No decision is still a decision, and sometimes it is the wrong one. That’s what I’m told.
I made an important decision in December 2019, sometime between stepping off the scale in the Doctor’s office and our family supper that evening. “I’m going to lose some weight,” I told my dear wife Sandy and the rest of the family.
You see, I had weighed 165 pounds when I got married in 1998, so I really did not appreciate that 180 pound number staring at me unblinkingly from the doctor’s scale. Enough is enough, I said to myself. You’ve gotta get that weight off, I said. I ordered a digital scale on Amazon, began cutting back on food, and upped my running regimen. It’s time to do something, I said again, this time adding a clenched jaw and steely eyes for effect.
Three weeks later, well into January of 2020, I stepped on the digital scale to see how I was doing. Okay, not great. 182 pounds. Well, at least there is movement, I tried to console myself. But this is strange. I’ve been watching what I eat AND running more. How did I gain two pounds?
It’s been a strange year. Much of what has come our way I would not have even thought to include in a novel--it’s too far out. A pandemic? Protests and counter-protests? The death of civil discourse? Republicrats don’t like Democublicans? The election was hacked? Wait, the election wasn’t hacked? Swabs from Covid tests are implanting nanoparticles in the brain that are controlled by supercomputers manipulating the masses, all with access to individual Social Security numbers obtained when the Covid test was taken? Elvis was sighted in Holmes County? Wait, what? What is actually true? In all the strangeness, one thing I’ve done this year more than any other year of my life is run. I’ve passed 500 miles of running. All over the Bronx I’ve pounded the asphalt, pavement, and trails. I’ve tried to cut back on desserts, eat smaller portions of food, and run run run. This was, after all, the year to lose weight.
At a pastor’s meeting last weekend, one of the brothers talked about an article he had read citing statistics from CEO’s who were interviewed regarding the decisions they make. Apparently about 50% of their decisions turned out to be the wrong decisions. My pastor friend, who usually sees the glass half full, said he was encouraged by that statistic. It kind of takes the pressure off, he said. We don’t have to always have to be right, he said. I like his positive spirit. Another pastor said “No decision is still a decision, and sometimes not making a decision is the wrong thing to do.” I had heard that before. But it made my mind head back to December of 2019 and THE DECISION. I had decided to lose weight, and it’s a good thing I did. Because the morning of that pastor’s meeting I had stepped on my trusty ole digital scale and saw 184 pounds staring unblinkingly back at me. Well, first I had to suck in my stomach to see over it to the scale.
Wow. Here I had been trying to watch my weight this year. I had been running more. And 330 plus days into the year with all of that, I had gained four pounds.
Look on the bright side, I said to myself. I could have gained 400 pounds instead of just 4. Imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t made that decision? Goodyear may be hiring me out for their blimp commercials. Sara Lee or Jenny Craig may be calling me for a before (and hopefully after) picture for their advertisements. I may have reached the unique accomplishment of being able to balance my coffee cup on my belly button while standing.
Thank God for decisions. I think I made the right decision last December.
What decisions will I make this month that affect me next year?
Postlude: This post was written as a kind of good-humored jab at myself for my inability to lose weight this year, despite trying hard to do so. For any of my friends who may be struggling with extra weight and its effects, please know that this tongue-in-cheek expose of my lack of success is not in any way designed to make you feel bad about what you may be facing. If you do happen to feel that I was insensitive in my narrative, by all means please let me know and I will consider revising my narrative.
And maybe we can share a box of Oreos together?
Our daughter, Brianna, has this idea of requesting letters from other pastor's children, addressed to pastor's children. I always knew there were traps and dangers facing pastor's children. Bri's letter below shows some of them. May God help pastors lead the church with humility, courage, and grace. But please, pastors. Let's not miss our children in the process. This is my prayer, and this is a great challenge. Rich
I paste the below letter from Brianna with her permission.
Dear Perfect PK,
I see you there, ESV Bible on your lap. You scribble sermon notes in your pad. You digest every word of this sermon and close your eyes in reverence during the song, "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord." After church is dismissed, you usher thirteen six year olds upstairs and teach them about David and Goliath, how to respect their parents, and sing "Jonah Was A Preacher."
I see you.
And I know.
I know what drives you to invite your neighbors to your family's cell group meeting every Friday. It is obvious to me why you encourage your friends to go to church each Sunday and never talk bad about the church leaders. I know why you pray for the church to grow and for people to be delivered from bondage, sin, and oppression.
Yes, I know.
Because I was that Perfect PK.
I remember constantly praying that our church would be united and thrive.
I prayed. Fasted. Witnessed. Worshipped. Memorized the Word. Studied the Word. Read the Word. Practically ate the Word.
I was totally, one hundred percent devoted to my church and to my God.
Or so I thought.
But my motivation was not that the kingdom of God be advanced and God be glorified in return. I saw the church as my family's identity.
If the church flourished, we did as well. If it fell, so did the Schwartz family.
The church exists to glorify the Lord. Not the pastor, not the choir member, not the third grader in Sunday School, and most definitely not me or you. As a Pastor Kid, I was deceived into believing that my role was to be perfect in order to give my family a good image and break the stereotypes of dangerous, disrespectful, drunk preacher’s children. Without even realizing exactly what I was doing, I put up the facade that I was perfect. But the reality was that I was far from perfection.
I don’t want to be the one who pours bleach in your cheerios, but here’s the truth: you aren’t perfect either.
But God called us to be perfect, you say.
Yes, yes He did. But we are not there yet. We are sinful, wretched, broken, floundering humans. I am. You are. We all are.
Are you struggling with hidden sin? Confess it. Don’t worry that that is going to defame your earthly father’s name, because the reality is that that sin already defames your Heavenly Father and He is the One who wants to cleanse you of it.
Are you angry? Don’t stuff that inside and paste a smile on your skin. What is in the heart will come out, even if it may take years instead of minutes to unravel. And trust me, it will eventually unravel.
Are you discouraged? Admit it and turn to others for advice. Don’t believe the lie that you have to be the rock that carries your parents emotionally. You were not created for that. Only God can be the one who sustains your parents through the emotional turmoil that comes when working with people.
So, my dear fellow PK, take comfort in knowing that your family’s identity is not on the line. Your identity is first and foremost in who your Father says you are. It is not found in the number of individuals sitting on folding chairs in the sanctuary. Your identity is not in the amount of praise or verbal abuse your family receives. Your identity is not placed on how well your dad preaches and how big you smile at every guest who steps inside the church. Your identity is in Father God.
Axe the act. Cut the charade. Forfeit your facade.
Step into the freedom of being a human who will fail, but is offered forgiveness and love from God.
All my love,
A Recovering Perfect PK
Gratefulness is a choice.
God sometimes gives days that open our eyes to see, so that we choose gratefulness.
Today is one of those days.
Sandy’s back is much better today, and she had dozens of people praying for her. This makes me so grateful. She is a gift from God to me and to us.
I met with a 70 year old man in the South Bronx this afternoon, and as I heard his story I realized again how much I have. It nearly overwhelmed me with gratefulness. This man had called the CAM hotline and said he is lonely and wishes to find a church community. The CAM hotline volunteer called me to see if I would be willing to meet with this man, so we met on a bench at Yolanda Garcia Park for nearly an hour. My new friend comes from a secular Jewish home. His parents divorced when he was sixteen. His only sister committed suicide in her 20’s. He’s lonely enough that he said “I sometimes wish I could get sick so I could go to a nursing home and at least be around people.” Wow. I never thought I would hear someone wish they could go to live in a nursing home so they wouldn’t be lonely. I heard him say at least four times “I just want to know that I have someone in my corner.” This guy said he has no purpose, little meaning, and sees no reason to get up in the morning. Wow. I hope we can be a blessing to him in our church community. I am blessed beyond words to be a part of the church. I do not deserve the goodness and kindness of God.
During another conversation today, with a friend much younger, I heard about his five year stint at Rikers Island, the NYC jail system. He says he was falsely accused and spent five cruel years at Rikers Island. Somewhere in the conversation he noted that he recently deleted all his family contacts and he is “starting over with new friends.” Then this statement…“I just want someone in my corner.” Wait. Hadn’t I just heard that phrase two hours earlier?
“I just want to know I have someone in my corner.”
Today I am so grateful for the gracious, life-changing gift of Salvation, the gift of family, and the amazing gift of the church of Jesus Christ. I know tonight, without question, that there are hundreds of people in the church of Jesus Christ around the world who are “in my corner.” These friends pray for us, care about us, love us, and sometimes they even sacrifice for us. Even Christian friends who do not know us would pour out their lives for us, because that is what real Christians do. My heart sings of the goodness of God. He pours out His goodness in many ways. The church, the bride of Christ, is just one special expression of God’s goodness.
Brighten “the corner” where you are.
Oh, and if you doubt you will ever have people in your corner, resist that doubt. There are people who care for you, of that I am sure. Don’t let another day go by without reaching out and asking for someone to stand in your corner. In this year, 2020, we all need talk therapy and people therapy more than ever. If you are single, please please move towards people. Yes, I know the church can sometimes seem like a boiling cauldron of mishmashed people with their own needs on full display. Don’t let that stop you, because Christ is at work in His church. Enter in. Reach out. Ask for help.
Manhattan Storage used to have a large billboard above the New Jersey-bound Holland Tunnel entrance that read something like this “If you store your belongings in New Jersey they will come back Republican.” Those guys at Manhattan Storage make funny billboards.
Well I don’t know about the political whims of storage items, but I do know that environment plays a role in shaping one’s perspective on faith, community, politics, economics, and family. My experience in rural Ohio for the first twenty years of my life helped to shape who I am today through my interactions with family, church, school, and work. Most of my work interactions were linked to family and church, and most of my school interactions were linked to church. So my circle of relational connections from 1975-1995 was probably smaller than the normal middle America young person. On September 5, 2020, it will be 25 years since I have lived in New York City. 5 years in Queens, 18 years in Brooklyn, and the last nearly two years in The Bronx. Nearly 3 years as a single, and now over 22 years as a married man. Living in New York City, actively participating with Urban International Outreach for five years, later with Followers of Jesus School for six years, an active participant for nearly 23 years with Followers of Jesus Mennonite Church in Brooklyn, and now these nearly two years with Believers in Jesus Church here in the Bronx has shaped my relationship with church, my heart, my relations, my view of politics, my view of economics, and my view of family. Let me clarify. The heart is what needs to be changed, and that change happens through Christ’s work and through the Spirit of God. But environment does influence who a person becomes.
Wow. If I’m going to go deep and wide here, this could turn into a book. So I think I’ll just go deep and narrow, if possible. Consider today the importance of the Word of God, that two-edged sword that opens our eyes to what is needed wherever we live. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.
Now more than ever, a two-edged sword is needed to pierce through the polarization and extremes of nearly every current issue. From March until August, Covid-19 has taken such an emotional, economic, and physical toll upon the world that we may never actually be the same world again after this passes. Will it pass? My context is the USA, although I do like to follow world news, and here in the USA I have noticed that whatever worldview position one may have had prior to March of 2020, heels dig in and the position gets fortified with all sorts of information and misinformation. We really do need a two-edged sword. What I have seen and experience pre-Covid has made me inwardly groan and sometimes shake my head at the reactions and comments from others who have not experienced or witnessed what I have. So when I say “We” need a double-edged sword, I think “I” need it as much as “we.”
Just take the ongoing brouhaha about masks. Listen, if you want to say “Masks are the new swastika,” and categorically refuse to recognize any potential benefit for wearing masks AND you will not wear them because you are exercising your first amendment rights, you probably need a two-edged sword to break down this position. Just ponder “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” and let the sword do its work. Put the mask on in deference to your neighbor, or in deference to the regulations. I’m sure if I was having open-heart surgery I’d be happy to find out that the surgical team was wearing masks. Yes, there is SOME benefit somewhere, I’m sure. The mask issue is not a violation of your rights or freedoms, and it is not a hill to shed blood on, of that I’m reasonably certain.
But on the other extreme of the mask discussion are the mask shamers who shame people who don’t wear masks and who say that if you don’t wear a mask you may (or will) be responsible for the death of your elderly Grandma or your neighbor’s sick, diabetic son. My neighbor, in his 40’s, was wearing a mask for most of the time I would see him over the last few months. He had a physical a while back and the doctor looked at him with some concern and told him his oxygen level is dangerously low. The doctor told him to stop wearing a mask. This guy is in his 40’s. Listen, if you want to wear a mask, go for it. I’m with you on this one. But for the sake of neighborliness please extend some grace to the ones who don’t want to wear a mask, or cannot wear a mask for health reasons. We really do need a two-edged sword to cut through this. Philippians 2 is a good sharp place to start. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:4-5
Or how about the racial tensions that have boiled up again across the USA since the death of George Floyd. Listen, if you want to believe and state that there is no such thing as white privilege, and “slavery has been over since the Civil War so we need to stop talking about race,” or “racism does not exist in the USA” you need a two-edged sword. Yes, Acts 17 does say “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” The “from one blood” message has been preached often, and it is true. We are all of one blood. But it is not okay to gloss over the fact that this nation for hundreds of years did not recognize the full humanity of the African slaves, and even after the Civil War an additional one hundred years of Jim Crow went by before civil rights were given to many people of color. So while it sounds nice to say “From one blood he created all men” and use that to try to silence any discussion about race, Christians cannot afford to ignore that the issues still face us in 2020. These issues are more complicated, and more real, than you may think. At least in part, some of the problems facing the black community and other POC in the USA can be traced back to poor government policy, poor choices in policing, and systems of racist ideology and practice that have unfairly treated POC for years. When a secular nation-state allows 250 years of race-profiled slavery, followed by nearly 100 years of reconstruction with racist policies and programs, it is not reasonable to expect a Civil Rights Act to just make it all disappear. Corporate responsibility is at least part of the picture; for the church, corporate prayer, corporate lament, and corporate action are part of the solution. A two-edged sword is needed.
But on the other extreme, if you think that ALL problems facing the black community and other POC are only the result of systemic racism and corporate bloc sin, and are all the direct result of white people’s sins, and there is no need for personal accountability, you need the two-edged sword as well. Burning down buildings and destroying property and beating up police officers will not do anything to heal the nation or resolve the tensions, and it will not transform your heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9” The heart of each person needs to be submitted to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and through the forgiveness and cleansing brought from Christ, the submitted heart is transformed into a changed life. Sin, both my sin and the sins of others against me, is the root problem here. While you cannot change how others think or what they do, you will be judged by your responses. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. So there is a personal responsibility that needs to be assumed by individuals in this discussion. A two-edged sword is needed. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9”
What I find probably the most troubling in the above two issues—the mask issue and the race relations issue—is that personal rights so often end up being more important than corporate responsibility. Has anyone else noted that almost everywhere reporting is done on the USA’s handling of the Covid-19 mandates, any time a governor is mentioned and that governor’s response, what follows is “a Democrat” or “a Republican,” and then the article continues. For example, the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said….” Or the governor of Texas, a Republican, announced…” Even in policy decisions as important as how to respond to Covid-19, much of the responses and reporting have become political in nature. People respond often out of their personal political leanings, and it doesn’t always seem to line up with any sense of corporate responsibility. Quick note here. I am unimpressed with this whole NY mandate “If you come from these 35 states you need to quarantine for 14 days.” There has definitely been over-reach and politically charged decisions made in this pandemic. Even so, Romans 13 does apply in 2020, however difficult it may seem to live it out. I mean, it says they are God’s ministers to punish those who do wrong, so we should obey them. I’m not sure how that looks when local policy does not permit punishment, but Romans 13 is still real for us today. Here in NY, it seems the local DA is not charging wrong-doers. In July, it took the Feds to arrest and detain members of the Elite Assassin Millas in Brooklyn, a sect of the Bloods who had been openly killing people but not getting charged in NYC. We do need the Word of God, more than ever.
Yes, I am more on the side of wearing masks when asked than I am on the side of the “It’s my choice and I’m not going to do it” crowd. And yes, I believe that black lives matter. I am concerned about the BLM organization and what those founders stand for (for example, the mission statement of the BLM organization is critical of the “western” notion of the nuclear family); however, I believe this is an important moment for the church to seize the opportunity to move towards people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and different skin color in an effort to build unity. Yes, black lives matter, too. In my opinion, it is not helpful or honest to deny that significant problems still exist in America that can be directly linked to racist policies and systems that were created to push down people of color.
Just because I say black lives matter does not mean I endorse violence or burning cities or vandalism. I belong to a denomination and an alliance of 60 plus churches. Let’s just say that we are not very diverse in our ethnic makeup across our 60+ churches—I don’t have our demographics for sure, but trust me, we are not very diverse. Listen, I know that for the believer in Jesus multiculturalism is not the First Thing. The First Thing is sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ and becoming like him as we surrender to His Lordship and His teachings, walking in the Spirit. But consider this, friends. If our prayer to the Father is, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” do we really mean that? If Revelation 7:9 gives us a picture of heaven, could we pray that this picture of heaven could be lived out more here on earth? Can we at least begin to pray this way? Lord, make me an instrument of your Hand of mercy to bring people of all nations, tribes, people, and languages before your throne here on earth as it is in heaven. Does the most segregated hour in the USA still need to be the Sunday morning service held across this nation?
What shall we do then? For one thing, our conversations about Covid-19 can aim towards productive, positive themes. As much as that sounds impossible, give it a try. You will be amazed. It may even make you laugh! If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.
As for the race relations issue? Oh, I better insert something here. Some of my friends say the protests are not about race but are more about anarchy and Marxism and imposing socialist/communist policies on US citizens. We participated in a church-sponsored protest that I really was glad to be a part of, so I believe many of the protests and marches are not oriented towards violence. Yes, there is a real element of anarchy and Marxism in some of the protests, especially the violent ones. I saw the video released by the Chicago police department on July 20, 2020. That was a terrible thing for the “peaceful” protesters to provide cover for violent protesters who intentionally injured 49 police officers, 18 of whom had to go to the hospital. I wish Miracle Boyd hadn’t had her teeth knocked out, but she was a part of organizing that protest, and I hope she didn’t know about the plans of the violent protesters to infiltrate the “peaceful” march there by the Columbus statue. Anyway, back to the race relations issue. So even if some of the riots are more about anarchy and Marxism than about race, cultural humility goes a long way here. If you are a part of the dominant culture in the USA, AND if you believe that the USA is God’s answer for the world, try taking a step back to survey the historical landscape of broken promises and dehumanizing policies the USA implemented over hundreds of years. Remember, we DO NOT HAVE TO BE TRAPPED IN THE PAST, but this country is INFLUENCED BY OUR PAST. The USA has this slogan “Remember the Alamo” in its history, but so many people say “Slavery is over” or “We elected a black president” or “The Civil Rights Bill equalized everything” and they react to any discussion about the negative factors of this nation’s history. In my opinion, it is not race-baiting to take a long look at the history of racism in America and prayerfully ask God to show you and me what we can do to lovingly engage people whose skin color differs from us in meaningful, God-honoring relationship. And if there are recognized injustices, let us not love in word or in tongue, but with actions and in truth! (I John 1:3). The church can and should be the place where true, lasting change happens, and where meaningful, deep relationships develop between people of all ethnic backgrounds.
When Mom died of cancer in February of 2005, it came during a dark, cloudy period of my life. Yes, the day of the funeral had clear blue skies and white, cold snow, but Mom’s passing was tough for all of us.
That year (2005) Sandy and I decided to plant fewer vegetables and go for flowers. We may have had three 7’ x 2’ plots of soil, so 30’ to 40’ square feet of soil. A lot, by urban standards. The beauty of those irises, lilies, hydrangeas, and assorted other flowers transformed our backyard. I think Sabrina Hartlzer may have already been living there—if so she had all sorts of flowers and flower pots. Beauty opens our eyes to see more. And beauty soothes our souls. God is the source of beauty, so ultimately beauty should lead me back to God, right? Not always. If beauty alone did the leading back to God, I’d probably wear make-up, invest in better-looking teeth, and consult a cosmetic surgeon to see if anything could be done about my Miller nose.
Beauty, love, peace, joy, rest. All of these blessings can be enjoyed by Christ-followers, children of God. I noted recently something about flowers and sharing the gospel. A few people commented to me about the flowers. Was there a resistance to linking the good news of Jesus to flowers? Not sure.
Insert story here… During the Syrian siege of Samaria in II Kings 7, we listen in to a conversation between four leprous men in Samaria. They reason amongst themselves that if they stay in the city they will die of starvation. So they decide to head out to the Syrian army and hope they obtain mercy. Well, the Syrian army had “heard” the noise of an approaching army during the night and had fled, leaving horses, tents, and donkeys. These four men found beauty and bounty! They “went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them, and went into another tent, and carried from there also. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. Now therefore, let us go and tell…”
Do these lepers have anything to teach Christ-followers? Yes, walk into the presence of the Lord. Plant those flowers. Discover the extravagant goodness of God. Receive His love, peace, joy, rest. Do you know He loves you?
If I know and experience the authentic, everlasting love of the Father, it leads me to the next step “This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. Let us go and tell!”
For Christ-followers, open-hearted recognition and experience of God’s extravagant mercy and boundless love should ALWAYS lead his people to go and tell and of the goodness of God.
If we do not tell of God’s love, do we really know His love?
What can flowers teach us? Jesus said we should consider the lilies. They do not toil or spin. Yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Ah, so the flowers CAN bring us back to God. Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we go and tell.
What if the house we are building or fixing up and spending so much time on is going to burn someday anyway?
What if there is a cheaper vacation option to pursue, and we could pass the savings along to help those struggling in the Rohinga refugee camps in Bangladesh?
What if my neighbor dies without Christ this week and I realize I've spent five years planting flowers but never shared the Gospel with her?
What if warming the bench at church was not all God intended for the follower of Christ?
What if saving for retirement is a man-made construct that never shows up in the teachings of Jesus?
What would happen if I truly believed in the power of prayer? And what if I spent more time in prayer than on my phone?
What if every Christ-follower in the USA would ask God to give him/her a friend from a different ethnic and/or socio-economic background this year, and then walk through God's open doors for personal growth and change?
What if, for every believer in Jesus in the USA, denominational affiliation became secondary to radical allegiance to the Life and Teachings of King Jesus?
May our Father in heaven draw your heart and spirit to His heart, in deeper sanctification and holiness.
I noted some days back that I am an ambassador of the Kingdom of Heaven, so I am very politically involved in the Kingdom of God. It is an unshake-able kingdom. A few people said that we need to have more discussion on how that actually plays out in our everyday lives.
For one thing, the news you consume, the books you read, the people with whom you associate, and the media outlets you frequent have the capacity to shape you. Don’t bury your head in the sand, but always consider that the messaging often does not have the agenda of the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Watch out. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.” (Mark 8:15). This was a warning of Jesus. Leaven is yeast. Once it enters dough it spreads through the whole dough.
Watch out! Let’s try something with that passage, painting in broad strokes for our day. Watch out!
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (the religious right). The elements of the gospel writ large are Law, Holiness, Righteousness, Truth, but they often miss Grace, Mercy, Compassion, and Love. There is not a whole gospel in their news sources. They often provide statistics, facts, clinical analyses of the “news” and circumstances involved, but there is often little heart. You can try to clean the outside of the cup, but the inside is still corrupt. Beware of the leaven of the religious right, who state that all news of any source from the “radical left” is wrong and should never be trusted because of its agenda. So they flock to their own “alternative” news sources, but who on their end have no King but Trump and no Kingdom but the USA. The Kingdom of God lies somewhere below the USA on the priority list. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees. Jesus reserved his harshest words for the Pharisees.
Beware of the leaven of Herod (the radical left). The elements of the gospel writ large are Grace, Mercy, Compassion, and Love, but they often miss Law, Holiness, Righteousness, and Truth. There is not a whole gospel in their news sources. They have preached tolerance and diversity for decades, and in the miasma of teachings have lumped “social justice” into an ever-expanding cadre of oppressed groups: feminists for “reproductive rights” (abortion); LGBTQA+ “rights,” immigration rights, rights of ethnic minorities, and on and on. If someone disagrees with the overall “tolerance” agenda, the radical left will demonize that person or group and exclude them for intolerance, ruining lives with impunity. They are tolerant of all, except for those who do not agree with them. The radical left is not content to address the white privilege in the USA—they want “reproductive rights” and LGBTQA+ rights as well. Beware of the leaven of Herod (the radical left).
If you exclude one whole source of news and information, and only rely on the other, you may become what that other represents. At a foundational level, neither side (radical left or religious right) represents the Kingdom of Heaven.
Keep in step with the Spirit. Christians are called to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And Christians are certainly called to pray for justice, and to speak and act against injustice. At times this involves communicating with policy-makers and local leaders regarding the changes needed.
Dear friends, let us crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, and by love serve one another.
I think some more discussion could be helpful in this matter.
I am extremely political. Sometimes polarizingly so. My King said, in his first speech in office “"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." He has commissioned me to be an ambassador of the Kingdom of God, wherever I go and with whomever I meet. He has blessed this ambassador with the privilege to be born in the USA and live here on American soil. He has instructed me to pray for kings and all those in authority, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives.
But he has never, ever instructed me to live exclusively for an earthly kingdom, or to die for an earthly kingdom. Respect those in authority? Yes! Honor the leaders? Yes! Pray for them? Absolutely! Give my allegiance to them and the system, heart and soul? No! I have no King but Jesus. When I take up my cross and follow King Jesus, it is for His Kingdom first, no matter where I live and no matter what ruling documents form the basis of that nation-state.
He (God) uncovers deep things out of darkness, And brings the shadow of death to light. He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them. (Job 12:23).
In the current chaos all across America, I am saddened and disturbed by the destruction, division, and looting. Remember when Jesus said “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full?” (John 10:10). Well, we are seeing the stealing, killing, and destroying and it’s devastating. But I feel no inner compulsion to defend this country, just because I was born and raised here. I have had my skin crawl by reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” where leaders lied and broke "treaties," colonists killed Native Americans, destroyed their villages, and stole whatever was left. I have read of the atrocities of this nation against slaves and the subsequent post-civil war policies that continued the offenses, and it hurts me. Art galleries, museums, and wealthy Americans all across the USA "own" artifacts, gold, and silver that was often taken through legalized extortion from people and groups in other regions and from other backgrounds. If it has a "legal" stamp on it, we reason it was not stolen. But art dealers and those dealing in antiquities know that this thievery has happened for decades in America. The Congo has been pillaged of its treasures for centuries in exchange for a pittance, but somehow that is okay and it not considered "looting." I am an ambassador in the Kingdom of God. I feel no inner compulsion to defend a rapacious nation-state in which I live, even if I have been a beneficiary of much of its strengths.
I wince at the language of “burn it to the ground and start over.” That does not make sense from a practical point of view. I certainly can’t put forth a candidate to suggest to lead that new start-up nation with grace and civility. And I can't imagine finding a viable representative group to draft a new constitution that would be accepted by even 60% of the populace.
But I am first a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Kingdom of God (this includes church), family, then country. I am not just a citizen in the kingdom of God; I am an ambassador, which makes me politically engaged.
May God empower His Kingdom ambassadors to be people of active prayer, witnesses for Christ, moving forward with grace, truth, and love. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. (Colossians 1:13).
Why are there so many godly people who disagree on Covid-19, ranging from it’s a hoax to it’s for real?
-Experiences, perspective, and conditioning shape our understanding of reality
Why do so many godly people disagree on the underlying causes and issues of ethnic division, or even on the best way forward to unity in Christ?
-Experiences, perspective, and conditioning shape our understanding of reality.
Well, Christians can at least agree that the Bible is God’s Word and is true for our time, right?
Why are you cautious there?
Because even here, the people who taught us and shared with us from the Word of God brought their experiences, perspectives, conditioning and culture into the discussion.
But here I will venture back into reality, unstained and uncluttered from “perspective.” I heard recently from a friend who advised correctly “You can’t write perspective a blank check.” True. Consider Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Your perspective will not change the reality that Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world. He gave his life as a ransom for many, whether you experienced that or not. All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. That is also a reality, and your perspective one way or the other will not change that reality. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. This is reality.
He who knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin. Whatever is not of faith is sin. That is reality.
But wait, our minds try to understand what that “do good” really is, and what exactly is “not of faith?” So we are back to experiences, perception, and conditioning that influence our understanding of this reality.
Ah, check this out. A word to those who have given their lives to Jesus. (I Corinthians 2:16) We have the mind of Christ.
Yes! Now there is something solid to lay hold on.
We have the mind of Christ. We reject carnality. All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, we reject.
Because we have the mind of Christ.
A repentant believer, giving his life to Jesus Christ, invites Christ into His heart to rule, reign, convict, and live. The Holy Spirt of God puts his finger on the areas of sin and self that need to be changed. Every Christ follower is given the opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit to “search me, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting.”
Moment by moment, day by day, week by week, from glory to glory He changes us. Refining, shaping, pruning, challenging, sifting, encouraging, singing over us—all of these loving acts of the Father by His Spirit continue to make us into the image of His Son. Wow. So as we get changed, and put on the mind of Christ, even our perspective and experiences and conditioning are transformed and refined.
Thank you, Jesus.
God created and loves all colors.
Since the video surfaced a few weeks ago of the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery I have been mulling the deep-seated and long-term racial divisions that still exist in the USA. I spent some emotional days thinking through this and trying to put words to my thoughts. It’s tough work. I commented to Sandy a few days ago that entering into any kind of divisive relationship carries with it the dimensions of spiritual warfare. Now, we are reeling from this tragedy of George Floyd’s death, and subsequent rioting, vandalism, and looting. The enemy of our souls, Satan, looks to steal, kill, and destroy. He’s crafty and does this in so many ways. Sometimes it shows up as “Steal our joy, kill our hope, and destroy our unity.” In the area of racial division, especially between black and white Americans, there have been centuries of fractured relationships. Yes, by God’s grace, there have been pockets of scattered togetherness. In Christ, the middle wall of partition is broken down, and He is our peace. Thank God for healing and the breaking down of walls! That said, there is still such a deep need for healing, and there are more walls to be broken down if there is going to be genuine relationship.
Healing. What does it take for a sick nation to be made well? What does it take for a sick soul to be made well? What does it take for a sick church to be made well? Thank God for the salvation found in Christ alone! That is where healing is found. But even in the church of Christ, there is still division and disunity. We need healing, church. I think it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that the most segregated hour in America was the Sunday morning church service. And then we read in Revelation that John saw people from every nation, tribe, and tongue standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. Most of what I have to say in this post is addressed to white and black Christians. But people of any shade of melanin must turn to the cross of Christ, lay down their lives to love the Lord our God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and look to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This “love your neighbor” mandate should move us outside our comfort zones to neighbors near and far. I am not promoting multi-culturalism as a “First thing.” Jesus Christ and him crucified is our first thing. However, I do believe that a by-product of Christ-centered, Spirit-directed living should be an active desire to know and commune with brothers and sisters of other backgrounds and cultures.
I wonder how Jesus would address the “Church in America” if he decided to write a letter? For one thing, there is such a broad range of “church” that he probably would need to address each specific church. Sadly, there is more diversity of sin in the “church” in America than those 7 churches Jesus addressed in Revelation. From where I sit, it seems that the sins of Laodicea are likely the closest to American churches. Listen to how Jesus addresses the Laodiceans regarding their need for healing: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' --and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked--I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
I don’t have enough money to buy that eye salve. But thank God! He gives eye salve to all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus with repentance, and to those who ask him to open our eyes, so we can truly see. Will you ask him to open your eyes?
We need healing. In Christ, there is healing. He gives eye salve, so we can see. He opens our ears to hear. He opens our mouths, so we can speak. Look at what Jesus does in Mark 7 with the deaf man who has a speech impediment.
“Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
There we go. Christ makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. He gives voice to the voiceless, and he heals the deaf so they can hear. He counsels the blind to get eye salve to put on our eyes so we can see.
Dear Christ-followers, let us stay rooted and grounded in the love of Christ as we move to break down the dividing walls of partition. After all, Ephesians 2:14 tells us that Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. This passage refers to Jews and Greeks, but could it not be applied to blacks and whites, and any other ethnic division? By the grace of God, we need to enter more fully into the healing that comes in Christ. Consider Hebrews 10, which tells us that Jesus, “After He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” In Christ, we have been given eternal life we are counted among "those who are being sanctified." He is our gentle healer.
To my dear black brothers and sisters, I thank God so much for the privilege to share in the communion of saints with you in the family of God. Although I was not around in the 1700’s and 1800’s during institutionalized slavery when there was such a dehumanizing message spoken about black people even in the church, I pray that God would forgive our nation and bring healing to your hearts of the deep wounds that still implicitly and unconsciously lie below the surface. I was not around during the bitter share-cropping years of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and I was not present to witness the systemic oppression prior to the civil rights movements in the 1960’s, but those wounds are still a part of our nation’s history. Those wounds have sometimes made some of you put walls up to protect yourselves. And some of those wounds are often there, implicit and unconscious in your shared memory. I pray that, in Christ, we can become like those Jews and Greeks of Ephesians 2, and say together by the grace of God, with celebration that “Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
From my church background in the Mennonite church, most of my brothers and sisters during my first twenty years of living were white, and we have done a poor job of moving into your lives and allowing you to move into ours, with love and grace. Silence has not helped us. We need Jesus to teach us how to speak. We do not listen well. We need Jesus to teach us how to hear. And we need eye salve from Christ, to help us to see. If I can be a part of the healing touch of God that brings healing to the wounds of our nation’s history, please help me to see what I can do. At this point, I have little to say, but I have much to learn. Please forgive me for my ignorance and my often unconscious insensitivity towards you and your feelings and emotions. I have sometimes focused on “truth” and “statistics” and a clinical and forensic view of what I thought was the situation, and I have often failed to hear your heart. Will you allow me to move into your life so I can listen and understand? Will you allow me to open up as well without fear of reprisal? Can we pray together, for each other?
Thank you, heavenly Father, for the gift of Jesus Christ who has entered our world and brings the eye salve to open our eyes. Thank you, Jesus, for entering our world to open our ears to hear. Thank you, Jesus, that you can touch our speech impediments and allow us to speak words of life and not death. Please do that for me and for all of your church in this area of racial division, Lord Jesus. Please open our ears to hear. And please open our mouths to speak words of Your love and truth. Only you can bring healing to the hurting. Only you can make the two groups one and destroy the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. Please bring full healing, Jesus.
To my dear white brothers and sisters, I thank God so much for the privilege to share with you as well in the communion of saints in the family of God. Please, let us be ready to listen. It’s likely that “ears to hear” is what we need the most. Please, let us come to our Father and ask him to give us ears to hear, from His Word, by His Spirit, and from our brothers and sisters in the black community and elsewhere. May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering! God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should never perish, but have everlasting life. Church was never supposed to be a divisive place. This was never God’s will that this be an “us-them” conversation, but for hundreds of years in the USA it was so. The dehumanization of the black slaves, often perpetuated from the bully “Christian” pulpit of the 1600’s, 1700’s, and into the late 1800’s, is something that needs to be repented of and rejected by all of us. Healing is still needed in the black community from the sins done against them, even all the way forward in history here in 2020. And please understand me, I do not support or condone a victim mentality. Many have been able to move forward despite the history. Still, there is a shared identity in the black community that was repressed and dehumanized at awful levels for a long, long time. This could be a generational sin within the white community that WE, the white privileged class, need to condemn and repent of. Please, let us take the counsel of Jesus to apply eye salve so that our eyes will be opened, so we can see. And one more thing, if your knee-jerk reaction to all the past week’s news is “I’m not racist. What’s their problem? Why are they making such a big deal of this?” You are probably in need of some of an extra tube of that eye salve. And I’m not supporting vandalism or looting when I say that.
And to all my dear brothers and sisters of all shades and colors of melanin, I am forever grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to have a foretaste of heaven here on earth by having friends who have experienced the world differently than I have. We each have a story to tell, we each have a culture that has shaped who we are. If we are in Christ, he has redeemed us and brought us back to His throne room where we can approach His throne with boldness so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
We are in need, church of Jesus. Let us approach His throne of grace so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
I know for certain that the best way forward is in Christ, in humility, with the Word and the Spirit as our guide. I believe, somewhat uncertainly and with a bit of confusion, that I need to deconstruct my cultural background a bit to see what I have been bringing to the table of communion that is not of Christ. My culture can actually keep me from fully engaging with all that Christ has to offer. By the grace of God, let us move towards others who are not of our background and culture. When we do that, sometimes the fishbowl of our culture breaks and we get to understand more of the ocean of God’s mercy. It gets terrifying when we realize our fish bowl was freshwater and the ocean of God’s love is saltwater—but sometimes that just shows that self needed to die more for true life of Christ to rise up. These times of raw anger and exposed hurt are times that Christ can enter with His love and bring healing. The healing may have to begin with our repentance. When Daniel prayed in Daniel 9 “We have sinned” he was identifying with the sins of the nation as he sought the mercy of God. I confess before almighty God that I have sinned in this area of racial healing. There is much more work for God to do in my heart, and by the grace of God He is still working on me. I long to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God and my brothers and sisters in Christ who are black, white, and other.
Will you fast and pray with me this Wednesday, June 3, 2020? We have this pandemic that has struck the earth and all nations are still reeling from its results and the accompanying responses to it. Mass starvation is probably the next "pandemic" we will face. And now we have an opportunity to pray for healing, unity, and deeper relationship between people of color and whites in America, and within the church of Jesus Christ here in America. When we pray, we have an opportunity to fill the prayer bowls in heaven so that God pours out his answers upon His people.
Grace and peace,
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner