Tennessee Mornings

Ocoee

It’s pretty easy to spend time with Jesus in the morning when you wake up to this view.  At least that’s what I found last week when I got to spend a few days in East Tennessee speaking at a student summer camp.  I could hardly wait to wake up in the morning, grab a big cup of coffee, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch, take in the majesty of God’s creation, read His Word and spend time with Him in prayer.  To make it even easier, the cabin I was staying in had no phone line, no internet and no cell signal and my nearest neighbor was miles away.  Just to complete the picture, Laura and the kids were at her parents, so there were no little voices asking me for juice or to telling me they had to go potty.

So, I would sit there in silence and solitude. Read a little.  Pray a little.  Talk to myself.  Talk to God.  Reflect.  It was all kind of surreal…kind of like I found my own Walden Pond, in a really good way!

And somewhere along the way, I found myself thinking, “this is the way life should be.” That’s an unsettling thing for a guy living in an apartment in the city with a family of five to be thinking.  But, I suspect all of us city dwellers think similar things when we get out of town for a bit, right?  If we had different jobs, more space, less traffic, and simpler lives we would have better relationships with Jesus.  In short, if we lived elsewhere, we’d be healthier.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something really good about getting out of our routines.  My friend Mark Batterson says it so clearly, “change of pace + change of place = change of perspective”  He’s totally right and I’m all for vacations, retreats trips out of town and speaking at any church retreat with a good view!

But blaming our spiritual apathy on our surroundings is a cop out.  That was a point the Lord drilled home one morning last week with a simple question in my spirit, “John, which are you enjoying more, me or the view?”  Ouch.  Was I reveling in Jesus or in a novel experience?

When it comes to spending time with God, we all have a tendency to put too much hope in the experience and too little hope in experiencing God.  We spend so much time getting ourselves comfortable and creating an experience that will look amazing on Instagram and so little time enjoying Jesus.  Any time we lose sight of the fact that Jesus is the best part of any experience, we’re headed for trouble.

What mattered last week wasn’t the view.  What mattered is that God was there.  He wanted to speak.  I wanted to hear.  And that’s transportable.  That’s available in DC.  That’s available everywhere.  To every one of us.  Today.  Tomorrow.  And the next morning.

Don’t settle for an experience when God invites us to experience Himself!

 

The Danger Of Silence On Ferguson

Four months ago, I had never heard of Ferguson.  Today that St. Louis suburb dominates the headlines, trends on Twitter and hangs over all of our heads.  I was one of the millions who watched as the grand jury’s decision was announced on Monday night.  I’m one of the millions struggling to make sense of it all.  And I’m one of the millions whose struggle has led to silence.  I’ve wanted to tweet, update my status or blog.  I just haven’t known what to say.  So, I’ve said nothing.

As a pastor, I’ve come to believe the danger of silence is greater than the danger of saying the wrong thing.  I fear silence could communicate three equally dangerous messages to my congregation:  One, the church is totally oblivious to what’s happening in the real world.  Two, the church should steer clear of difficult conversations, especially racially charged ones.  Three, the gospel offers no hope to a culture looking for answers.

In wanting to say something, I’m confronted with just how easy it would be to say the wrong thing and do more harm than good.  I fully aware of just how limited my knowledge is.  I don’t know all of the evidence presented to the grand jury.  I don’t know what it’s like to grow up under the cloud of suspicion that seems to follow young, black men in our culture.  I don’t know the sacrifices men and women in law enforcement make to do an incredibly difficult and frightening job.  I don’t know what it’s like to lose a son.  I don’t know if the grand jury’s decision was right or wrong.

All of that “not knowing” makes silence look pretty attractive.  But silence mutes what we do know:

  • Our World Is Broken.  Self delusion might be the single greatest epidemic in America.  We’re terrifyingly good at ignoring economic, cultural, political, financial, social and international problems.  We are desperate to believe the lie that people are fundamentally good, our world is a happy place and everything really is okay.  We need the smelling salts of Ferguson to awaken our consciences.  Whatever you think of Ferguson, let’s be honest enough to admit the injustice of racism still exists in America.
  • The Fight For Justice Is A Christian Fight.  The God of the Bible is a God of justice.  Consider Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”  The cross of Christ is an announcement that God is stunningly just, even in His forgiveness of sin.  If God just swept over sin, He wouldn’t be just.  The death of Christ allows God to be perfectly just and infinitely forgiving.  That’s what Paul is getting at in Romans 3:26, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  God calls His church to be a beacon of justice in an unjust world.  Our mission is to live in such a way that the helpless would find hope and injustice would shut her mouth (Job 5:16).  The pursuit of justice in an unjust world isn’t comfortable work but it is the right work for a Christian.
  • The Gospel Reconciles.  I’ve worshipped in post-genocide Rwanda with Hutu and Tutsi brothers and sisters in Christ united in the same church.  I know the promise of a gospel where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:11)  The gospel offers a hope our politics never will.

I believe Dr. King was right when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Ferguson matters to me as a Christian.  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers but I do know where to look for hope, for justice and for a better tomorrow.  My prayer is that we as Christians would respond to the wounds of Ferguson with the hope of the gospel.