Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Confession: I'm a straight white evangelical middle class male.

 I definitely need to get this off of my chest.  

It's been bothering me for quite awhile now; you see, I've been trying to ignore the weight of all of these descriptive words.  Actually, come to think of it, after reading that last sentence, I realize that many may question how being white, for instance, is "weighty."

Allow me to briefly explain.  Much of the words which describe me have been linked to some pretty serious allegations:

I know that there has been and continues to be an uneasiness and awkwardness when a gay person is in the midst of a Christian family or community.

I know that there are numerous ways that America has favored and continues to favor white people.

I know that, in the name of Jesus, churches have judged or labeled people unfairly based on skin color, demeanor, age, or social standing.

I know that there has been a patriarchal bias in our country that has carried over from England and still has plenty of remnants today, even in the Christian world.

I know that, having never experienced empty cupboards, homelessness,  or even a lack of transportation, I don't have a clue what hopelessness feels like.

Finally, I know how many hundreds of thousands of people have suffered mistreatment, bias, or abuse at the hands of church leaders that they trusted.

Oh yea, I'm a pastor as well . . . what does that do for your labeling of me?

How much am I trying to distance myself from the history of "my kind"?  Well, all of the things just mentioned, actually.

How much do I need to outright apologize for?  If it does any lasting good, I would love to be a part of apologizing to the many people who have suffered as a result of the actions of those that have common histories as myself.

How much of my heritage am I proud of?  Actually, a great majority of it.  You see, I have very little knowledge of people in my personal history that are guilty of anything above (outside of a former pastor of mine that was, unbeknownst to me, taking advantage of teenage girls while I knew him).  My parents have accepted people into their home for pizza night without taking into consideration their background or beliefs.  God has chosen to, for some reason, surround me with people who have done nothing but encourage me, equip me, and prepare me for making good life choices.  I am currently part of a movement of churches that are passionate about getting things right, whether it be teaching from the Bible, ministry done in a safe way, or helping people recover from all sorts of troubles this world brings on.  Do we always get it right?  No.  Do we prayerfully seek God in making decisions?  Yes.

Each of us has stuff from our personal, ethnic, or general history that we aren't proud of.  

Each of us,also, has things outside of our control or input that has shaped who we are and where we're currently standing.

I am most certainly not a racist, for I do not determine value based on color of skin or on ethnic background.  I am most certainly not a homophobe, for I know that each person is created in God's image and that each person has the same need for a Savior.  I am most certainly aware of my privilege, for how I treat and think about other people is mainly the result of the beautiful people who raised me and the additional people that have shaped me the first 52 years of my life.

I have lots of growing to do.  As I talk with friends who have opposite views as I about __________ (fill in the blank), I realize how much I don't understand and how much God continues to heap His mercy and grace on me and us.


Friday, September 4, 2020

When challenged to speak only truth

The following is a transcript from my Ordination Service on October 23, 2020, during which I was affirmed as someone who was committed to and able to teach the Bible accurately.  I was also challenged to do it more and more, with a growing love for the Lord and for people.  Here was my response during the service:

Thank you so much for coming.  I had no idea who was back there. I’ve been sitting up here this whole time.

I am thrilled to share this challenge with Birch Hills Community Church, those that are Covenant Members, those that call us their church home, and those who will.  Thank you, Dan and Jeff for your support of me and your faithfulness to the Lord. 

Thank you to all who have been and continue to be a part of my life, the life of my family, the life of this church.  I’ve said often that I’m so thankful that our church does not see our children as children that need to act differently than other children because their pastor’s kid.  Thank you to people in this community and for people in our neighborhood that have accepted my invitation this morning.  I will single out one person, though.  I don’t do it very often (pause as I start choking up, proving why I don't do this often :-)) because she wouldn’t want me to.  Becky, your love for God and support of me is truly a God send in more ways than you know.  I love you. 

I am willing to accept this challenge, personally, in as much as I know that you know something:

Everything that happens, good, bad, and indifferent, happens because of God’s perfect ability to manage life and it happens out of his perfect love for each and every one of us.  If you know me, you know of my foibles, my weaknesses, and the mistakes I’ve made and the mistakes I’m prone to make.  The more you know me, the more of these things you know about me. 

Standing before you is a man that is an exhibit of God’s grace.

  • My sins have been forgiven and God will never hold them against me.
  • God continues to graciously forgiving me as I come to Him day-by-day.
  • I know that I am forever His.

But this isn’t just for the ordained or the ones who have straightened out their lives or the ones that are “churchgoers”.  This is for every single person.  This call of the Lord that Dan alluded to.  This is why we’re here, this is why I do what I do – for those that don’t know yet how full and final and forever God’s love for you. 

Until the day the Lord calls me home, I will plant my convictions in the fertile soil of God’s Word.  Let's take Psalm 23 as an example.   As some of you know, our call to worship is many times the Psalm number based on the day of the month.  Today is August 23:

1    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.

Don’t you want your life grounded in a God like that?  In words of life like that?

Through this, and only through the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can mankind make any sense out of a pandemic, out of ongoing systemic and individual hatred or racism.  It’s only through the Word of God that we can wade through the waters of disagreement and confusion in this world.  I am here . . . and we are here . . . to display to people that “turning to Jesus” is not just a nicey-nice pie in the sky statement that cannot speak into the “real issues” of the world.  “Sure, you can have your Jesus, but how is He going to take care of me?”  Oh, He does!  Rather, He is the only person, the only truth, that tells the truth into any circumstance, that tells us that repentance comes before any lasting personal change, that tells us that taking care of your own stuff comes before being able help or being able to fill other people’s needs, that He brings lasting peace to you, NO MATTER WHAT!

Finally, I want you do know that no one can speak against God’s activity in our world and that nobody can accuse God of anything until they’ve given their life to Him, until you’ve given Him a chance in their life.  Go ahead, give your life to Him.  

10 years ago, I wrote down all the things in my life that I hold dear on a rock – the names of each person in my family, my reputation, my most valuable possessions, my future.  I threw that rock off of the 3rd Ave. foot bridge over there, into the Sauk River.  I prayed a prayer of surrender and I threw it in.  I said, “God, this is Yours, all these things that I hold dear.”  We’re going to close after the prayer with a song that has spoken to me ever since high school.  Fortunately Daniel likes it to, and Kimi, who will sing with him. Enjoy it, the words are in front of you (written below).  It has those words that need to be said often because, I don’t know about you, but do you ever want to take your life back and say, “Well, I’m not sure I want you to have this part, God.”  So try Him, trust Him, dive in with us.




by Marc James

Verse 1

I'm giving You my heart
And all that is within
I lay it all down
For the sake of You my King
I'm giving You my dreams
I'm laying down my rights
I'm giving up my pride
For the promise of new life


And I surrender,

All to You all to You
And I surrender,

All to You all to You

Verse 2

I'm singing You this song
I'm waiting at the cross
And all the world holds dear
I count it all as loss
For the sake of knowing You
The glory of Your name
To know the lasting joy
Even sharing in Your pain

CCLI Song # 3033179

CCLI License # 11006188

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The THEY mentality that kills (or silences) love.

"They always act that way."
"Look what they've done to our country."
"They think they're better than us."
"They don't know what it's like."

Benjamin Watson wrote a wonderful book (Under Our Skin) based on his viral Facebook post following the deeply unfortunate Ferguson, Missouri death and riots.  In chapter 7, talking about the offensive language and symbols that intensify the racial divide in our country, he refers to something called "The Danger of a Single Story."  This is the same title of a TED talk from 2009 by Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Without getting into her creatively written and communicated talk, she summarizes the essence of bigotry, racism, and prejudice: we use single or similar accounts to make conclusions about a certain group of people.  It may or may not be on purpose and it may or may not be based on the right information, but it still happens.

Generalizing a "they" from single stories and accounts creates a danger that keeps us from truly loving, understanding, and relating to people.  It also creates a chasm between different age groups that live life differently from each other.  For example, our young people that are currently entering college-age have never not known life without internet, smart phones, social media.  Ever since our teenagers were infants their parents have had access to information and entertainment rather quickly. Now, people my age (50ish) observe what these "Millenials" are doing and we make all kinds of assumptions regarding what our current societal struggles are.

"Well, if they'd put down their phone more often . . ."
"They just need more actual human interaction."
"How will they lead in the future, from their phone?"

How much of our information comes from the media, or our neighbor's perspective, or our own prejudice's growing up?  God gives us the best perspective on people in Isaiah 53:6 - All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The TED talk was 11 years ago, the Ferguson riots were 6 years ago.  Over the past 6 years, and especially over the last 6 months, there have been many other people who have creatively and eloquently tried to communicate what is happening and what we need to do.  Yet, no matter how many games are boycotted, how many statements are written, how many peaceful protests there are, it almost seems like we'll be returning to these same concepts (or worse) in 6 and 11 years.  

Let's, together, run to Jesus, on whom the iniquity of us all has been laid, for He died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  Did you see that . . . THE WHOLE WORLD.  None of us have this figured out and none of us can say that we have all the answers.  The best advice that I've heard is ONE WORD.  IT's a word that's only truly possible to do AFTER running to Jesus.  It's a word that, if we all practice it consistently and compassionately, will revive this love that's been lost - the word is . . . listen.