It has been way too long since I posted a blog and I will try very hard not to make this mistake again. My life has taken quite a turn in the last few months. In mid January I was nominated to serve as the next Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The election takes place at the Annual Meeting of the PSWC in about two weeks in Northern California. If elected, I will provide servant leadership to about 160 churches in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
Accepting this nomination was a very tough decision for me. I have enjoyed so much the opportunity to serve as Senior Pastor of the Sanctuary Covenant Church the last seven years. Seven years ago, God gave me a vision to plant a church with a diverse group of God’s beloved children, that would be intentionally evangelical, multi-ethnic, and urban; including a community development component. The Sanctuary Covenant Church and Community Development Corporation are now a transforming reality because of God’s grace and Spirit. The church has a membership of over 400, a weekly attendance of about 1,000, and a diverse and gifted staff. This is why this decision to look to a new season of potential ministry leadership out West was very tough for me. Minneapolis is the city of my upbringing, the place where I met Christ, and the place where I entered into ministry.
Minneapolis is also the place where I developed a passion for the multi-ethnic church and came to the understanding that theologically I was an evangelical. I also came to the realization that evangelicalism has been kidnapped by political ideology and rugged individualism. Evangelical has moved from meaning the good news to abusive news and news of judgement. I’m so glad that Minneapolis is also the place where I came to know the Evangelical Covenant Church. This movement is committed to presenting evangelicalism as the good news that biblically connects both the good news of eternal salvation and life transformation thru compassion, mercy, and justice.
When I came into the Evangelical Covenant Church, I finally found a theological home. I have also found a Christ-centered, multi-ethnic community of women and men who believe in the authority and centrality of the Word of God. There is a high value on relationship and growing in Christ in community. This is why as tough a decision as it was, I prayerfully made the decision to be considered as the next Superintendent of the PSWC of the ECC. I’m humbled and honored by the potential opportunity, pending election. I hope to multiply the kingdom work begun at the Sanctuary Covenant Church. I’m in time of excitement, grieving, nervousness, and hope. My prayer and focus is on finishing strong, beginning well, and trusting God.
The Bible is full of stories of God using young people to do incredible things. In 1 Samuel there is the story of a boy named David who defeats the giant, Goliath. None of the adults trained for battle were willing to take on this task. There is a whole book in the Old Testament named after a girl named, Esther. Even though she didn’t know her biological father or mother growing up, she became a Queen who was willing to risk her own life for her people. In one of the books of Kings in the Old Testament as well, we read about Josiah who becomes king at 8 years old.
In the book of Jeremiah, we read about a young prophet God uses to speak truth when the adult prophets were unwilling. In the New Testament, a teenager named, Timothy is mentored by Paul to become a church planter and leader. Throughout the Bible, God uses these young faith heroes to advance the Kingdom of God.
In our more contemporary history young people are found at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement and the movement to realize freedom in South Africa. Even now in Iran, it’s youth and young adults who are protesting an unjust political process.
Children and youth are not too young to make a difference for God. We must be willing to see children and youth the way God does. We must encourage them to know that they can make a Kingdom mark in the world. They can be Gods’ agents of truth, transformation, compassion, justice, mercy, and reconciliation. The church must be a training ground for the equipping and empowerment of young heroes for God.
I remember as a kid, going into my backyard in the summertime and pretending to be a superhero. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and even the Hulk. I wanted to save the day with super powers. I thank God that when I became a Christian in high school, I had adults in my life, who believed I wasn’t too young to make a difference in the world. I know that this had a direct impact on the ministry call that I’m living out as an adult today. Consider the young people around you, do you see them as the young hero they can be? Do you pray that they realize this potential? Do you speak this into their lives? If you are a young person and reading this blog entry, I hope that you would allow God to use you in an amazing way. You can make a Kingdom difference in the world among the lost and the poor.
I encourage you to read and have a time of deep reflection upon the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In this text Jesus is speaking through parables to His disciples. Today, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, this includes you as well. Jesus is presenting key points about the Kingdom of God and how you and I are to participate in its mission and value system. This is so that we might say yes to the invitation to advance the Kingdom of God in the world through the empowerment, which comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
He begins the chapter by speaking of two groups of bridesmaids, one wise and one foolish. This parable lifts up the need to have a sense of urgency and anticipation for the return of Christ. This anticipation though should not lead us to a state of privatized religion. The position of a Christian fundamentalism rooted primarily in individualism and judgement is not how we wait on our Lord to return. We must use this time, which we know not its limit, to be used by God as vehicles of compassion, mercy, justice, truth, transformation, and reconciliation. We are to be salt and light in the world while we are waiting in anticipation.
Next, Jesus shares a parable about a Master, who presents talents to His servants. These servants or slaves to be more specific are in this position because they owe a debt to the Master. But it seems in this parable that the Master forgives the debt owed Him and instead gives talents or resources to the servants. Because of sin, we owe God. We have created spiritual debt in the economy of the Kingdom of God. But, through Christ Jesus not only are our debts dealt with, but we are given resources to steward for the advancement of the Kingdom. We are called to take the gifts God has given us and multiply them. The question becomes how? This question is answered in the final parable of Matthew 25.
Jesus speaks of a King, that takes the people of the world and divides them into two groups. He looks at the first group and speaks of being hungry and this group feeding Him. He speaks of being thirsty, sick, a stranger, naked, and in prison and this group addressing these issues. The people respond in confusion, not knowing when they did any of those things. The King responds to the confusion with the Kingdom call to compassion, mercy, and justice. He says that as it is done to the least of them in the world, it is as if it was done to Him.
Our God in heaven calls us today out of a religion of individualism into a life of Kingdom advancement which includes evangelism, compassion, mercy, and justice.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of something he called, the beloved community. This was the title given to describe a reality where freedom, love, justice, and reconciliation would reign. In many ways this was a mainstream way for Dr. King to speak of the Kingdom of God being advanced within a sin-filled world. Today, there is still a need for the beloved community. The question becomes though, “can there be a beloved community without a beloved church first?” Another question to consider would be, “can there be a beloved church without beloved children of God in intimate relationship with God thru Christ Jesus?” These questions must be reflected on deeply, if the church is to be a force of Kingdom advancement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
Though we live in a world that is becoming more and more diverse by the day, the church in the United States of America is still one of the most segregated institutions there is. It’s funny how the church in the United States of America, through its many denominations, sees itself as a leader in world missions but can’t consistently develop churches that look like that world or the Kingdom of God where we will live eternally. Though collectively financially resourced, the church is socially bankrupt when it comes to living outside of the race matrix of this nation. Why is this?
This reality of the segregated church continues for two reasons. One reason is, many are in denial that the Christian church in this country was planted in a soil of race and racism. The treatment of Native Americans and Africans in the beginning of what became known as the United States of America went against the very gospel message being preached by some Europeans carrying a Bible in their hands and racism in their hearts. We must explore this history on a regular basis that we might re-plant the Christian church in this nation.
The second issue is that the church in this nation is still evolving in a race-based soil, which creates comfort in racially segregated churches. Though many people would not see themselves as racist, they attend churches based on race values even though they don’t realize it in most cases. The not realizing factor is true for many European-Americans. Many African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians proudly attend racially or ethnic specific churches. For many of them this is about being in a community of empowerment in a society where they collectively hold little power even in light of a minority president. Yet, this reality is a major obstacle to the beloved community. There will never truly be shining examples of the beloved community as long as we Christians have a taste for the segregated church. As a pastor of a multi-ethnic and evangelical church, I cry out in the wilderness like John the Baptist. I cry out to prepare the way for a movement of churches think look like the Kingdom of God and not the race-based society of this earthly realm. I cry out for the beloved church. What is your heart cry?
A few years ago, I attended the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Dallas, Texas to promote my second book, The Hip Hop Church. After doing a book signing and some other promotion, I had a chance to speak with a staff member of the NRB.
She told me that in their research, they found out that the largest viewing audience of Christian television are women in the 60′s. I’ve been reflecting on this as I’ve watched Christian television more intently over the last few weeks. In these challenging economic times with consumerism probably being the number one addiction of those living in the United States of America, the majority of television preachers haven’t let up in their call for viewers to sow a financial seed into their ministries. A financial seed that they claim will provide escape from the claws of the economic recession. Remember the majority of those watching are women in their 60′s. Some of these women may have already been duped by shady financial advisors just to now be duped by another one in the name of Jesus. It is a shame that the economic times as well as spiritual signs of our day haven’t called for a serious critique of the Word of Faith Movement and the prosperity theology in particular. To provide a real critique one must truly understand the practical science of biblical interpretation, as well as the foundational theories surrounding economics.
Through the philosopher Aristotle, economics begins simply as the ability to attain the products and resources needed to maintain one’s household. The rise of the economic system known as capitalism leads eventually to going beyond meeting our household needs to consumerism. This is about taking what I want and making it a need. An addiction or enslavement to consumerism is about losing the ability to prioritize or tell the difference between the things I want and the things I need or even the things I crave in my flesh. This addiction to the fullest, driven by the flesh is what leads a parent to choose crack cocaine over feeding their children. It’s what leads one to buy alcohol over paying the rent. Well, what does this have to do with prosperity theology and Christian television?
Prosperity theology (the most preached theology on Christian television) makes it difficult to see the difference between a Kingdom of God economic system and what is simply the capitalism and consumerism of the United States of America that at least right now is failing. Please know though that I’m in no way calling for socialism. I’m calling for a true biblically rooted Kingdom of God economic system which includes addressing the issues of the sick, the imprisoned, and the poor. I’m calling for an economic system that calls the church to start health clinics and schools in the poorest inner-city communities in the United States of America. To be honest, I don’t think the United States needs much more third-ring suburban mega-churches, but it needs more faith-based community development corporations dealing with healthcare, housing, education, and employment.
Christian television through many of its prosperity preachers are preying on women in their 60′s to sow seed into ministries based on the abuse of agricultural-rooted parables spoken by Jesus (i.e. sowing and reaping) that have more to do with the Kingdom of God showing up to the poor in spirit and body thru compassion, mercy, justice, and life transformation. These parables are being misinterpreted and mixed with capitalism and consumerism by too many television preachers so that they can fly in private jets, ride in luxury cars, and build their own ministry empires. Don’t be duped by a pimp dressed up as a preacher. Until this unfortunate use of God’s Word is lessened by the addition of more expository preaching on Christian television, I say we don’t watch it. At the end of the day the Christian revolution won’t be televised anyway.
“If you will return O Israel, declares the LORD, Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And not waver, And you will swear, As the LORD lives, In truth, in justice, and in righteousness; The the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.” (Jeremiah 4:1-2)
If the church is to be a force of both Kingdom Building and Kingdom Advancement, it must be willing to connect truth, justice, and righteousness. Let me first give a deeper understanding of these three important concepts. Truth in the Hebrew points to stability, certainty, and trustworthiness. God’s truth as revealed thru the Word of God brings stability to our lives when connected to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Truth ought to bring certainty by faith. It is thru faith that we believe in the certainty of Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God. We must allow faith to produce certainty about what is truth over strictly searching for truth in some academic ivory tower which cannot admit its own faith formula for truth. This is not to down education. I highly value the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, I’m just stating that this pursuit without faith is meaningless for the Christian.
Justice in the Hebrew is connected to judgement, a formal decree, and determination. God is determined to bring about justice. You cannot talk God out of being a God of justice. The question becomes will you join God in Kingdom justice becoming manifest in the world? Will you join in the Kingdom cause of addressing the issues facing the poor, the immigrant, and at-risk, high-risk youth? The Scripture describes them as the poor, the alien, the orphan, and the widow. The church must be a force of truth and justice or we risk being a church in crisis functioning outside of His glory.
Righteousness in the Hebrew is about justice and virtue. Righteousness is about the character and integrity of God showing up in our lives. We cannot produce this character in our own power. This kind of Character comes thru the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to give ourselves over to it.
We must understand and connect truth, justice, and righteousness in our lives and in the church. Historically in our nation we have separated truth, justice, and righteousness. Some churches preach truth by focusing on an individual approach to repentance and salvation. Or they only focus on sin issues such as fornication, murder, and adultery and leave racism, sexism, and oppression alone. On the other hand some churches focus on issues like racism and sexism and give no attention to the biblical truth of the authority of Scripture or the necessity of the new birth.
The church must connect truth, justice, and righteousness in order to advance the Kingdom of God in these days and live out ancient biblical mandates. The church must focus on evangelism and christian formation, as well as compassion, mercy, and justice. Here’s an example of what this looks like-
1.) Provide regular opportunities for people to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
2.) Create and sustain initiatives which put a priority on Prayer and Scripture.
3.) Develop a racial righteousness and reconciliation ministry.
4.) Get involved locally and globally around issues of Biblical Economic Justice and Christian Community Development.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates recently was the victim of racial profiling at his own home by the Cambridge Police Department. A woman called the police believing someone was breaking into a house in her neighborhood when it was just Dr. Gates himself entering his own home. Now, I’m not here to beat up on the Cambridge Police Department and I assume the role of a police officer is not easy. I must say that the role of being African-American in the United States may be just as, if not more dangerous than that of being a police officer though. I also want to say that unfortunately, I know exactly how Dr. Gates feels.
Just a few months ago, I was at the home of an African-American family that are members of the church where I serve as senior pastor. There was another African-American family there as well who also are members of our church. We realized right before eating dinner that we could use some more sodas and something for dessert. I and the two other African-American guys decided to go to a local grocery store. On the way to the store, I was followed for about 3 blocks by a police car. I looked to see if I was speeding, I wasn’t. The next thing I know the police lights were flashing and I was pulling over.
A White police officer came to the car door and right away I saw another police car pull up behind us. The officer asked for my ID and proof of insurance. That seemed normal, but he also asked for the ID’s of the two other African-American men in the car with me. This made no sense to me, but one of the African-American men in the car with me, cautioned me to stay calm. It was hard for me to stay calm, because I couldn’t understand why we had been pulled over in the first place or why everyone in the car had to provide ID. Nevertheless, I stayed calm. After about ten minutes the officer came back to the car, gave us back our ID’s and sent us on our way. I guess it’s a good thing I stayed calm or just like Dr. Gates, I may have been arrested that night. Do I need to say again, I was pulled over for nothing.
I need to make it clear that this was not the first time this has happened to me. The two other men in the car with me said this happens to them often. We are all college educated, working jobs, and providing for our families. Neither one of us have kids out of wedlock or have prior records of being incarcerated. None of us had a warrant out for our arrest. We all live in the suburbs. Just think what life is like for urban African-American males who don’t live at the level of Black privilege like us.
The question becomes, “how long do you stay calm before you cry out about the injustice and sin of racism and racial profiling? Dr. Gates is older than me and perhaps like Rosa Parks years ago, he decided enough is enough. In my calm opinion, all the police officer had to do was allow Dr. Gates to cry out and then he should have left. All the police officer had to do was leave the house owned by Dr. Gates, while Dr. Gates stood on his own front steps and cried not only for himself but for many African-Americans who have stayed calm too long, I being one of them. This in no way is to say that we shouldn’t respect the police. I just didn’t realize until now I guess that the police were above saying, “I’m sorry.” In the case of one White police officer saying sorry or admitting a mistake will never be an option.
It’s important that my White evangelical brothers and sisters not let Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh give the proper perspective on seeing this issue. Jesus had the ability in Scripture of seeing the world from the vantage point of the child, the woman, the Samaritan, and the poor. Why are some evangelical conservatives only willing to see this from the vantage point of the police officer? I know that Dr. Gates isn’t poor, but he does represent the historically marginalized in our nation. And please don’t down-size this social sin to victimization. I’m not a victim, I’m just an African-American male who gets pulled over by the police from time to time for no reason. This is why, I’m with Dr. Gates on this one and you should be too.
I’m taking a class this week called, Biblically Based Soci0-Economic Justice and the Mission of the Church. This intensive is a part of the Doctor of Ministry program that I’m currently in at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though I pastor an urban and multicultural church that also has a faith-based community development organization connected to it, I’m really being pushed and stretched in some great ways this week.
In some ways this class taught by Dr. Sam Rima, is helping me revisit my ministry roots. Since I became a Christian during my junior year in high school, I’ve been heavily influenced by Dr. John Perkins, Tom Skinner, and Tony Campolo. I grew as a Christian at an Evangelical, multi-ethnic, and urban United Methodist church in South Minneapolis. Early on in my Christian life I was convinced that church should be Christ-centered, multicultural, and about social justice. I never bought into the church being divided between the evangelical church and the church of the social gospel. In the Evangelical Covenant Church we see this as connecting, coming to know Christ as Savior with expanding the kingdom that Christ proclaimed and participated in. These roots in my faith walk of connecting evangelism and social justice were my on-ramp into ministry.
The other way in which this class is pushing me is around what Biblical economic justice and reconciliation should look like today. What should it look like in the North Minneapolis area where my church is located? What does it look like in Chicago, Atlanta, or Johannesburg(South Africa)? My friend Neeraj Mehta (former program director for the Sanctuary CDC) said to me a couple of years ago that, “dealing with poverty is about dealing with disconnected relationships. I agree with this, and I would add “relationships of empowerment and humility.”
I’m being pushed this week that I can be an even stronger advocate and voice for the marginalized and poor. My church is doing some cool things in this area but I believe we can be even more innovative. I’d love to hear from others on what they’re doing individually and corporately to forge biblically-based socio-economic justice in their local communities and beyond. To learn more about what we’re doing go to www.sanctuarycov.org.