I was asked to lead the prayer at the City Council meeting in Longview, Texas. Below is the prayer I gave.
I was asked to lead the prayer at the City Council meeting in Longview, Texas. Below is the prayer I gave.
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
It has been a difficult few weeks in the United States. First, there was the shooting in Las Vegas leaving nearly 60 dead and hundreds injured. Then there was an attack in New York City. Most recently there was a mass shooting at a small Baptist church in Texas during Sunday services.
These acts of senseless violence can stir up a lot of questions in a person’s mind. Why would someone do this? How can I help? What is going on in this world? What is the Christian response to the acts of violence?
In the wake of these events more and more churches and communities of faith are having conversations regarding action plans and intruder policies. Schools are holding lockdown drills and reminding staff about proper procedures in the event of a tragedy. These events have set many of us on edge; there is a sense of uncertainty that is lingering in the air.
During this time of uncertainty and chaos, it is easy to give up on hope. It is easy to think that things are too broken to be fixed, or the problem is too great for one person or community. On top of that, some leaders are unwilling or unable to address the issue or propose anything that will make a meaningful difference.
These attacks break my heart and uncover a truth that many people want to hide, our world is not the very good place that God deemed it in Genesis 1. Sadly, it is becoming commonplace in our American society to hear about mass shootings and deadly attacks. Unfortunately, our society as a whole is becoming desensitized to the heinous violence that is taking place. This is not because we are heartless or do not feel sadness or grief but because there is a sense that these problems are too complex and will never go away. We can throw our hands in the air and ask “what is the point?” It is easier to mourn for a time and move on, hoping and praying that nothing happens like this ever again.
A person of faith I believe I am called by God to be the voice for the voiceless, the mouthpiece for the oppressed, to speak a word of comfort to the hurting. Christians are called to strive for goodness, mercy, love, and justice for all people as a response to their faith.
The Disciples of Christ, the denomination that I serve, refers to itself as “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” These past events and many others continue to bring to the forefront of our news and social media that our world is fragmented, not just across party lines but in our spirit as well. People are hurting, people are seeking something better; there has to be something that can be done.
Tomorrow will be the first Sunday since the deadly shooting in Sutherland Springs. I do not envy any minister who will have to preach. Is there a word that can be proclaimed that will ease the hearts and minds of those in attendance? Hopefully, we have not already ‘moved on’ to something else to occupy our time. Some people will not want to talk about it because it is too painful; some people will want their minister to take a bold stance for or against gun control. These messages only further to divide. I do think that communities of faith need to have honest and open conversations about these critical issues but in a way that all voices can be heard and listened to.
I believe that there is a word that can be shared that will speak to the heart of this issue.
At the end of the Book of Revelation, we find a hopeful message. The Book of Revelation has been viewed as a scary book with weird metaphors as well as a roadmap to the end of the world. I think these interpretations miss the main theme of the book which is hope. After digging through twenty chapters of proclamations, visions and trumpet blasting, we arrive at a message of hope. Revelation 21:1-6 describes a new heaven and new earth, a new order of the way things are to be. The author of Revelation hears a voice that proclaims that God is making all things new, death will be no more; there will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore. This is the eternal hope that Christians hold on to. Hope for a world not plagued with hate, hope for a time when love will rule the day, hope for a better tomorrow.
If God is the God that we say God is then, in the end, every wrong will be righted, love will triumph over evil, peace will reign over chaos and justice will overpower intolerance and hate. The Church in this city and around this country must continue to proclaim this truth. It is hard not to have a clear answer, it is hard to live in such turbulent times. The Church and its faithful followers can be a beacon of light and hope to those suffering and concerned about the future. While we do not want to forget those who lost their lives, we as the faithful followers of Christ must continue to find avenues to make the message of Christ’s love, peace, redemption, and grace known.
We must mourn those who have died; we must support those who have lost someone they love. In the face of evil, the church universal must be united in the bold claim that in the end love wins, in the end, God’s mercy, justice, peace, grace, reconciliation, and love will win. As a follower of Christ, it is my call and duty to embody that love in tangible, life-giving ways. This is not a quick fix or an easy answer, but it is a faith-filled one. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
In the past few weeks, the world has been rocked by three powerful hurricanes: Harvey, Irma, and Maria. These storms produced gigantic amounts of rain, historic flooding, and extremely high and dangerous winds. Homes have been destroyed and dozens of people have lost their lives. It has been a tragic time. Many of us were captivated and saddened by the images that were being shared on social media and news outlets. Streets looked like rivers, houses and schools had feet of water in them and rescues by volunteers from the “Cajun Navy” and the Coast Guard. Strangers were risking their lives to ensure that people did not get swept away by the flood waters. People were sharing posts from neighbors and friends requesting assistance. In one instance over a dozen people linked arm and arm to make sure that one man was saved. Some attributed it to being “Texas Strong,” others said it was the right thing to do, still, others said they would want someone to come and rescue them in a time of need. Story after story was being shared about the bravery and selflessness of others. All I could think about was as tragic as Harvey, Irma and Maria were, the aftermath gave the nation a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Why do we wait for tragedies to happen to show what the kingdom of God could be like? Shouldn’t the church strive to show how the Kingdom of God is different than the world we find ourselves? In most churches, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed; in it, we find a call for God to make the Kingdom of God know on this Earth as it is in Heaven. Christians want this to come to pass but have a difficult time putting it into action.
Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in South Texas, the general tone and discourse of the American populace were not one of unity and togetherness, rather it was about finding ways to make a “stand” and separate oneself from others. While partisan politics is not a new thing, it seemed as if it was getting worse than before. The country was asked to choose sides in a debate where information was limited and biased. People were trying to encapsulate complex issues into tweetable statements. For me it was getting to the point where reading the news or even going on social media was too much. I was tired of the “debates” were no one listened, I was tired of the same song and dance that seems to happen every year. Love was hard to find.
I believe that the foundation of the Kingdom of God is love, love of neighbor without question, love of God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. All that Christians do in their life must reflect the genuine, unquestioning, selfless love of Jesus the Christ. Love is countercultural; love does not demand its own way; love shows a new path and new way of serving others; love says I love you because you are a child of God, you are not the sum of your life experiences or upbringing but you are fearfully and wonderfully made and that means something!
During Harvey people did not inquire of their religious status or their tithing commitments when diving into raging waters that once was a street. No one called out to someone in need and asked if they were “saved” or if they were “undocumented.” No one asked about sexual orientation or even who they voted for in the last county election. It did not matter then and it should not matter when we are giving love to another person.
God does not withhold love based on gender, creed, ethnicity, immigration status or income level and neither should we.
Love is one of the things that we all think we are good at showing and giving. It is hard for us to hear that maybe we are not as loving as we are called to be. We try to rationalize it but in the end, if we chose not to love someone it’s not going to happen. But in the Kingdom of God love is unconditional; it is given to humanity as a free gift and thus we must then share that gift with the rest of humanity without hesitation or expectation of something in return. Love is never an if-then statement. The love of God is given to all people, in all places and at all times.
Love pierces through the cloud of hatred and uncertainty to reveal to all the glory of God.
Love lifts the veil that shrouds our heart; love is not a feeling we get every February 14th or a simple answer to a complex theological question
Love is the embodiment of the gospel of Jesus the Christ. This is not a cliché statement that looks good on a t-shirt or makes us feel good when we serve another human rather it is what Christ came to bring, a new way of orienting our lives, our mind, our soul and our spirit.
Every interaction with another human is an opportunity to bring forth the love of God. Not in a pushy, “I know more than you” way or a holier than thou way but in a way that reflects the genuine nature of Christ and what that looks like on earth.
We should not have to wait for the next tragic event to remind us of the central teaching of Christ which is rooted and grounded in love. Love must be the guiding principle of the Church if it is to have an impact in the 21st century.
I was asked to give the invocation at the Longview ISD Convocation. It was published on the Pastors for Texas Children website. Links are below; feel free to share and/or use for your district. Please give proper attribution is you publish it.
My latest for the Longview News- Journal
There has been a lot of conversations taking place this week in our country. The display of white nationalists and the protests that ensured in Charlottesville have brought race relations back to the forefront. These events have spawned conversations, debates, prayer vigils, political pundits posturing in sound bites and a social media firestorm. This has not been an easy week for our country; it has not been an easy week being a minister; it has not been an easy week as a father.
Throughout this past week I kept asking myself, “How did we get here? Is this what the world is coming to in 2017? How is white supremacy still a thing? Are they really claiming to be Christians?” It is mindboggling that in 2017 I have to worry about my children overhearing a news story about white supremacist and white nationalist. How do I explain to my kids that there are people in this world that hate another human just because they look differently?
Hearing the vile that was being spewed on the streets of Charlottesville still turns my stomach. The rage, the hate, the lack of concern for anyone else who does not look, think or act like they do is sickening.
This is not the world that I envision for my children. This is not the world I envision for my grandchildren. This is not the world that I envision for anyone. This is certainly not the “very good” place that God created in Genesis 1.
Time and time again the human condition rears its ugly head. It seems as if each time I think it cannot get any worse, humanity finds a way. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus calls his followers to a higher and better standard. This standard means giving voice to the voiceless, remembering the forgotten, seeking out the lost and standing up in the face of evil and hatred. This task is not simple or even convenient. It is not completed in a lifetime rather it is a process of continually showing that God’s love is real, God’s Spirit is alive and hope will remain.
This summer I worked at a high school summer camp where I lead a workshop on prayer. I asked the students what prayer was. One person responded, “it is a little plate of hope.” We must cling to that hope. Darkness might be around us, evil will be in our midst but we must not give up hope. The gospels remind the church that God will ultimately triumph over evil. Hope drives us to face a new day; hope guides us to stay the course; hope is the undergirding of our faith.
Hate can never be the answer; violence can the never be the answer. Not because it is morally repugnant, but because it goes against the basic teachings of God. To move away from the heart of God’s calling means we have decided to make God in our own image, to decide that some rules do not apply to us. The most difficult part of all that has transpired this week is the notion that some of the white nationalists were using the Bible and Christian theology as support for their violence. This is a twisting and misusing of the Bible and the traditions of the church. Nowhere in the Bible does Christ advocate racism, xenophobia or violence.
This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. We do not need to have yet another partisan political issue. This is an issue that speaks to what it means to be an American. Society has come too far just to go backwards.
Where do we go from here? What can be done?
The church must be a place where the welcoming spirit of God is felt and extended. Christians proclaim that all of humanity is formed and created in the same image of God. We proclaim that in Christ there is no division, in Christ there is no separation. Galatians reminds us that there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free for all are one in Christ. Jesus told his followers that the summary of the Law and Prophets was to love God with all of your heart, soul and strength and to love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself.
Love must be the guiding force for our community. Love must be the guiding force for our state. Love must be the guiding force for our nation. 1 John 4: 19-20 states, “We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen.”
Racism of any kind is wrong, bigotry of any kind is wrong. Churches of all sizes, denominations and theological outlooks must come together in one voice proclaiming that violence, white supremacy and hatred of another human being for being who God created them to be will not take root. It will not take root in our churches; it will not take root in Longview; it will not take root in Texas; it will not take root in the United States.
This will not be an easy task but it is the right thing to do. Let us not give up on hope.
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Last night I was a part of a prayer vigil in response to Charlottesville. I was pleased with the turnout given that it was short notice.
The Church must respond to hate and respond to injustice. White supremacy is not Christian and not reflective of God’s love, mercy and character.
Below are some links about the event.
I was honored to endorse Meredith Gould's new book Transcending Generations. It's a wonderful primer for conversations in church regarding inter-generational conversations.
Check it out today!