Friday, September 4, 2020

March Madness and the Weakness of God: A COVID-19 Reflection

March Madness, the basketball tournament, was cancelled six months ago. In every other way, March Madness trudges wearily on to this day. While we’ve begun to enjoy again the happy escape that live sports can bring, the madness of the pandemic is ever-present, picking away at the fabric of our substance and our souls. Culture and community as we know it, are at best, thread bare. At worst, they are unravelling at the seams. And it wears upon us all. 


I feel weary from life being cancelled by a pandemic. I feel even more weary from people   cancelling each other during the pandemic - a strange disease of its own. I have decision fatigue as our Governor changes paramaters for life, education and worship almost weekly. I have Zoom fatigue and homeschool-parent fatigue. I have homebody fatigue. In a normal year I would have done 3 international trips and numerous national trips. This year. Everything cancelled. I’m longing for a trip to break up the monotony.


Of course, there have been some beautiful things in this six months of March Madness. Our family have slowed down and enjoyed time together. We’ve done some satisfying house projects. Our dog thinks she is in dog heaven. She is never left home alone. Our church has been generous and resilient and we’ve experienced some gospel surprises that have come with some risks taken. Our leadership team has been brave and agile. Life rhythms have become more simplified. So, why is it then, that I feel exhausted at the end of every day?


I think it’s because life is more intense and uncertain than it has ever been. It feels intense because people’s opinions on everything are so strong and polarized. It feels uncertain because things seem to change almost daily, and generally for the worse. Our tendency to catastrophize is very strong as a nation. Conspiracy and end-of-the world theories abound.  Leading in this environment requires resilience. You have to listen to many conflicting and convicted points of view, receive criticism without allowing it to destroy you, search the Scriptures, lean into team and prayer, make hard decisions and then hold your line. Basically, it requires strength. I suppose I’m tired from having to be strong when I feel weak. 


Which is why I’ve been thinking about the weakness of Jesus a lot these six months of March Madness. The Son of God, the Eternal Creator, who never grew weary or weak, willingly embraced vulnerability to and dependence on His own creation. Jesus  was born and raised in weakness. He nursed from a mother He created. He lived under the shadow of her teenage-pregnancy scandal. He and his parents fled as refugees to Egypt from a murderous, tyrant-king. And then there was the humble monotony of learning a language and a trade while waiting for his ministry to be launched. When it eventually arrived, it began with baptism, a dove and forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Very little fanfare. Weakness.  

Hebrews 4:15 describes the why of Jesus' weakness. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus didn’t hold weakness at arms length. He embraced it in every way so that he could sympathize with us. Then Hebrews 5:2 talks about the beautiful power of Jesus’ weakness for us. “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He is clothed in weakness.” Because Jesus willingly clothed Himself in weakness, yet resisted sin, he doesn’t only sympathize with us in our weakness. He is able to help us gently in our ignorance and waywardness


The various high priests in the Old testament were sinfully weak. They could sympathize with people’s weakness, but not really help them overcome it.  Jesus was sinlessly weak. Therefore He is able to both sympathize and help us in our weakness. The word help here in the Greek is unique. It is the verb boetheian, which means to undergird or  hold together. It is only used one other time in the New Testament, in Luke’s account of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27. “When the sailors thought the ship was going to be torn apart by the storm, they passed supports (gk. boetheias)  to undergird the ship.” (v 17) In other words, Jesus’ high priestly help undergirds us and holds us together when we are violently storm-tossed. 

Dane Ortlund, in his book Gentle and Lowly, describes the beauty of Jesus’ gentleness like this. “Rather than dispensing grace to us from high, he gets down with us, puts his arm around us, he deals with us in the way that is just what we need. His gentle restraint simply flows from his tender heart for his people.” 

This virtue of Jesus has brought me tangible strength in my weakness. I pray it does for you too. 

 So, if March Madness still trudges wearily on for you, Jesus invites you and I to drink deeply from the never-ending fountain of His gentleness in our weakness. 


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Beyond Racial Gridlock: A Webinar with Dr. George Yancey

If you feel anything like I do, there is both a sense of grief at our current moment of racial volatility, and also a sense of hope that the Lord is powerfully at work. I do believe He is calling His Church to engage in hard conversations that would enable us to lead as agents of racial reconciliation and transformation in the world. But perhaps the loudest voices are not always the truest voices in our day? Perhaps God is turning up the volume on lesser known, true voices?

While on vacation in July, I read a book by Dr. George Yancey called, Beyond Racial Gridlock, which spoke powerfully to this grief and hope.You can read it here. I was so impressed by Yancey's insights that I sought out a meeting with him in Texas where he lives. My wife and I just happened to be in Denton visiting our oldest son for his 21st birthday, and Yancey has lived in Denton since he became professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas in 1999. He has now moved on to teach at Baylor University, but has remained in Denton because of a love for their community and The Village Church where  he and his wife are committed members. Despite COVID restrictions, I was delighted that Yancey agreed to grab a coffee and have a chat. Here is how he summarized his approach to racial reconciliation. 

About a Gospel Approach to Racial Reconciliation 

Much of the church has taken one of two approaches to racial issues we face in America. One is to sit on our hands and wait for things to blow over, dismissing or ignoring legitimate concerns being put forth, at times lacking compassion for our fellow man, or providing counter arguments that miss the heart of the matter. The other approach desires action, but with little Gospel foundation, this group pursues the media and "woke" crowd narrative of condemnation and guilt which also misses the mark.

Both of these approaches are secular in nature. Both of these approaches are divisive and will lead to further division in our country and the church because both of these approaches lack grace and fail to take into account man's sinful nature. Neither approach will ultimately bring about the needed change of reconciliation in our country or our churches.

Yancey challenges the church to a third way to approach these issues at hand that is rooted in the gospel. Christ is the ultimate reconciler. The church is His reconciling agent. Dr. Yancey calls the church to embrace its Christ given role in this matter showing the way forward through the tensions of our day that only the gospel can provide.


 After hearing him unpack his theory of mutual responsibility as it had worked out in his multiracial marriage, as well as his church, I asked Dr. Yancey to teach a seminar for our church and the churches we work with. He graciously agreed, and I am persuaded that this webinar will be a game changer for our churches and communities at this time. 

So, I am pleased to invite you to  join us to hear from George Yancey (PhD, University of Texas) teaching on a Gospel Approach to Racial Reconciliation on Tuesday, September 22nd from 4:15 - 6:30 pm PDT via Zoom. I hope you will join us. You can sign up for the webinar here.

About George Yancey

After graduating West Texas State University with a B. S. in Economics, Dr. Yancey attended the University of Texas at Austin and received his doctorate in Sociology in 1995. He first began to study interracial romance but then was fortunate enough to work with Michael Emerson on a half-million dollar grant to study multiracial churches. A few years ago Professor Yancey began to study academic bias and now has also conducted research on anti-Christian attitudes in the United States. That resulted in some of his latest writings. In 1999 he began teaching at the University of North Texas. Then in 2019 he started working for Baylor University with a joint appointment in Sociology and Institute of Religious Studies, focusing on race relations and anti-Christian attitudes in the United States. Concerning racial issues, Dr. Yancey has developed a Christian model for race relations that can take us beyond colorblindness and anti-racism.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Ezra Fast : Seeking God for Families and Revival

 As I made my morning cappuccino yesterday, my daughter popped her head out of her bedroom to ask me to be more quiet in the kitchen because she was 'in session'  on a school Zoom call and couldn't hear for all the noise. Please do not disturb! 

The irony. This is exactly what I've been asking from my kids these last 5 months! But this is their strange, new normal and they are understandably on edge as they navigate the start of an on-line school semester. Truth be told, we're all a bit on edge. Rynelle and I never put up our hands to be home-school parents and our kids feel sad about missing normal rhythms, friends and sports seasons. In Texas, Asher has begun his senior college year on-line while doing 10 hour-a-day football practices with the real likelihood that his football season will be cancelled. It's all quite unsettling, isn't it?

 Those of us who don't have children of our own can still feel the wear and tear of this season on our marriages, or with our house-mates and closest relationships. Our families and households desperately need the grace and peace of God in the midst of anxiety, uncertainty and frustration. 

There is much that is not clear to me about this current season. But of this I am absolutely certain. God is teaching us to pray with greater urgency and dependence. He is teaching us what it means to reach the end of our own resources, to declare utter dependance upon Him and to find a new atmosphere of grace amidst our current circumstances. That is why we are fasting and praying as a Church today and gathering both in-person and on-line tonight at 6:30pm. Sign up here to join in person.

Ezra was a priest in the Bible who called a day of fasting and prayer for families, and we are going to take our cue from his prayer.  It was Ezra and Nehemiah who led the Jewish people back from exile in Babylon to rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem. Before they left on their journey, Ezra called for a fast.

 "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, 'The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake Him.' So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty." (Ezra 8:21-23)

As we seek the Lord in prayer and fasting today let's pray in these ways:

1. For Humble Dependence upon God for our good, rather than depending on ourselves or others  "I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of horsemen to protect us, for the hand of the Lord is for good on all who seek him." King Cyrus had actually been very generous to the returning exiles, but Ezra recognized the limits of human authority in the protection of God's people. Of course, we should pray for good leadership in government at this time. But let's not put too much stock in them. Our good does not ultimately come from any person's hand. Our good ultimately comes from the hand of the Lord who is over all, and who responds to the entreaty of His people.

2. For Protection and Peace on our marriages, our children, our families and our properties as we navigate this season. "That we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children and all our goods." Let's pray that God's peace would flow into our anxiety and conflict, that He would protect our marriages, our parent/child relationships and our closest household friendships giving us a safe journey.  Let's pray that our families would be beacons of health and mission where the lonely could find safety and community. 

3. For Revival rather than mere Survival.  I know that this can sound trite, but it's here in the prayer of Ezra. After praying for protection for families, he prays, "That our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves, but God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of God"(Ezra 9:8-9)

 Revival has historically begun at the lowest ebb of church and culture. That's why I love the description of revival as a brightening of our eyes, as in, a change in the way we see our circumstances. Prayer doesn't always change our circumstances immediately. But it changes the atmosphere of those circumstances. It injects the resurrection  hope of Jesus into the most hopeless of circumstances, so that we are not crushed by our confinement. I believe God wants to brighten our eyes today by His Spirit. I believe Jesus wants to change the atmosphere of our circumstances. He wants to give us fresh vision to see that He is at work in quiet miracles.  Revival may not look like a stadium jam-packed with thousands of worshippers in our day. It may look like a son coming to his father and asking him to pray that Jesus would break his addiction to drugs. It may look like a sceptic coming to faith because his neighbor invited him to watch his church's sermons on-line. It may look like a home school mom doing daily devotions for the kids on her street. (I've seen all these things happen recently

In our seeking for peace and protection for ourselves and our families, let's not go passive or inward looking. Let's keep asking that God would brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving so that we would be able to see his gospel spreading steadily and surely.

See you and your children tonight in-person on the Southlands Brea patio or online on Facebook Live.