Monday, September 22, 2008

The Body of Christ

I recently accepted an offer to become the Outreach Coordinator for a ministry based out of Southeast Raleigh called Neighbor to Neighbor ( It comes after a long year of God opening doors and giving me opportunities and then for reasons I can't explain, taking them away and closing those doors. The list is exhaustive as far as what I've looked into and pursued. In some cases I've gone just about as far as you can go and all I had to do was say 'yes' but God made it clear that I had to say 'no'. I have a peace about this situation though. It really is an amazing opportunity that I'm going to be stepping into.

I’ve gotten a lot of interesting responses from people when they hear about my new job.

I’ve had some people be genuinely interested in hearing about the ministry and why I’m pursuing that. But I’ve had an overwhelming amount of people give me a puzzled look with a Rob Burgandy-esque “good for you??” followed by "we need people like you." I still haven't figured out a good response for that..

For the last week, I've been reminded and humbled when reflecting on the importance and the functionality of the Body of Christ or the Church.

Read 1 Corinthians chapter 12. It'll get you pumped up about being a part of the Church. It's easy to wrongly place people on a pedestal based upon what they choose to do with their lives (occupation, acts of service, etc.). And it's just as easy to do the opposite. Condemn others and place ourselves upon the pedestal. That's not how it works though.
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men." 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Different gifts, different kinds of service, and different kinds of working, but the same Spirit, Lord and God.

God equips each person with a different set of gifts and talents that are tailored for His service and His work (Ephesians 2:10). God calls people to pursue full time ministry, corporate business jobs, public office, parenting, you name it. Neither one is a higher or a more noble calling if that is what God is calling you to pursue.

As the Church we are many parts but one body (verse 20). It's humbling to be reminded of that.

It's also encouraging for me to know that God calls people to enter into the God-less parts of society and is able to use them to change laws and practices that systematically oppress people and for them to battle structural sin from the top.

Take the story of Esther for example.. the only thing I ever knew about that book growing up was that God was not mentioned in that particular book. But instead of it just being cool trivia, what if it's a testament to having to go into those God-less parts of society to take on structural sin? Esther wins a beauty pagent, gets in with the king, finds out about this plot to kill the jews, and is able to persuade the king against doing that. She is able to use her royal position and influence the king who has the final say.

How much different would our lives be if we viewed it as if we were in each moment for a purpose, that God placed us in each situation for us to act, and that wherever we are, He's prepared us 'for such a time as this'.

The Body of Christ, just like the Christian faith, is designed to be holistic, integral, and balanced. We just need to be patient, listen, and be obedient as we ask, seek, and knock..

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oldies but Goodies

I recently stumbled upon my old journal that kept from the summer of 2007. I spent it working with an urban ministry in East Garfield Park on the west side of Chicago. To say the least, my experience there continues to impact every facet of my life. My worldview has been drastically altered by my experiences there..

A big theme of my writings revolved around the decisions I make. Looking back on my journal a year removed, I realize that I am still struggling to answer the same questions I was asking myself a year ago.

I was taken aback by how segregated the city of Chicago was. You could literally cross certain streets and it would change from being predominantly african-american to predominantly latino or predominantly white. And the select neighborhoods that had more of a diverse mix didn't mean that it was a peaceful harmonious situation. It meant that gentrification had begun and it was only a matter of time before the poor were displaced. So you could imagine the angst this creates..

So the obvious question I then asked myself was 'why do I choose to live where I do?' It's a question I've never given much thought to, or explored in depth. However I can see how subconsciously I rule out certain areas and places.

I was challenged to look at scripture through a different lens and what resulted was life-changing. Mostly simple stuff, but profound nonetheless..

Something that became fascinating to me was studying Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, in agony and distress, prays that we will be brought to complete unity and that we will be 'one'.
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:22-23
The Gospel reconciles us to each other and that doesn't just include crossing denominational or theological lines. It requires us to cross racial, socioeconomic, and gender lines as well (see John 4). At no point would I have argued against that, but it had never become a reality to me.

I don't think I'm alone when I say this, but most of us have been riddled for years (20+ years for me) of having our culture and the media instilling assumptions, stereotypes, and fear about those racially different then us. Maybe that's why I feel such a strong calling to be involved in ministry that values racial reconciliation and views it as being necessary to bring about God's kingdom.

So one year later, lease running out, new job looming, I'm faced with more of the same questions. There are some quotes at the end of my journal that still resonate to me today. I don't know where these quotes were generated from, I'm assuming I read it one of the many books I read in that summer, or it came from a sermon or talk I heard I heard that summer, or maybe I'm just real intellectual..

"If we are not a part of the ethnic solution then we are inherently a part of the ethnic divide."

Which is then followed by this phrase in bold:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ask, Seek, Knock..

"The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ " Matthew 13:10

“This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
Matthew 13:13-17

"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable."
Matthew 13:34

Why didn't Jesus speak in a more direct way?

Jesus resists being clear and direct. It's rare for Jesus to ever answer a question directly. His answers invoke more questions, involve stories, and are full of metaphors. Jesus chooses mystery over clarity. This undoubtedly conjures up confusion and frustration. WHY would Jesus do this??

I believe Jesus gives us and respects our free will. Parables and stories don’t coerce us into an understanding of Jesus or a relationship with Jesus. They respect our free will, our dignity, and leaves us free to discover, ask more questions, seek answers, and ultimately choose for ourselves.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Ask, Seek, Knock..

However the process of asking, seeking, and knocking involves periods of waiting, patience, desire, persistence, frustration, and silence. We cling to the promise that when we ask, seek, and knock, that the door will be opened (verse 8). What’s painful is that it may take a while. (Psalm 77)

I've come to the conclusion that there are no easy answers or obvious explanations. Maybe that why I've always been told that the Bible is the living word of God. You can revisit scripture time and time again and because there are layers upon layers built into Jesus’ teachings. Not just one answer or one explanation.

Jesus requires us to continually depend on him and not in our independent thinking. He desires us to hear with our ears, see with our eyes, and understand with our hearts. And to do that we need to:

Ask, Seek, Knock..