it is not like he had the opportunity to lead the family.

Joseph has this dream in him but how will it play out? How will God fulfill it? When will he see it come to fruition? Will he reign in the land he is in? Where will it happen? Will he know it is starting to come to pass? These are only some of the questions I imagine young Joseph thought about. But none of those thoughts matter because Joseph is thrown into a well and then sold into slavery. From there he is brought to Egypt and sold again. Joseph at this point has this dream but now he is a slave. A slave in a new land. So, what does Joseph do when he is faced with opposition to the dream God gave him? He sees an opportunity to serve and honor God.

That went well for a while but then Joseph is framed for rape and thrown into prison. His situation goes from bad to worse so what does Joseph do when he is faced with opposition to the dream God gave him? He sees an opportunity to serve and honor God. While in prison he is able to interpret dreams for two other prisoners. He asks the cupbearer to not forget him but as you can imagine he is forgotten. Two whole years pass, and Joseph is still in prison. How many times have you and I felt like our dreams are in prison?

Joseph finally gets the opportunity to stand before Pharaoh and interpret his dreams. Finally, he is put into a position of authority. After years of suffering, he is put in the place where the dream God gave him can come out but now, he is different. Not only is it time for the dream to come out but Joseph is not the man who he needed to be for the dream to come out. In the waiting, in the difficulty, Joseph always chose to see an opportunity to serve and honor God while waiting.

So, my question is this, has God given you a dream? Has God places something inside of you? Has God given you a calling? I know God has placed something in me. God has given me a dream to tell everyone about who He is and how wonderful this God I love and serve is. I want to see the whole world fall in love with my God. I want people who are hurting, lost, broken, and confused to see that God is there for them. That they can have a relationship with the one who holds the universe. How will that play out? I have no real idea. I have some ideas and I can see doors God has opened but the situation in the world confuses me right now, but I hold on to the dream of telling everyone about this amazing God I love and serve. That is the dream.

I want to challenge us today, you and me to see the opportunity to serve and honor God in the midst of challenges to the dream. To choose to believe that God sees the end and whatever situation we find ourselves in today that we have the opportunity to choose to serve and honor God. I want to challenge us, you and me, to see adversity not as something that stands in opposition to the dream God has placed in us but as an opportunity to serve and honor God. I find it amazing that Joseph is not living out his dream. He is a slave and a prisoner but during that time he is helping others understand their dreams. His dream is deferred but that does not stop him from helping others understand their dreams. He became so focused on serving and honoring God that he forgot about his dream as we will see later.

Maybe the opposition we see is not opposition but an opportunity that forms us into the people we need to be in order to allow the dream to come to pass. Maybe the delays are not delaying but opportunities for growth. How we respond could very well determine how many more so-called delays we have. Do we respond with service and honor to God or something else? I am sure Joseph cried at times, maybe when he was in that well, or in prison but in the end, he chose to see an opportunity to serve and honor God. What about you, what about me?

I think a big part of the key for the dream to come about was timing. Yes, there is the obvious part that the famine needed to come on the land but there is also the timing for Joseph to be ready. In Genesis 42:9 it says that when Joseph saw his brothers, he remembered his dream. He was just doing what he needed to do. He was honoring and serving God in the midst of his situation and he finally became the man that he needed to be for his dream to come about.

Today, let us choose to honor and serve God so we can become the people we need to be to have the dream come about. Let us be so fixated on Christ that we see nothing else but Him and His ways. Let us become the people we need to be.

Just a thought,

Mike

Praying to the God who sees

There is so much craziness going on right now. We can look around and see panic, fear, and uncertainty. If you watch the news for a few minutes and you would not be faulted for feeling like the world is a scary place. Not only this but if you wait just a few minutes it can look even scarier. So, what do we do with this? How do we combat the panic, fear, and uncertainty? What can we do in the face of all we see around us?

There are of course many things we can do but only a few are worthwhile. We can respond in fear. That is a natural response. We can see the chaos and turn inward in fear and let the uncertainty make us feel helpless. We can withdraw and let the fear dictate our response. This is not a good response. Fear will make us do all sorts of crazy things. We can let that fear grow and start to see new scary things. When we do this, everything becomes scary. We can give in to the fear and start to be overly concerned with ourselves. We can start to hoard things and feel like we have to make sure we have enough even if this comes at the expense of others who are in need. We can start to think only about ourselves and our needs forgetting that there are some who have nothing. Those who have little or nothing are especially vulnerable in times of crisis because they do not have the means to turn inward. These are things we can but should not do.

Then there are things that we can and should do when we see the chaos and uncertainty. We can reach out to those in need and provide comfort, hope, and support. We can see the chaos and choose to love. This can look like a lot of different things and yes there may need to be cautious but we can still choose to love and provide hope for the hopeless. But there is also something else we can do. We can pray.

Christians talk a lot about prayer, but I am afraid, and I speak from experience, that we do not always pray as we ought to. I would like to propose that because we can see everything going on, we take the time to pray.

In Genesis 16:13 we get the story of Hagar after she runs away. I have read this story many times and it always gets stuck in my head. There are a few reasons for this, but one is that Hagar names God. This is the only time in the Bible that a human names God and it is a pretty big deal. In the Bible, God gives many names for Himself. He self-identifies in all sorts of ways but here Hagar names God the God who sees or El-Roi. She makes this great declaration that He is the God who sees her and that she sees the one who sees her. It is just beautiful.

We can look around at the world and see the panic, fear, and uncertainty and start to worry and become fearful, but we must be like Hagar and remember that God sees too. God sees the world and everything going on and He does not see if from a distance. He sees and cares, but He also wants us to see Him and that is where prayer comes in.

When we pray, we put our eyes on God and focus our attention on Him. We take our eyes off the chaos and fix them on Christ our King. We take the worry and give it to Him. We take fear by the collar and drag it before the King. We take panic and submit it before God in submission. We pray because God sees, and we need to see the one who sees.

If you are on some form of social media, you are aware there is also some new challenge or another going on so here is one; a prayer challenge. I want to challenge you to pray for an hour. Why an hour because it will take work, sacrifice and it will restructure your thinking. I know what you are thinking, and an hour is a long time. Yes, yes, it is. Thankfully there are some great tools to help. One we use and I just finished doing is the prayer wheel or prayer cycle.

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It is pretty simple and straight forward. You set a timer for 5 minutes and pray through 12 different steps. After the 5 minutes of 12 steps, you have prayed for an hour. I have an image below but also a quick breakdown with some thoughts.

  • Praise – Praise God for who He is and what He has done.
  • Waiting – this one can be hard for some people. I like getting on my knees but do what you need. Sometimes I lay down. Just wait on God.
  • Confession – this is not just confessing any sins you might need to but confessing who God is. Paul says that we confess that Jesus is Lord (10:9). Confess sins if need be but also confess faith.
  • Read the Word – pretty simple and straight forward. For 5 minutes read your Bible. I recommend out loud. I also caution against reading off your phone as there can be distractions.
  • Petition – this is asking God for what you need. Be honest and bring things before the King who sees you!
  • Intersession – this is praying for others. You will run out of time before you run out of people and things to pray on behalf of.
  • Pray the Word – this is finding prayers in the Bible to pray. I like Psalms because it is a prayer book. Pick a Psalm and then read it like a prayer. Psalm 23 is a good one but so is Psalm 31. If you finish before the end of time keeps praying the Psalms.
  • Thanksgiving – do we have any shortage of things to be thankful for? Thank God for all that He has done, is doing, and will do.
  • Singing – just praises for 5 minutes. I use music but whatever works for you.
  • Mediate – think about the things you have read and who God is. Think about Him and who He is. Paul tells us to meditate on the good things of God. Mediate means to think deeply on.
  • Listen – this is like waiting. You are expecting God to speak. Maybe He does or maybe He does not but how will you know if you are not listening?
  • Praise – we end where we started because God is worthy of praise! Praise God for His goodness, power, love, and so on. Give God the praise He rightfully deserves.

That is it, if you do that then you will have prayed for an hour. You can do a lot of things in an hour but are they all worth doing? I would challenge you to do it today. Take the time today to spend an hour in prayer. Take your eyes off the things in this world for just an hour and see the God who sees you. If for some reason cannot pray for an hour today, then do it tomorrow. Do not wait, do not think you will make time later. Be so determined to pray for an hour and turn your gaze to God that nothing will stop you or hinder you. Be so determined to seek God that you are willing to wake up an hour earlier if you need, whatever you need to do then do it. I beg you to turn your eyes to God and see the God who sees.

What is Partnership?

Sometimes I think it is important to clarify terms because words find their meaning in context. We can say words have concrete definitions but that is only because we have agreed that specific sounds in specific contexts mean certain things. If you have studied communication, then you know this goes even deeper. Generally, we agree on the definitions, but we do allow for a certain amount variation as long as it is not too different. For example, when I say black, I might include a range of dark blue and purple colors because they are all dark. You might have a better understanding of color and give each a different name. We can discuss the differences but, in most cases, it will not make a huge difference. Sometimes however the slight differences we give to words make an important difference. Today I thought I would define some words as I use them because I use them a lot in the context of missions and other ministry work. The word I want to look at today is partnership because a lot is going on in those three syllables.

What is great about this word is that whether you use the biblical word (koinōne) or you look at the standard English meaning you can still roughly get the same idea. The biblical meaning of this word just carries additional meaning and fills in some gaps. In general, the word means two or more people engaged in the same activity. That is pretty good. If you think of a team you need all the players working together to reach the desired goal of winning. That is not bad. So, if we decided to define the word this way then when I ask you to partner with us you can think “OK we want the same thing.” The problem is you can be partners to work towards the same goal without intimacy. I can play on the same team as someone and not like them. You can work with me but you might have a sub agenda and I might not be working towards that agenda. We can work together and not be together.

Koinōne comes to the rescue and fills in the gaps. This word means partnership but adds intimacy. It means we are not only working together towards the same goal but for the same reasons and we care for each other. This word gives additional responsibilities to each person on the team saying they need to look out for one another. They need to have the interest of the other as their own and that is what I mean when I say partnership. I am asking you to join with us for the same goal, with the same motives, and have my back. In turn, I am promising to have yours. I am saying that I want to work with you towards your goal and I care for you. It is not a light thing to join in partnership or koinōne with someone. This, by the way, is why the Bible talks about not partnering with sinful things. But that’s another story.

So, what makes up a team with this understanding? If we have defined partnership as working together towards the same goal, with the same motives, and having each other’s interest at heart, then who does what on a team? Well in missions and ministry there generally two roles: goers and senders. Each one has a different job, but both are vital and important.

Before we look at goers and senders let us first clarify one more thing. Prayer is the one thing that we all do on the team. I pray for you and you pray for me. I love prayer and believe it to be vital to life. It is life and breath, food and drink, comfort and request. Prayer is the beginning, middle, and end of everything we do. I will sprinkle that idea through the rest of this because it is that important.

Ok, on to the goers. That is us. We are going somewhere to do something. This is exciting and great and terrifying and a host of other things. It means giving up everything we know and moving to something we do not. It is exciting but it is also a loss of so many things. A loss of comfort and meeting with friends. A loss of knowing how to do even the most basic of things that we instinctively know how to do like who to acknowledge in public and who to avoid eye contact with. Going means leaving and leaving means loss but also means learning and sharing.

As we go into a new thing, we get the opportunity to tell people about Jesus. We get to bring light into darkness and hope into hopelessness. We get to bring truth. It is an honor and a privilege and a command. It is worth the loss because of what we are doing. In this one thing that we do is pray and we pray a lot. But we do not just pray for the things we are doing or the people we are interreacting with we pray for you, our friends and family. Your churches, your children, your small groups, your jobs, all of it. We do this for two reasons. First, because you are worth it. We want you to be blessed and walk into all that God has for you. Second, because it keeps us connected to you and ensures we have your best interest at heart. We as goers do not just go, we pray for those who send.

Senders are such an important part of the team. If we did not have senders, we would not have much of the New Testament. The letter to the Philippians is Paul writing to a group of people who sent him out to plant more churches. The letter is Paul giving them an update and talking to his friends. It is like a newsletter. In Philippians 4:15 Paul writes to his friends who sent him.

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only

Paul is acknowledging the partnership and at the beginning of the letter, he tells them that he prays for them often and tells them what he is praying. This, by the way, is why I text people that I am praying for them. I think it is so amazing when we pray for each other and then let the other person know. It does something to you and breathes life into your day. It tells you in an instant that you are important to someone and they have your back.

So just like the goers, senders pray. When we say we want you to be praying or us it is not a plow or a subtle plea to then ask for money. No, we want and need prayer. I am not subtle about asking for finances.

We need finances to go. There are no two ways about it. Money is required in ministry because while God owns the cattle on a thousand hills a lot of that cattle is under someone else’s care. Money is not a dirty word or a wicked thing. It is a tool that is to be used. Enjoy it, spend it, buy stuff, but also use it for greater things. There is something amazing that happens to your prayers when you are financially tied to the mission. You are now connected to it in a new and deep way. It moves from being something someone else is doing to something you are doing as well.

Some will say, I can only pray. First, let me say there is nothing only about prayer. I think by now you know I think prayer is powerful and important. Second, that is OK because we need people praying. If you want, I can add you to Julie’s prayer emails. She sends out emails more often than the newsletter and gives more specifics about things we are praying for. We want to be praying for you too so let us know. Prayer partners are partners and important ones.

Others can partner financially in addition to praying, and this is needed. We have people we partner with financially and it has made a huge difference in the way we pray for them and the way we pray in general. It takes that prayer to another level because you are literally invested into it. You are tied to it differently. You rejoice differently and you mourn differently. When we give to something with our finances, we want to see it happen, so we talk about it more, we give to it more, we pray more, and when it happens, we are so excited.

So that is what I mean when I say partnership. It is not just working towards the same goal, I am asking you to join with us for the same goal, with the same motives, to have my back, and to know that I have yours.

So am asking you for money? Yes. No two ways around it. But more than that I am asking you to partner with us as we move towards a common goal, to have each others backs, and be in this thing together.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Past Provision

The disciples were confused about Jesus’ ability to provide so He asked them “Do you not yet understand? (Mark 8:21)” Honestly I feel like Jesus asks me this same question. When I look back on all that He has done how can I not trust Him to take care of anything? Yet sometimes I forget. Sometimes I have a week memory. Sometimes I do not understand.

My challenge today is to really try and remember all the different ways and times He has provided for me. To let His past provision help me understand who He is and what He is capable of. To remember who the Lord is and who I am.

Just a thought,

Mike