Colin Kaepernick and the Future of Freedom

Because I’m far and few between in actually writing post, you likely are well aware of the protest by Colin Kaepernick (and other athletes) during the National Anthem and the backlash it has created. It certainly brings up a lot of strong emotions. Kaepernick, in his own words explains why he is protesting,

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”(NFL.com 8/28/16)

Kaepernick is protesting the injustices that the African-American and Latino communities face. These injustices have only been exacerbated by several high profile shootings during 2016, most recently the shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, OK. It should be noted that Kaepernick is not refusing to support our military men and woman; nor is he saying that America is a terrible place- he is speaking out against  the systemic racism that is prevalent (and has been prevalent) in our nation.

Because of our 1st Amendment rights, Kaepernick has the right to say what he wants and to protest what he wants to protest. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. But it troubles me when I hear discussion about how he should be “shipped out of the country” or he “doesn’t deserve to live here” because those expressions are a denial of our 1st Amendment rights to free speech. Do I think Kaepernick could protest in a better way- certainly, but I won’t criticized his decision to stand up and say what he believes.

This is where the church comes in. What happens when we move away from our freedoms grounded in the Constitution and our Amendments? Suppose we mandate all citizens honor the flag/country/constitution/etc. and take away someone’s free speech. How much longer will it be before we begin to lose our freedom of religion and require all those who do not conform to the norm to be “shipped out?” By protecting the free speech of everyone, including those we disagree with, protects everyone and gives us the freedom to speak out against injustice and the abuse of power when we see it. By protecting the freedom of religion of all people protects everyone who practices religion in our country.

Your turn: Is our flag/anthem more important than the freedoms our Constitution provides? If we prevent people from free speech aren’t we putting all of our freedoms in jeopardy? (Comments that are not inclined to dialogue and civility will be deleted.)

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What’s In a Name?

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As a United Methodist pastor, I currently serve two churches. I am beginning my 7th year at Hope Church and my 2nd year at Magnolia Church. This past June, the leadership of our churches took a risk and agreed to start worshipping together in Magnolia (about 8 miles south of Hope’s previous location). There are a lot of reasons that led us to this point (including a lot of Holy Spirit guidance!), but ultimately we believe that we can be better together in worship, discipleship, and outreach that we could be apart. We are working towards a church merger that would birth a new church all together.

Our leaders have been meeting diligently all summer to work towards this end. One of our discussions is on the value of a good name. Looking at our churches, landing on a name that communicates our vision and invites people to learn more about our church may be the largest hurdle we face. But names are very important and should the focus of some great conversation.

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Proverbs 22:1

“Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love you! Song of Songs 1:3

Just from these two passages we see that a good name and a good reputation is very valuable. It takes a lifetime to build a name, and a minute to destroy it.

That has never been more clear than the Ryan Lochte saga at the 2016 Olympics when it was exposed that he lied about being held up and robbed at gun point. Lochte is a twelve time medalist in the Olympics with endorsement deals from four companies. In one night Lochte’s reputation changed. Now, rather than describing Lochte as a multi-medal winning athlete, we are tempted to think of him in regards to his untrue story and the saga it created.

As we consider the identity of the church that is being birthed in Magnolia, we are reminded that our identity is grounded in the name of Jesus. In Jesus we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters of the King. We are to live, as Paul reminds us, “Whatever your do, whether in word or dead, do it in the name of God…”

 

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When Everything Goes Wrong

It was one of those mornings yesterday. And by yesterday, I mean Sunday morning which, as a pastor, is a big day. In short, it seemed like everything that could go wrong could.

  • I left my church keys at home and didn’t realize it until I got to church- meaning I had to drive home and then back to church.
  • The AC wasn’t working in our nursery. It was a balmy 81 degrees in there.
  • Our mp3 recorder (for recording service) mysteriously didn’t work after working perfect last week.
  • One hour before worship, I realized that I deleted our entire cloud-based projection files-leaving no time to recreate them before worship.
  • My wireless mic battery died just as worship began
  • Of course, all of this just put me in a frustrated mood.

Now, on the grand scheme of things, none of these things impacted the morning beyond me. It was another lesson that even when things go wrong (or not as we intend) that God is still God. God is still faithful. God is still at work.

During worship I saw our church rally around our mission team in prayer; passion for orphan-care; and celebrated the return of one of our members from a six month deployment.

I am thankful for the many ways that God continues to work even in, what I think are, less than desirable circumstances. Even when everything seems to go wrong, God is still at work. I can’t wait to see what God does this week!

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Praying The Scriptures: Colossians

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One of the best ways that we can pray is to pray the Scriptures. After all, they are the Word of God. We can pray these truths in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. In particular, I think it’s important to pray the promises of scripture over our children. I am teaching through the book of Colossians. It’s actually a letter from Paul to the church at Colossae- and it contains the typical components of an ancient letter. One of those components is a prayer in 1:9-14. Paul prays:

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

How do we pray this over someone- especially our children?

Almighty God,

Fill your child with the knowledge of your will through the gift of your Spirit. May this knowledge lead (child’s name) to live a life completely committed and pleasing to you. May his/her life and faith bear fruit every day as they grow in their knowledge of you and as they are strengthened to endure every attack the enemy might engage in. Fill (child’s name) with joyful thanksgiving as we remember that you have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of Light, the Kingdom of your Son in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. We pray these things in the name of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Being Reconciled

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21, NIV)

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When I would read this passage I would often center in on the word ambassador. For me, an ambassador was someone who represented a country and it’s government in a foreign land. As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ and our message and our mission is reconciliation. We are called to engage the world and implore it to be reconciled to Christ and to one another. Again, for me, this took on the tone of me speaking.

While I still believe in my understanding of an ambassador and that an ambassador takes time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation by speaking- I have come to see that the primary role of the ambassador, and thus a Christian, is listening. An ambassador to a nation has to study the customs, and the habits in order to know where the ministry of reconciliation intersects the culture. An ambassador is a student of the culture. I believe a good ambassador knows the story of the people he/she has been sent to because they have listened well and taken the time to walk with the people they have been sent to. Knowing the stories of our community draws us deeper into relationships and further along in the process of reconciliation.

If we are to engage in the ministry of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassadors, then we must become engaged listeners of the stories of those we are sent to.

In our 24 hour news twitter-verse we (and our congregants) are more apt to shout out our beliefs rather than sitting across from one another listening to each other’s stories over coffee. I believe that sitting across from one another knee-to-knee and listening ultimately leads us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder doing the work of the kingdom: Reconciliation.

The community I grew up in did not have a lot of racial diversity. I heard every kind of slur and, regretfully, I used every kind of slur in arguments and on the playgrounds. My perception of people who were different than me were based on caricatures and stereotypes. Because of this, I was/am broken and sinful in my views of the other. I began to experience reconciliation through various people in my life who loved me, got to know me and allowed me to get to know them, and rather than the caricature I was able to see the unique, made-in-God’s-image individuals that we all are.

I am grateful for the people in my life who have invited me into their story given me the opportunity to listen and understand.  I am honored by the role we have as clergy to listen to those who are searching for God and to invite them to be reconciled as we are given permission to enter their lives. If we hope to experience reconciliation in our communities then we must learn to listen to one another’s stories and experiences in order to seek understanding.

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Fight Club: The Battle to be Present

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At Hope and Magnolia Churches, we’ve been in a series called Fight Club where we are looking at the battles that we all face. This past Sunday, we looked at the battle to be present in our relationships with one another and with God.

The scripture lesson was Judge 14:1-9. Samson- who is on his way to introduce his parents to the Philistine woman he wants to marry (which is its only problem) kills a lion with his bare hands. A few days later, on his way to the wedding he “turns aside to see the carcass of the lion” which was full of bees and honey. Samson did what we all might do- he scooped the honey out of the carcass and ate it! This started a downward spiral at his wedding feast resulting in Samson storming off in anger and his wife being given to one of Samson’s friends in marriage!! (Sounds like a reality TV series)

What I find fascinating is the phrase “turned aside.” Samson was heading in one direction (his wedding day) and he turned aside. How often do we know the direction we are to be heading in our relationships with one another and God yet we “turn aside” to view some dead lifeless place in our lives?

Do you remember the story of Adam and Eve? Satan tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now you would think that Adam would fight off the serpent, hit him with a rake or other gardening tool (they were, after all, in the Garden of Eden), but Adam did nothing.Eve was in a battle for her life and at that moment Adam was silent. As a husband, Adam had one job at that moment, to protect his wife.

When we turn aside from our focus, we create space for sin to invade our lives. When we are not fully present, sin fully presents itself to us.

We live in a distracted world. We waste countless hours on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Tumblr while missing out on relationships with the people right in front of us. We turn towards the things that distract us and in doing so, we turn aside from our relationship with God.

What is it that distracts you? What causes you to turn aside from your relationship with your spouse? Your Children? Your friends? Your relationship with God?

How would those relationships be different if you were to win the battle to be present?

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If NBA Teams Were Churches

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I love sports and the lessons that go along with them. When Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that the church is like a body- and that every part matters- we can see that application in sports in some good and bad ways just as we can see good and bad examples of churches functioning (or not) as a body. So I wanted to highlight some NBA Teams and the churches they represent. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

1. The Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers. Magic. Kareem. Kobe. But the 2016 Lakers are not your mama’s Lakers- nor are they the Lakers that I recognize. Certainly there were the glory days but now the team is in shambles. Second worst record in the league. Why? Management caters to an aging superstar on a team that lacks a supporting cast.

We know these kinds of churches. Laker Churches. They had their glory days but now are being handcuffed by one or two families who think they run the show. Nothing can happen in the church unless it is run through (Kobe) the influential family. This mentality is killing the church. They say, revival is just a few funerals (or retirement) away.

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Warriors at Wizards 2/3/16

2. The Golden State Warriors: The Warriors just had one of the greatest single seasons ever in the history of the NBA. They have an exciting young core led by Steph Curry. They appear committed to one another and to the goal of multiple championships. What remains to be seen is their staying power.

I see the Warrior representing the “Hot Church” in town. It may be a new and dynamic church plant or a revitalized congregation. Their ministry growth includes a unparalleled music ministry and dynamic preaching. What remains to be see is whether these “Hot Churches” have the structures in place to deal with growth, discipleship, and adversity to have long-term staying power and impact in the community.

3. The Philadelphia 76ers: While most people know what the Lakers need I am not sure anyone knows what the 76ers are doing or what they need. There appeared to be a clear vision (tank and collect draft picks to hopefully draft a superstar or 2), but then 3/4 into the vision they fire the architect. It remains to been seen whether or not a new vision will develop. Until then, everything is in limbo.

Churches, like the 76ers, can struggle to have a clear, coherent, and attainable vision. It seemed the 76ers were trying to be innovative and change the process of rebuilding. Sometimes a church can set a course for clear change in their structure, their ministry, and their focus (all good things) however if the right results do not come fast enough there can be backlash and a change of vision- often back to what feels safe and comfortable. This can leave everyone wondering, “What is going on?”

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4. The Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs have Lebron- which is almost all you need in the Eastern Conference to head to the championship series. Lebron left Cleveland for Miami, won some championships, and now has returned home. It’s a great story. And Lebron is a great player who makes the people around him better. The question with the Cavs is whether or not they have enough pieces to work with Lebron. If they don’t provide a fully stocked roster (need 2 stars in the NBA to compete) then questions will remain as to whether Lebron becomes Kobe and does it all himself, or, Lebron burns out and takes his talents to…

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The Cavaliers Church is not a King James Only church (though that would be fun to write about), but the church that has a pastor or leader who works to make everyone better. Everyone knows that the pastor or leader is capable of some great ministry on their own, but their desire is to fully engage the rest of the church in ministry. The success of the church depends on whether the church will buy into the Pastors/leaders willingness and desire to get everyone involved. If the church members will not get involved, share ministry, and make each other great then the pastor/leader can be prone to burnout and frustration and may seek another place to serve.

5. The San Antonio Spurs: I believe that the Spurs are the premier NBA Team- and have been for over 20 years. With Greg Popovich as coach, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli the Spurs have a wise and experienced core that knows how to handle every situation. The Spurs also excel at bringing in younger and role players who learn the game and fundamentals by some of the best in the league. Their emphasis on fundamentals and teamwork are not often exciting (Spurs are often considered boring) but leads to great results.

I want to be in a church that operates like the Spurs. Everyone on that team knows and understands their role. Even their superstar, Tim Duncan, who is at the end of his career knows how to get the most out of his body and those around him. Their coach often sits their best players for an entire game- which gives the other players on the team experience that they could not get elsewhere. They are not flashy but they are sound in everything they do.

A church needs more than a great leader. More than a great band. More than a excellent program. It needs everyone growing in the fundamentals of their faith and getting involved in the ministries of the church. The church cannot rely on a handful of people for ministry but must constantly be discipling and giving opportunities to those who are “next up” or new to the team. A great church, like a great basketball team, does not run 1 or 2 people deep- but has a deep bench where everyone has and knows their role in order to accomplish their purpose: making disciples of all people.

What other NBA Teams are remind you of churches that you’ve been in?

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