What I Should Have Learned In High School

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Recently I have been in what I will call a season of “reflection”. Its been bitter sweet. It is good to take some time to evaluate your life’s progress every now and again, and to see where you did well and where you made your mistakes. These following  things I wish someone would have told me in high school:

1. Traditional college may not be the best option: I was fortunate to have a great college experience. I learned a lot of great information. Met a lot of great people. But it came at a big cost. Upwards to 40K+. I did not have much familial assistance, so it was all paid through Pell grants, a partial scholarship, and loans. Traditional college has become far too expensive, and it should cause high school students to consider other options, especially if they are seeking advanced degrees (which I recommend these days). Not to mention, after you complete the degree the job market is saturated with people seeking employment. The chances of you landing a job in your field of choice right out of college with little to no experience is slim. High school students should consider programs that push you past the traditional bachelor’s degree, or programs where you can gain practical experience while being taught. There are a number of programs that offer accelerated degrees- instead of spending the traditional 6-7 years earning a bachelors and then a masters, in 5 years you could earn both a bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. Having an advanced degree is important. Only about 10% of Americans hold advance level degrees (Master’s or Doctorate). Once you become apart of this 10% club, you become very marketable in your specialized field.

I also suggest high school students explore trade or vocational school. If the traditional college experience is not for you (college is not for everybody), then I suggest a vocational school. Vocational or trade school specializes you in a particular area. Computer electronics, software development, HVAC, Medical Assisting, Nursing, Auto Repair, etc. are all opportunities that are available through vocational school. These vocations are available to the traditional college students, but are often given to those who have specialized in this area. You also gain hands on experience in school, so that when you graduate you are completely ready for field work which puts you a step above the traditional college student. The only downside I see to vocational school is that a career change could be devastating. You have been trained to do one thing and if you change that then you lose all of your marketability.

2. Community colleges are great options: Everyone wants to be apart of the big, prestigious Universities. Who wouldn’t want to say that they attended Purdue, or Harvard, or Princeton. These are great schools, but with the rising cost of education it may be best to consider the community colleges. Community colleges have become great institutions of education, not to mention that most community colleges will only employ the most qualified professors (professors who often teach at the Universities as well). If I can get taught the same stuff, from the same professors, for half the cost I would take that.

3. Go where the money is: I was offered a great financial aid package at Alabama A&M. The scholarship they offered me would have paid well over half of my tuition including room and boarding. But, for whatever reason (maybe I was afraid to move that far away from home), I did not take it and I decided to attend the University of Missouri. Mizzou gave me a financial aid package, but it wasn’t near as good as what Alabama A&M was offering. Had I attended Alabama, I would be in significantly less student debt.  Apply to different schools and see what kind of financial assistance packages they can offer. Go where they offer you the most money.

4. Find out what you want to do early: I recommend high school students find out what their passions are early. Its okay to be unsure, but it may cost you more in the long run. Being an undeclared major, or switching majors after Freshman year only prolongs your time in school and ultimately cost you more. Find out what you want to do, hop in and do it. Now I understand that things happen, and people often discover themselves in undergrad. That’s okay. But if you can, explore other things early so that the epiphany happens sooner rather than later.

5. Take summer classes: If you decide to go the traditional college route, I recommend taking advantage of the summers. Get those silly prerequisites and electives out of the way quickly. I wish colleges would do away with the elective requirements. If you want to take an elective it should your choice, not a requirement in my opinion. To me, it seems like a huge waste of money. I had to complete my elective credits, so I decided to take a architecture class and a textile apparel class. Needless to say, they were both a waste of my time and money. I didn’t take them over the summer like I should have, so I endured 16 long weeks of classes that I was disinterested in. Colleges will require you to take electives and prereqs, my advice is to get them done over the 6 week summer session, so that during the longer semester you can focus on things that are actually interesting to you.

These are my reflections. What are some that you would add?

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Working From Acceptance, Not For It

I have been recently contemplating a move back to my hometown to complete an internship with Redeemer Fellowship Church. It would mean a lot of sudden changes in a very short period of time. Since it would be such a drastic change, I thought I’d run it by friends and family, including my beloved parents. I love my parents dearly, but sometimes it can be frustrating talking to them. I know they only have my best interest at heart, but sadly something’s they just don’t quite understand.

As I was discussing the internship and other stuff, I had to endure statements like “maybe your not ready for the ministry… God only calls those who are ready. Maybe you should wait and do something else and God will call you later”. And things like, “Enough of the learning, you need a job” (this one is real talk and also very humorous). Now there is validity to these comments. But for me, these words kind of hurt. Behind them is the assumption that the minister or pastor needs to have everything perfected. Clearly , my parents know me well, and they know I’m not perfect. This is called legalism, the very thing that Jesus confronted the Pharisees with in the gospels. No pastor, minister, teacher, or lay person has reached a perfected life. Paul says no one is perfect, not one (Rom 3:10). It’s unfortunate the we place these perfected requirements on the Pastor’s and we place them on very high pedestals. And if/when he fails, it’s so devastating. That’s not to say that we don’t press and do our best to live pleasing and acceptable lives, but we do it with the reality that we (pastors, teacher, ministers) are broken too, and out if that understanding of our brokenness should we minister to God’s people.

The beautiful thing is Jesus doesn’t require perfection. We find our perfection in him! Unlike the Pharisees who believed that there was something that we need to do to be accepted, God in Christ accepts us just as we are, broken. I realize I won’t be any more perfect 20 years from now than I am today. This frees me to continue to push forward in ministry. I don’t serve for Christ’ acceptance , I serve from it! What I do hope to happen in 20 years is that my heart would be so deeply rooted in love for God and his people.

Made In His Image

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” Genesis 1:26a

There is a voice in the American society that says that we need to fear African American people. That for some reason we are all ignorant savages that are looking to destroy everything- property, and people alike. And unfortunately those “images” are what I see so often. Youtube is littered with videos of black people fighting one another, ripping clothes and pulling out hair. The most popular music from today’s black artists say things like sex, violence and money are good things to desire. In fact, I recently heard a song by Nikki Minaj that basically glorifies her derrière in the most sexual way. I had to get on my students for listening to it in Sunday school. (Yep, exactly)  There are nearly 2.5 Million people incarcerated. According to the 2009 census ~850,000 inmates were African American. The statistic only worsens when other minority groups are added. Much of this has to do with the prison industrial complex (believing that the best way to rehabilitate some is to institutionalize them, which in fact does nothing in terms of rehab), and the new Jim Crow (discussed in another blog).  All of this feeds this voice that gives way to so much fear. This voice would cause an otherwise confident individual to clinch her purse or lock her car door when a black man walks by. This voice would cause a store clerk to ask a black man for two forms of identification when paying with a check, meanwhile the previous lady (white) who paid with a check was not even asked for a one piece of identification. This voice cause another store clerk to secretly follow black kids around the store assuming they are thieves and are stealing merchandise . This voice would cause a supervisor to assume that because a black woman has a recent new hair doo, that she looted the hair from Ferguson shops. (Yes someone actually said this) This voice causes the police officer to assume a group of black men standing in a parking lot are conspiring to commit a crime. This voice causes law enforcement to point snipers and militarized police officers armed with rifles and tear gas to fire toward unarmed citizens who are exercising their first amendment rights to protest, yet they protect the Neo Nazis as they rally and protest on the city hall steps. And it causes the officer to reach for the lethal weapon before rationalizing the situation and allowing the laws of the land prevail.

But there is a problem with this voice. This voice is inaudible. It doesn’t really exist. It is something that we have conjured up that says “they” are different than us. That last time I checked, my blood is still warm and runs red through my veins just the same as my white brothers and sisters. So, why the disparity? Why are we treated so differently? I believe a great portion of it has to do with the appreciation of the image of God, or lack thereof. Genesis 1 describes God’s creation plan. On each day of the first week, God created something and he called it good (טוֹב – “tov” meaning very good, or forcefully good). On the six day, however, God would create his greatest creation, namely mankind. “Let us make man in our image…” This has so many implications, more than I’m willing to unpack now. But what I will say is that humanity was God at his best. We bear his image! That doesn’t mean that its a physical appearance, but we bear his image in terms of his character. We can show goodness, and kindness, and love. We can create. We can show mercy and grace. We were created to bear God’s glorious image to the world that He created! This is central to our relationship to one another. Now I must say, that while we are created in His image, that image has been marred by sin. We don’t love perfectly. We don’t show kindness, goodness, etc., perfectly.  C.S. Lewis calls us “Glorious Ruins”. I think this is an accurate description. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t try.

1st John 3 says that those who love God, loves their neighbor. Neighbor is undefined here intentionally. Neighbor knows no color or ethnicity. It knows no socioeconomic status or mental capacity. It has no distinction. In the case of the gospels, when neighbor is defined it is usually the marginalized, and the outcast. This should move us to consider the superficial fear of other races. If you are reading this and have these fearful feelings, consider your heart. Why are you fearful? Is it because of the “voice” that says you should be fearful. Maybe its because of the images you see on T.V. and the media. Or is it because of your own sin that prevents you from seeing the image of God in a person. Calvin says sums it up nicely saying, “The Lord commands us to do good unto all men without exception…, [The Scripture] teaches us that we must not think of man’s [real value], but only of his creation in the image of God to which we owe all possible honor and love

What I Learned In Seminary

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אהללה היהוה (Praise the Lord!). 100+ credit hours later, and I am complete. Yesterday marked the end of my graduate school journey. In a few days (Lord willing), I will be conferred as a Master of Divinity. That’s an extremely heavy title. I don’t claim to have mastered the divine, but I have been equipped to faithfully carry a message that has eternal implications. I feel the weight of the responsibility. Nevertheless, I believe God has and will continue to enable me to proclaim His truth. I am eternally grateful to all those who have supported me along the way. Special thanks to my parents who have been true blessings.

I have learned a lot over the last few years, and I would like to take a moment to share with you all some of the most significant lessons that have really impacted and shaped my view of scripture and life overall.

1. C-R-R-R (Creation-Rebellion-Redemption-Restoration)

Up until the last few years, I have always looked at the Bible as a book of random acts and occurrences that are seemingly disconnected from regular life. I have always reverenced the book, but it was hard for me to see how it was relevant or how it applied to life (outside of the gospel of course).

Post seminary, I understand the bible to be one story- God’s story! He is the main character. He creates, and he restores. It is a story of love and fellowship. God wants to dwell in his good creation, particularly among mankind for man is unique (created in His image) (Gen 1:26). He calls man to fill the entire world with His image (be fruitful and multiply).

But because man sinned and rebelled (Gen. 3:6-7), God could no longer be near to man in complete fellowship (1 Pet. 1:15-16). As we read through the story, we see the ways in which God makes it possible for man to be in His presence (The Law, Tabernacle, and Temple). And he establishes these covenants of which man is to obey (Gen 12:1-3; Gen. 17:9-11; 2 Samuel 7:5-9). Their obedience will guarantee blessings.

Alas, man did not keep the covenant and continued to break it. God then punished his people by sending them into exile. Yet he remained faithful to them- he sustains, and keeps them even in exile and will ultimately bring them back to their land (Isa. 14:1-3).

Jeremiah, who was a prophet during the exile of Judah, speaks about a new covenant that the Lord will establish between He and his people. A covenant that will not be broken by the sin of man, but, in fact forgives and forgets the sin of man. This covenant was established in the broken body of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:24-26). This is the gospel that we are all very familiar with. His death and his resurrection are the means of grace to all of his elect (Heb. 10:12-18).

It is through his blood, that we are redeemed. And as the redeemed covenant people of God in union with Christ, he calls us again to fill the world with His image by making disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) who will look to Jesus. The inaugurated Kingdom of Jesus has come and we can experience it, but it has not been fully revealed. We live in a tension of the already, but not yet. Christ’s eschatological Kingdom will be fully revealed on day, but we must wait and be ready in hopeful anticipation for his coming. He will restore all things.

What does this mean for you and me? The story is still being written with us!!! We play a role in bringing about God’s complete redemptive plan. God has not left us without encouragement though, for He has written that He will prevail in the end and we will join him in victory (Rev. 21:3-4). This is the story of the Bible (truncated of course).

2. Context Is King

Unfortunately, the Church has become a battle ground for doctrine wars. This is primarily due to the fact that untrained preachers read their presuppositions and assumptions into scripture, and regurgitate it as true interpretation. However, seminary has taught me to let scripture interpret itself. We do that by reading it in its context. Context is not limited to historical setting (a lot of preachers will do well if they only held to this one), but it involves the literary genre, audience, grammar and syntax (original languages), and the context of the Grand Story (C-R-R-R). Interpretation (exegesis) is an art, and the only way to perfect an art craft is to practice it over and over again. Yes, it does take time and effort. But we do it because we love the people who we minister to.

3. Secular- Sacred Distinction

I have been taught my entire life that I, as a Christian, must avoid “worldly” or secular things (i.e. movies, secular music, video games, art, certain jobs and employment, etc.). I agree that Christians need to avoid all things sinful, but not all secular things are sinful. In fact, this mentality has bled over into relationships. I have heard preachers says we need not make friends with non Christians- they are worldly (as if Christian are not worldly???). However seminary has taught me to enjoy all things (that are not sinful of course) because God has created all things. All things are to be received with thanksgiving for those who know the truth (1 Tim. 4:1-3). We are called to full the world with God’s image. We do this by engaging the culture and especially loving people. God calls some to the workplace. We are to serve him where ever he calls us. If you work at an office or a warehouse, that office or warehouse becomes your ministry and you are required to serve God well by doing your jobs well. We are called to love non Christians. Invite non Christians to your home, spend time with them, and develop a relationship. In so doing, you embody Christ and you invite an opportunity for the gospel to take root in their lives. This is engaging culture. There is no divide between the “sacred” and the “secular”.

Okay. enough for now. These are my top 3. I hope that you are encouraged by what I have written. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

The Story of Christianity: A Timeline

A few semesters ago, I was tasked with creating a timeline of major events of Church history over the past few hundred years. Over two semesters, I created a time line of 200 major events. You can see the project here:

http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/79183/The-Story-of-Christianity-The-Early-Church-to-the-Reformation-and-the-Reformation-to-Modern-Day/#vars!date=1504-02-08_16:42:37! (copy and paste in your browser)

hebrewI know history can be kind of boring, but in order to prevent making the same mistakes, we need to understand our history. I hope you find the project helpful. And please give me feedback.

Biblical Ethics: Are welfare programs promoting bad character?

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I recently finished writing a paper for a Christian Ethics course, and I chose the topic of welfare. I chose the topic mainly because I work with men (homeless) who are dependent on food stamps and assistance programs. Most of them don’t realize it but they are enslaved by the welfare system. They seek to live month to month on the assistance of the government, and some of them do not even want to get a job. Some of them disappear around the first of the month. And when all of their money is spent boozing, doing dope, and paying for sexual favors, they return to the shelter, broken waiting on the first of the month to roll around again.

It is also a topic of interest to me because some of my family members have had to file for welfare assistance. Some of them do abuse the system, but others are greatly in need. The Bible calls for us to care for the poor (Matthew 25:31-46), especially the poor among the family of faith (Galatians 6:10). There are numerous references to the people of God concerning themselves with the poor. In fact, the primary means of support to the poor is through the Church (Gal. 2:10) You would think that welfare programs would be supported by Christians who value the care of the poor. However, many evangelicals abhor welfare, and want to do away with it. I don’t blame them, the qualification and screening processes that are involved in welfare are sub par. I don’t think that it should be abolished, but serious reform needs to take place.

The War on Poverty of the 1960 was a legitimate push to reduce the poverty gap. I think the leaders who passed legislation had very good intentions and wanted to genuinely help. But they did not consider the brokenness of people. People, by nature, have character flaws. There is a reason that Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers to avoid idle people since we have a tendency towards idleness. Character can really influence behavior. And in the case with welfare, relief to people who suffer from laziness only increased their laziness. Dr. Carl Ellis says it was like pouring water on a grease fire. Water is effective for wood fires, but when applied to grease fires, it increases the flames. The war on poverty and the development of these welfare programs helped those wood fires (i.e. poor people who suffered from bad circumstances (fires, floods, company downsizing, etc.)), but it increased the flames of the grease fires (i.e. poor people with bad character). There is something to be said about culture too.

The Bible defines the poor as those who are generally oppressed by the rich, or are marginalized. Often the foreigner, the sick, and the widow were considered the poor of scripture. In light of this, how should the church respond to our current system of welfare. The church is uniquely equipped to deal with people with bad character and a poor value system. How can we help push reform of welfare so that the lazy don’t become lazier, but are empowered to live a life that is good and pleasing to God? I have my ideas, but what do you think?

Defending Noah

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“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Genesis 6:9b

It has finally released! Aronofsky’s film Noah has hit the big screen and is causing quite a stir in the media. I was looking forward to this movie a few months ago, but as I have heard on so many websites and social media networks that it is not the hype I was anticipating. The problem is the movie is unbiblical. It does not reflect the true biblical story. Well…. most movies that try to portray biblical stories are usually inaccurate, and I’m okay with that. Every actor who has played Jesus as been usually a brown- straight-haired-white man, and his disciples look the same. And most of these movies are really good, and are great blessings to people. Wholly inaccurate, but helpful.

I have not seen all Aronofsky’s film in its entirety. Admittedly, I fell asleep about midway through the movie. What I did observe were biblical themes that I believe all Christian can affirm. Themes such as sin, judgment, new creation and God being the Creator and themes of mercy. These are the things that we can say are real and true, and really does speak to us in many ways. I don’t think a movie has to be completely accurate in order to have a real impact. Take for example the movie Pearl Harbor. The only thing real about this particular movie was, perhaps, the violence. Same with the movie Titanic. DeCaprio’s character more than likely did not exist on the real Titanic. Both of these movies, while pretty inaccurate, had a very huge impact (both were nominated for several Academy Awards, and both grossed millions of dollars in theaters), and in my opinion were very “good” movies.

For those who think that Aronofsky’s Noah is a mockery of the biblical story, I asks you “why so critical of this movie?”. Should an artist have the freedom to create what ever he/she wants? Not too many criticized Mel Gibson for his artistic rendition of the Passion of the Christ.  Why? Was it more accurate? How do you know? Instead of criticizing a work, try affirming it first if you can. I think this Noah has great echos of truth. And I recommend believers to go see the movie, and take your unbelieving friends with you. Affirming the truth in this movie is a great evangelistic tool. You know the whole story. Because of the severe depravity of man, God decided that he would bring judgement upon the earth. But Noah was a man who walked with God. While the hearts of man were still corrupt, God had mercy on Noah and his family and spared their lives. He delivered them from judgment by sealing them in an ark. But now one has come who is a far greater “ark” than Noah’s. Jesus, the Godman, has come and in him, we find mercy from God’s judgment. This is the story that we know and love. My question, then is how can we use Aronosky’s rendition of Noah to show the true story? Think about it!

The Meta Narrative of Scripture

The meta-genre of Scripture is narrative.  The Bible is the narrative of “God’s works in our world on our behalf.”  (John Calvin)

I recently asked a group of college students to write out for me a brief definition/explanation of what is the meta-narrative of the Bible. I purposefully used the word “meta-narrative” because so many are unfamiliar with it, and I wanted them to go look it up and find out. About a week later they sent me their responses, and while they did a pretty good job following what I asked, no one fully answered the question. So I thought I would write what I understand the grand narrative or meta-narrative of the Bible to be. Of course, each of these areas that I will discuss can be talked about for days and days- I have only a few moments! Getting to the point, a good one line definition of what is the meta-narrative of scripture is given in the following: The essence of the Christian religion (the story of the bible) consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God.  – Calvin

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The image above nicely sums up the entirety of Scripture. God has had a plan from the very beginning, and that plan was to enjoy his creation. Genesis talks about how God walked in the garden in the coolness of the day. This paints a real picture of God enjoying what he created. Shalom was established, and God was present. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 1 says that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. Man was created to enjoy God, and God created everything so that he might enjoy it- sounds like a perfect plan to me. Even though scene two happens (I will discuss what each scene means in the picture above) God’s plan was/is still the same- to enjoy his creation. The Bible is the story of how God, in spite of the fallenness of Man and the corruption of his creation, reconciles his people and his creation back to himself, so that shalom is established once again.

The picture above is what is often recognized as the biblical worldview. Each “scene” is labeled as the following: Creation, Fall/Rebellion, Redemption, Restoration/Consummation. We abbreviate this C-R-R-R.

**Much of this is credited to the great minds of John Calvin, Herman Bavinck, and Albert Wolters.

Begin with Creation. Genesis outlines creation.  Genesis 1:31- 2:3 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done”. There is a lot you can unpack in these few verses, but what I want to emphasize is that God calls his creation good. Everything about what He created was perfect. Notice the first picture in the biblical world view above- everything is plush, and in order functioning as he intended. Creation and everything about it is inherently good. Even Adam was perfect in every way. He walked in the presence of God and was not consumed.  Adam was holy- he was righteous in every way.

The next picture or scene in the meta-narrative is Rebellion or Fall. Genesis 3 records for us the Fall of Mankind. “Now the serpent was craftier than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Gen. 3:1-7)  If you didn’t notice, sin/rebellion was not one of the things that God created in his good a perfect creation. Sin does not belong in the structure of God’s created order. Sin is an alien intruder, a parasite. Just like any parasite, it infects. It has infected God’s good creation. Though touched by sin, the world (as creation) is still inherently good (e.g., Psa.24:1; 1 Tim.4:4-5).

Human beings are responsible for infecting creation. God is not to blame for the evil that is now present in creation. Berkouwer, a famous theologian says it this way, “The biblical a priori is that God is not the source, the cause, or the author of man’s sin”. You may ask yourself how did man throw all of creation out of kilter-so to speak? Imago Dei or the Image of God. Adam (mankind) was made in the image of God, and he was given dominion or authority over all of creation. Man is the representative head over the earthly creation. Therefore, he was the federal head or in simpler terms “the president” of all of creation. So as Adam goes, so goes all that he governs- namely creation. Sin results in Adam’s alienation from God, from other human beings, and from the very ground from which he came. This is bad. But the story doesn’t end here. The remainder of the OT is about God bearing with the sins of a rebellious people and showing them unmerited love.

The next scene is Redemption. The hope of God’s restoration. Grace was very present in the Old Testament, in spite of what some theologians say. God described his character as “a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exod. 34:6-7) And he was exactly who he said he was. He proved himself over and over again to his people- even after they continued to rebel and break his covenant. When we come to the New Testament, we see grace revealed in flesh, in the God-man Jesus Christ. Grace covers sin.  Its goal is removal and restoration; the removal of sin and the restoration of creation. Grace accomplishes two things: it restores creation and it restores humanity. Herman Bavinck, a great systematic theologian, says this about the restoration of creation, “Christianity did not come into the world to condemn and put under the ban everything which existed beforehand and everywhere, but quite the opposite, to purify from sin everything that was; and thus to cause it to answer again to its own nature and purpose…[…] Christianity does not introduce a single substantial foreign element into the creation.  It creates no new cosmos, but rather makes the cosmos new, It restores what was corrupted by sin.  It atones the guilty and cures what is sick; the wounded, it heals.” Calvin says, “Christ came not for the destruction of the world, but for its deliverance.”  Bavinck goes on to say, “In his redeemed state what was lost in fallen man is restored.  Redemption is God’s act, not the sinner’s.  Because fallen man lacks both the objective power to earn God’s grace and the subjective power even to turn to Him for grace, salvation must be God’s gift.  Salvation is not a de novo (literally from new or afresh) creation, but a renewal or restoration of that trust which existed in purity in unfallen man.  Even though trust in renewed man is God’s gift, it is not something contrary to his nature.” “It is beyond the powers of his nature as sinful man; but is something which belongs to human nature as such, which has been lost through his and which can be restored only by the power of God.  In this sense faith remains natural even in the renewed sinner.”

The fourth and final scene of the biblical grand narrative is Re-creation/Restoration or Consummation. The goal of redemption is the recreation of the cosmos into the kingdom of God (Matt.19:28). Christ will renew all things. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are the central and crucial component of this final scene. Often times, Christian jump straight to Jesus. The student I asked about this had no problem with the gospel- in fact, they jumped straight to the gospel. I’m not reducing the importance of the gospel (it is the climax of the story) and the work of Christ, but the biblical narrative is kind of front loaded. Jesus’ work comes towards the end. If you don’t set up the beginning correctly, you lose the weight of what Jesus really accomplished. “God’s honor consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and renews the same humanity, the same world, the same heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sin”. Calvin

Wolters writes, “upon the invasion of sin into the world through the disobedience of our first parents, God commits himself to the defeat of the forces of sin and death that oppose his good rule and damage his creation.  In short, redemption always takes place in reference to and as the restoration of creation.  It is only as God is the Creator that he is the Redeemer.  Redemption is nothing less than the holy jealousy of the Creator God for his creation”.   “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psa.124:8).  Our Redeemer can be none other than the one who with power, wisdom and delight in the works of his hands made us in the first place. God will be faithful to his creation! This is something to rejoice about!

Pentecostalism: Why Evangelicals Should Pay Attention

I wrote this little peace for a missiology class I took and I got pretty good feedback. I thought I would paste it hear to see what you all think. I’m considering taking this a step further, doing a through synthesis of the Pentecostal contribution to modern Christianity and the Missio Dei. *Note: it is lengthy.

Introduction

As I have spent time at a largely reformed, Presbyterian seminary, I have often heard individuals speak rather negatively about the Pentecostal charismatic movement. The backlash is usually directed at the movement’s theological framework, and as a result the movement as a whole is easily dismissed. With over 523 million reported Pentecostal/charismatic believers, this movement is something that deserves legitimate consideration.[1] The intent of this paper is not to give an apologetic for the theological framework for the Pentecostal movement, but to appreciate the theology of mission that is so very present in this movement. William Seymour, leader of the Azusa Street Mission and perhaps the founder of the modern day Pentecostal movement, said these words that are at the very heart of Pentecostal missions, “Do not go from this meeting and talk about tongues, but try to get people saved”.[2] As I have come to understand, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement was not so much of a new theological endeavor (although there was new theological developments associated with the movement), it was widely a missionary endeavor. The call to missions that these people who had undergone a “baptism of the Spirit” was phenomenal. In this essay, I hope to explain and distinguish between the Missio Dei (the mission of God) and Pentecostal missions borrowing from Bosch, Jennings, and Fee, moving on to discuss Pentecostal mission theology, and how in light of the paradigm shifts, we should respond as evangelicals (reformed or otherwise) to the movement of God through these missions.

 2.       Mission and Missions

David Bosch writes, “Mission is God’s turning to the world in respect of creation, care, redemption, and consummation. Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the Church is viewed as an instrument for that mission”. [3] This is Missio Dei truncated. God the Almighty One, Father of all creation set his son as coroneted King over all things, who will lead his people (the Israelites) in a mission that will not only have a lasting effect on the people (Jew and Gentile), but all of creation (global mission).  As we read through the OT, especially the prophets, we can easily see how the Messiah ushers in this new move of global mission. Global mission from the beginning of creation, has always been God’s purpose and plan, however limited to Israel it might have seemed. Israel was the chosen people. They were supposed to be representatives, images of God to the world, so that the nations of the earth might come to the full knowledge of the Almighty God.  Israel led, now Christ leads. Gordon Fee writes, “Our global mission, therefore is deeply woven into the biblical understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all people, as that understanding is rooted first of all in the teaching of Jesus himself. His giving his own life “for many” means for the “great and numberless many”, who will hear it as good news and respond with repentance. The proclamation of that good news, of course, is what the ongoing mission of the church is all about”.[4]  This has great implications to the missions of the Pentecostal movement.

Where mission is a global move of God through the church, missions is specific to how the church responds to God’s mission.[5] It is the actions- the doing that believers do knowing that we (gentiles) have now been included as participants in God’s mission with Jesus at the helm of the ship. The Pentecostal movement certainly understood this. From the very beginning, when the “fire first fell” from the Azusa Street Mission, Pentecostalism has been identified in relationship to missions.

 3.       Pentecostal Missions

The historical paradigm of Pentecostal missions is summed up in Seymour’s quote, “Try to get people saved”. William Seymour, a black holiness preacher is often accredited to the modern development of Pentecostalism. However most historians, including Vinson Synan, notes that Seymour was trained under the direction of Charles Parham who founded Bethel Bible School in Topeka, KS. It was Parham who first developed the theological argument that the tongues were the initial evidence of being baptized in the Spirit.[6] Seymour became a student of Parham, and adopted his theology carrying it eventually to Los Angeles. Parham, and subsequently Seymour (for a time), taught that the tongue was a known language, unknown to the speaker who was filled with the Holy Spirit.

For Parham, and initially Seymour, this theological distinction had great implications to global missions. Now people could go do global mission and not take the time to learn languages or cultures, because the Holy Spirit would give them the language they needed to use. Synan writes of one of Parham’s worship services, “during these meetings, the students [of Bethel Bible School] spoke in twenty-one known languages, including Swedish, Russian, Bulgarian, Japanese, Norwegian, French, Hungarian, Italian, and Spanish. According to Parham, none of his students had studied any of these languages and they were all confirmed by authentic speakers”.[7] Now there are obviously some theological and practical issues related to this. However, as I said, I am not writing to defend a theology, but we must appreciate this. Seymour embraced this idea. It is reported that missionaries we sent away in masses, some in less than a few minutes from receiving their credentials and confirmation from Seymour and his other elders.

Cecil M. Robeck writes a wonderfully eloquent book regarding the specifics of global missions in various countries that these missionaries were sent to, and how the fire of God fell on the people there. Unfortunately, I don’t have the room to dive into the rich historical global missions that the Pentecostal movement has experienced. But suffice it to say, God’s hand was certainly upon the movement.[8]

4.       Mission Theology

There is something very good about the Pentecostal movement. It is the largest protestant denomination in the world, yet most evangelical don’t consider it a significant movement. What is God doing? I think the answer can be found examining the movement’s mission theology. The Pentecostal theology of mission has centered around three fundamental aspects: the centrality of the Word and Spirit, Pentecostal eschatology (urgency), and the Pentecostal sense of destiny.

Author after author emphasize the Spirit’s work of empowerment to do evangelism. It is the driving force, the motivation for doing evangelistic work. Pentecostals are so deeply committed to the teaching found in Acts. God has really poured out his Spirit and given believers the power to go into the world and preach the gospel. Evangelism is the central musicological thrust.[9] We should not miss the rich implications here. To say that one is committed to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those it is poured entails “the antecedent commitment to Jesus’ work in inaugurating the kingdom”.[10] A Spirit empowered mission perpetuates Jesus’ mission. This is a very good thing!

This takes us right in to the next aspect- eschatology. Jesus Christ has ushered in his eschatological kingdom, though not fully revealed yet. As members of the church- people who have been privileged to serve in God’s global mission- we have a responsibility to the eschatological kingdom. “From an eschatological perspective, the mission of the church is to witness to the truth that the kingdom of God which still belongs to the future has broken into the present age in Jesus Christ and continues into the world through the Holy Spirit”.[11] In light of this, Pentecostal mission theology says we should live in a certain way. In a kingdom where God reigns, all normative moral structures are changed. Shalom is established. We live in a new redemptive society where enemies become brothers, strangers become neighbors, injustice gets rectified, etc. “Radical strategy” was the term used to identify early Pentecostal mission activity. Pentecostal’s urgency regarding the coming of the eschaton resulted in them favoring the use of kerygmatic proclamation (preaching), and church planting as strategic missions focus. The idea was, by the Holy Spirit, to establish churches were people will be saved through gospel proclamation and experience the shalom of God before Jesus returns.

Out of the three points given, I think I may have the hardest time with this last one regarding divine destiny. The final point to Pentecostal mission theology is God’s divine appointment. Many early Pentecostal would agree that the movement was no ordinary movement, but it was called forth by a divine appointment from God. They saw themselves as God’s instrument to the world, a special group. Having such close theological connection to the early believers of Acts, they believed they were the climax of two thousand years of Church history. This sense of destiny, as one writer writes, “Filled them with an assurance that overcame persecution and early rejection”.[12] This is a good thing, I suppose. It always kept the motivation and progress moving forward. These things sort of shaped the early theology of mission, and as a result established a paradigm that would last for nearly 100 years.

5.       A New Paradigm Shift

We are now entering into the second millennium of the Pentecostal movement. Some things have changed, as a result, in recent years. What should be most obvious is the whole idea of eschatological urgency that shaped the early years of the movement has now begun to fade. Without that urgency to “get people saved”, what happens? In recent years, the movement has moved to globalization. With the center of the Christian church now moving to the southern hemisphere in the indigenous, and the southern world (third world), issues regarding political participation, citizenship, gender relations, and economic morality, are now on the radar of the Pentecostal movement. Social justice concerns and compassionate ministries are now sweeping across all of Pentecostalism.

As I mentioned, there is a special influx of social concern happening in the southern hemisphere- Latin America, Brazil, and Chile. Pentecostal missions are responsible for reforming education and agribusiness (business of agricultural production) in and around Latin America, and they have really highlighted for the world the disenfranchised communities of these countries.[13]   While there is lots of activity in the southern world, North America has had its fair share of Pentecostal social concern. Two of the largest evangelistic movements that America has seen in years have been spearheaded by Pentecostal groups. Convoy of Hope, based in Springfield MO, and the Dream Center Movement out of Los Angeles are headed by Pentecostals. Convoy of Hope, according to Christianity Today, has served over 43 million people in more than 100 countries, and given away over $227 million in food and needed supplies. “This movement has joined forces with churches, businesses, and government agencies to carry out the Convoy mission”.[14] Over 88,000 children receive assistance from Convoy’s feeding initiatives in El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Kenya, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. Convoy of Hope is also considered a reliable “first responder” organization in disaster relief efforts. Convoy has responded to the recent natural disasters in Japan, Missouri, and Alabama.

The Dream Center is a Los Angeles based movement that is driven by volunteers to provide mobile hunger relief and medical programs, residential rehabilitation programs for teens and adults, a shelter for victims of human trafficking, transitional housing for homeless families, foster care intervention programs, job skills training, life skills counseling, basic education, and Bible studies just to name a few. St. Louis is blessed to have an independently operated Dream Center in our community! All of this was a result of the social concern of the Pentecostal movement.

In recent year, the demographic of Pentecostalism is changing studies show that by year 2050, the minority community (African American, Hispanic, and Asian) will become the new majority in western Pentecostalism. With the changing ethnicities, we get different concerns. The priorities of the ethnic Pentecostal community are issues of life, biblical marriage, education, sex trafficking, immigration reform, poverty alleviation- these things matter!

6.       Why Should We Pay Attention?

It is obvious that God has his hand upon this movement. It would be sinful, and at the very least ignorant to write this movement off as something that should never have happened. In God’s sovereignty, he has allowed it to exist and it is clear that it is impacting the world in a mighty way. No other movement has been as successful at evangelism to the unchurched as the Pentecostal movement. As far as I am concerned, they are participating in the Missio Dei as God has designated them to. What are we to do? I’m not calling for a conversion to Pentecostalism. But I am calling for evangelical to see Pentecostal theology with a missiological hermeneutic. I think that is initially how it was intended, however far it has gotten off track in recent study. Let us come along side of our charismatic brothers and sisters, knowing that God uses other vessels, but his one mission is always sure. And let us rejoice, always looking to Jesus, knowing that he has chosen us, and our feeble missions, to advance his global mission.


[1] Lord, Andy. Network Church a Pentecostal Ecclesiology Shaped by Mission. Leiden: BRILL, 2012. Print.

[2] McClung, Grant. Azusa Street & Beyond. 2nd ed. Alachua, Fla.: Bridge-Logos, 2012. Print.

[3] Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming mission: paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1991. Print.

[4] Fee, Gordon. Called & empowered: global mission in Pentecostal perspective. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991. Print.

[5] J Nelson Jennings, God the Real Superpower (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2007), 19.

[6] Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 43.

[7] Ibid. 44

[8] See Cecil M. Robeck and Jr, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: the Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), for a more in-depth look at the history of global mission as it relates to respective areas of the world.

[9] Anderson, Allen, Azusa Street and Beyond (Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2005), 173-174.

[10] Murray W. Dempster, Called and Empowered: Global Mission in Pentecostal Perspective, Reprint ed. (Peabody, MA: Baker Academic, 1991), 23.

[11] Ibid. 24

[12] McClung, Grant, Azusa Street and Beyond (Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2005), 84.

[13] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: the New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

[14] Crosby, Robert. A New Kind of Pentecostal. Christianity Today, August 2011, Vol. 55, No. 8, Pg. 50

Unchurched and Church Clothes

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor. 9:22b-23

Lecrae has socked the world again with his recent release of the album Church Clothes Vol. 2. Much like the first volume, Lecrae takes a hard stand against hypocrisy on the modern western Church. The second volume is definitely more behavior oriented, instead of an “in your face” gospel message. Many have taken issue with this. However, I’m convinced that there is a strong biblical theology that runs underneath the entire album. What blesses me the most, in my opinion, is the way he juxtaposes the accepted customs of his listeners with ideas and stories of a healthier lifestyle, one found through God. Not an explicit gospel message (not intended either), but a gospel inspired one.

My point, however, was not to talk about the album’s content (whether or not it is biblically sound). But I want to is Lecrae’s technique or method of evangelism- that need to reach an “unchurched” audience. Many in the church have spoken critically about Lecrae’s album. They don’t like. I wondered why? Maybe because the beats were to close to secular rap? Maybe because the lyrics were too worldly? Lecrae should have used more Christanese. Maybe they don’t like it because he collaborated with “secular” artist on some tracks? I could go into another discussion about art, and how we can appreciate art expression as something created by a beautiful, loving, and artistic God, but I’ll save that for another blog. I had a dialogue with a brother in the faith a few days ago about it. He says, “I find his [Lecrae’s] new approach sinful and ineffective…” I couldn’t help but to pause and shake my head. In fact, I think Lecrae has it right!!! As I survey scripture, I see very similar “techniques” employed by the ultimate evangelist, Jesus Christ.

As we look at Luke 19, with the story of Zacchaeus, we see the same technique used from Jesus. Jesus, the God of all Glory, Holy in every way, decides to sit at the table of a very sinful man. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. He also was a Jew. I’m not going to go into the details of the Roman tax system, but suffice it to say, it was corrupt. These tax collectors exploited the people for their money, and became very wealthy. To make matters worse, Zacchaeus was a Jew, who exploited other Jews. He was hated by his ethnic brothers and sisters. It was one thing for the Romans to exploit the Jews, but it was another for your own Jewish brother to exploit his people. The religious people thought that Zacchaeus was just a worthless sinner- to hell with him! In verse 5, Jesus calls Zacchaeus, who at this point is in a tree, and says that he must spend time with Zacchaeus and his family tonight. I want you feel the weight of what Jesus is doing. He knows that Zacchaeus is a sinner- he lives in a world where corruption reigns. Why does Jesus spend time with Zacchaeus? This was the question being asked in the grumbling crowd. Why is Jesus spending time with a “great sinner”? The answer is simple. In order for Jesus to share himself and his love with Zacchaeus and his family, he needed to be near him. He needed to enter into his world for a moment and influence Zacchaeus’ life. This is evangelism 101. Sharing Jesus is our primary goal, but we can only do that if we are near them; if we are granted access into their world.

Some might take offense at this saying “We don’t need to necessarily need to enter their home to influence. If we just preach the gospel, then they will hear and listen.” I think the Apostle Paul would answer this question with a “Yes, but…” The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), but God has chosen the Church to be the catalyst- to be the vehicle that delivers that gospel. Most unbelievers, as Lecrae has eloquently pointed out in 8 bars and a chorus, do not want to hear from the Church, because the church (notice the difference) has not been upfront or “real” about sin and grace. Why? I don’t know… maybe pride. We want to appear like we have it all together. If we had it all together, Jesus would not have gone to the cross. Unbelievers want to hear that sin and temptation is real, it doesn’t go away even after being saved! But God by his Spirit has given us the power to endure and overcome, and grace when we fail.

Paul was a real evangelist. Whatever he needed to do to win some over to saving faith, he was ready to do it. In 1 Cor. 9 he says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak…” Lecrae is embodying this scripture. So why do we condemn his method?

In some ways, I think the church has become hypocritical. I’m a church boy. I grew up in the church, so I know what church looks like. I currently attend what would be considered the typical church experience. Men in suits and ties, and women in fancy dresses and hats. We sing the typical church song, and do the typical church liturgy. Now, there is not inherently wrong with that, but it makes me wonder why the “unchurched” folks who stumble in the doors don’t stay very long. We talk a lot about holiness, but we don’t really talk about sin as a reality in our lives. It is one thing to be holy, but when temptation has actually knocked down our door (it happens) what do we do? My food for thought is this: Have we really entered into their world? Have we really became, as Paul would say, “to those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law”? I don’t know what it is that drives them away from the church, but I know that they are listening to Lecrae. Lecrae is heading in a good direction. Our responsibility as his brothers and sisters in the faith is to pray for him. Pray for the album. Pray for the church, that it would embody evangelism as Jesus did so many years ago.