What does the Bible say about Race Relations

I wrote the article below on Thursday, August 10, 2017 before the tragic events of Saturday in Charlottesville, VA this weekend. I might should re-edit my second sentence to: “Until Saturday, I was under the impression that in our sophisticated world, race relations are better than they were when M. L. King presented this sermon in 1963.” I realize there has been racial tension and incidents continuously over the past 54 years, but much of it has been fueled by media and made available since social media. Since I don’t have statistics, I can’t say if racial relations are better or worse but I would like to say this. I personally condemn any acts of hatred. Period. In a doctoral project, my New Testament passage is Colossians 3. Here is verse 11: “In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” In Christ, we are one. We may be different in color and culture, but we are one in Spirit. I only see one spiritual option. Put off racism along with the other vices mentioned in Colossians 3:8-10, “But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self. The new self is Christ.” Below is the original blog from Thursday, August 10, 2017.

The sermon titled Loving Your Enemy by M.L. King (King, Loving Your Enemies, as told in OS Guinness Steering Through the Chaos, p. 143-146), was a challenge and encouragement for me as I read and re-read it. I would like to think in our sophisticated world that race relations are better than they were when this sermon was written but I have some African American friends who would disagree as they still experience hatred, prejudice and poverty. Why is the struggle continuing? Because there is still hatred and anger in the world. King’s advice from 1963 is still relevant in the challenge to love one another. Below, King gives three reasons to love one’s enemy:

1.     Returning hate for hate multiplies hate.

2.      Hate scars the soul and distorts the personality.

3.      Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

(King, Loving Your Enemies, as told in OS Guinness Steering Through the Chaos, p. 143-146)

There is a society of monks called the Order of St. Benedict, named for Benedict of Nursia who lived in the mid 6th century. His work, The Rules of St. Benedict gives spiritual advice on how to live victoriously in Christ through serving others.  The Benedictine’s, as told in the Pratt book, Radical Hospitality, counter anger and hated with hospitality. They take risks by listening and getting to know others who may be different. Their philosophy in life is to serve Christ by serving others. One root of hatred is selfishness. The Benedictines strive not to be self-centered. “Another great enemy of hospitality is narcissism. When we place the great “I” at the center of our universe, we give no value to anyone else. We make commodities of people, consuming them for our personal enrichment and happiness. (Pratt, 72).

The challenge for me and you is to look at others through the eyes of Christ. Instead of asking “what can they do for me?” or “how can I change them?” ask “what are ways I can show my love to them?”

King concludes, “Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-co-operation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is co-operation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves.”

King’s response, like the Benedictine’s is to put on love. I wonder if he was thinking of Colossians 3:14-15 when he wrote this message? “Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.”

False Humility

The following blog was adapted from an assignment for

DWS 704 Institute of Worship Studies

based on the book Steering Through Chaos (Guinness, Steering Through Chaos)

Pride & Envy

I instantly recognize false humility in others. Maybe the skill of recognition is a gift, but more likely it is because I experience the toxin of false humility seeping from deep inside my own life. Outward pride is not a vice of which I have difficulty dealing.  Its evil twin, false humility, however, creeps as a corrosive inner voice that says, “maybe if I act humble, someone will think I am extra-spiritual, acknowledge my abilities, or recognize and affirm me.” It is difficult to write an article like this because the falsely humble voice is telling me that I am being falsely humble in identifying this concern. This behavior is passive-aggressive and spiritually self-destructive.

False humility has the same caustic characteristics as pride except false humility may be invisible to others while pride is expressed externally. OS Guinness writes, “False humility is actually self-driven and self-absorbed. A person who is falsely humble is a person who is truly proud.” (OS Guinness, Steering through Chaos!: Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion), 61.

False humility veils itself as a subterranean offense since it appears to only affect one’s self, but it can have far reaching consequences for a worship leader. An example of this kind of false humility is expressed when I say that I want the music or message to bring glory to God but actually hope that someone will recognize how good the music was or how blessed they were by my leadership. Another characteristic of false humility can be seen when I evaluate worship by how many people are outwardly responding. We who struggle with false humility can devalue the congregation’s spirituality when we wrongly assume worshipers are raising their hands because of a perfect song selection or because our band was in the pocket of the groove and not because the worship participator is responding in relationship to God and his metanarrative.

Another temptation to which falsely humble people often succumb is the desire to please people more than God. When one’s self-worth comes from the praise of people, one becomes pharisaical. John 13:43 records that the Pharisees “loved the praise from men more than praise from God.”

Living falsely humble results in a skewed view of one’s own spirituality. Regarding pride in religion, C.S. Lewis states, “I am afraid [pride] means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom god, but are really all the time imagining how he approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity), 69. Pride and false humility result in self-worship which is also known as idolatry, the antithesis of Exodus 20:2, the first of the Ten Commandments. If false humility goes unchecked, it can bring havoc on our spiritual life.

So what can be done? First, recognize false humility and pride as a spiritual battle. We cannot keep thoughts from seeping into our mind since that is the way temptation works, but how we act upon the temptation is paramount. Galatians 6:2-3 reminds us to Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.” When we focus on serving others, we will please God by our obedience. Another way to break the bond of false humility is to start serving anonymously.  When you give or serve and no one knows it except for God, you can’t be falsely humble. Matthew 6 sums up our actions, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

A Worship Leader as Servant Leader

The following blog is inspired by the book In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen. In full disclosure, this article was written to fulfill an assignment for a class in the DWS program at the Institute for Worship Studies. I believe some of the leadership principles are helpful in the world of worship leadership.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad, 1989.

A Worship Leader as Servant Leader:

Leadership displaying a spirit of love through service as opposed to being motivated by power and authority is the golden theme of this book. Like the business world, many churches expect its ministers to lead using a secular model. The world says decisions should be made based on knowledge and experience. Effective leadership from a business perspective often requires the pastor to be highly influential executing decisions based on best needs for the church.

Jesus led from a different paradigm. His motivation was to do the will of the Father. The Father charged him to serve people’s needs and reveal the Kingdom. Scripture reminds us that often Jesus was on the way to a destination with a purpose but was re-routed because of a Godly interruption. Jesus “saw the crowd and had compassion on them.” He was also counter-cultural in his leadership style, unconcerned with tradition for traditions sake. Ministers today would improve their effectiveness if they closer emulated Jesus’ example. “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37). In the worship leadership arena, it is more important to love our people than to teach them music. An effective leader can do both if they work at it.

Jesus did not lead alone but communicated with the Father on all things. Similarly, he sent out his disciples in pairs, not alone. Too many pastors and worship leaders are an island. An often-displayed top down leadership model leaves the one at the top alone much of the time. Working with a worship planning team (or cohort group) is a great technique to share the responsibility and rewards.  Team accountability is a mutual benefit of working together.

Much different from a business model is the paradigm to lead as part of a community. Our world today applauds those who pursue upward mobility demonstrating an autocratic display of dominance. The world looks for leaders who make quick decisions from a strong intellectual/cognitive position. Those who wield power and exert influence from a top-down, self-confident attitude are applauded. Servant leadership displays the love of Jesus from within a communal relationship. This kind of leadership fluidly reacts to the needs of the community. It does not dictate from hierarchy. Nouwen uses the phrase “from leading to being led” to explain that Christ-like leadership is inspired from interaction with the active hand of God in people’s lives. May we all learn to lead like Jesus.

Lessons Churches May Glean from the Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic Jacksonville FLI recently escorted my mom to a doctor’s appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville Florida.  As we were pulling onto the campus, mom pointed out how nice everything was at the clinic and how she wished her church experiences could be as pleasant.

Of course this got me thinking and observing while we were there.  Mom was right. While we realize a church is not a corporation, we can find similarities for success. Not everything listed below is possible in every church.  In addition, our attention should not be focused only on facilities.  Being “attractional” without the leadership of the Holy Spirit will be a total waste of time and resources.  However, there is value in observing how people in the world respond to their environment.  Some of these observations from Mayo may be applicable to your church.

  1. Easy access to parking. There were plenty of places to park and all the spaces had an easy access to the building. While churches don’t have the budget of a major corporation, parking is a necessary infrastructure. Guest (not visitor) parking near entrances is a great idea. Ask your leadership to park away from the building and leave closer spaces to guests, senior adults and young families with small children.
  2. A Multitude of Greeters. There were greeters stationed outside, at elevators and in designated information centers. Greeters even had towels and umbrellas provided for people coming to the building during a Florida rain storm. How hard would it be for a church to have an appointed team of greeters who meet people in the parking lot and escort them to the proper location?
  3. Well designed practical architecture. The building was well designed for their clients. People took advantage of the seating in the wide hallways. Mayo had a solarium where a volunteer coordinator invited local music students to play instruments to the joy of the patients.  In church we may not be able to redesign your hallways but can we find a place in the foyer that is conducive to fellowship?  Some churches have a fellowship area where there is coffee and snacks.  Can you have someone occasionally play live music in the halls outside the worship center during transitions between Bible study and church?
  4. Smiling and caring workers. I realize that the workers were getting paid to be nice but it certainly gave the feeling that they were concerned for our well being. They talked to the patients in non-condescending gentle tones. It wouldn’t cost the church anything to train the ministers, greeters, and other leaders to smile and be pleasant to each other and congregation before and after services.
  5. Visual displays about past history and future expansion plans. It was nice to learn about Mayo’s heritage. They had pictures of the founders, the first nurses and even an article about the first custodian because she spent her life caring for the health needs of the patients. While they valued the past, they also had kiosk displays for the future expansion and information about new treatment wings in order to provide improve healthcare. We should celebrate and appreciate the past, both as a Christian and as a church member. Knowing how God worked in the past is vital in knowing He will be faithful in the future. Providing a vision for the future will help people work together. Without vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18 loosely paraphrased.)
  6. Professional staff offering the best product possible. The staff, from the doctors to the receptionists, did everything they could to provide the best care for the individual. Churches have the best “product” imaginable.  Sometimes we fail to present Jesus in a way that brings him the glory he deserves. This is even more true when we see the church struggle to work outside the building.  If everyone in the church shared their enthusiasm about the Lord, perhaps our world would be different today.
  7. Diverse workforce and clients. The workers and the patients were from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Most of the churches I have attended are not very diverse. Revelation 5 shows us that worship in heaven will include those of every race, tribe and tongue. Wouldn’t it be a nice preview of heaven to experience that now?
  8. Enthusiastic Patients excited about their treatment and cure. The hospital was still about the healing business. Most of the patients were really sick and needed the help that the hospital provided.  The patients were vocal about the healing and care they were receiving. Some churches have migrated from a place where spiritually sick people find healing to a social club made up of Christians enjoying each other’s fellowship, sometimes at the fate of the sick around them.  Has the main thing ceased being the main thing?

Corporations spend millions of dollars each year researching how people respond to stimulus.  Casinos know how people respond to certain colored lights. Retail businesses know the psychology of music.  They play fast music when they want you to move on quickly or play slow “musick” if they want you to stay and shop longer. Advertising and political firms hire panel groups to discuss pros and cons of their presentations or candidates.  Churches often take the opposite approach. We do nothing. Our mantra seems to be a default “if you want it, here it is, come and get it.” Unfortunately, that strategy has proved not to work well.

Ministry action involves connecting the product (Jesus) with the clients (people). With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and some knowledge of how people respond, churches may want to implement some practical ideas to become more effective in how we relate to future attenders, assimilate guests, and build disciples and leaders.

Six Factors that May Lead to Longer Ministry Tenure

John Hume

I have a good friend, John Hume, who recently celebrated his twentieth anniversary as the music and youth pastor at Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Illinois. While we were serving together earlier this summer at our Summer Worship University, a worship training camp for students, I heard several of John’s peers ask him this question.  “How did you serve for so many years in one church?”

It is hard to know what an average tenure is statistically. Estimates differ depending on what source you cite. Ranges vary from 18 months to 3.9 years for ministerial staff. Whatever the measurement, Twenty years is way above average, at least in Baptist circles. John, who is a gifted yet unassuming gentlemen really didn’t offer us any insight when asked about his longevity. He humbly mentioned that he really wanted to stay in the same church and raise his family in one town if God allowed him.

Many of our peers would like to have a long tenure, yet they do not or can not. Causes of short tenures are numerous. Ineffective leadership, lack of preparation, laziness, poor people skills, deficient communication, lack of a decent salary, poor fit, an inflexible church, unreasonable expectations of the church, power plays, struggles for control and unconfessed sin are just a few reasons that pastoral staff have a short tenure.

I realized some answers to why John had a long tenure when I attended his anniversary celebration. The local state senator presented John a proclamation, the mayor of the city offered him congratulations for they way he served the church and town, dozens of people in the church testified how John ministered to them at a point of difficulty in their life. His student ministry made a video that told the story of how John loved and shared Christ with them. While writing this article, I met a young pastor who grew up at Lincoln Avenue who said that John was instrumental in his decision to go into ministry and seminary. I am sure there are many more but here are six factors that I observed during the anniversary celebration.

  1. Realize God’s providence. Serving in obedience to God’s will is most important. God plants some pastors and staff in their home town while others are called like Abraham to move to another place.  We must learn to adapt to our surroundings and love the people to whom we have been assigned. God honors our availability.
  2. Demonstrate hard work and excellent job performance. We should be known as hard workers who keep our word and finish our assignments.
  3. Invest in the local city, schools and church. Seek out opportunities to minister in your local area. These places of service may include athletics, music, tutoring, boy scouts, city service, chaplaincy, food closets, rescue missions and many more. Find ways to lead your church to serve along side of you.
  1. Endure difficult times. Don’t respond to pressure by looking up available jobs at sbc.net on Monday morning. Learn to handle criticism. Change what you need to change and stand firm when it is required. Have a good friend outside your church that you can talk to in confidence.
  2. Learn to work within the structure of the church. Adapt to your work environment as you may serve under several pastors, personnel committees, deacons or elders during a long tenure.
  3. Serve beyond your job description. Be a pastor to all the people.  This is especially true if you are not the senior pastor. Music and Youth pastors sometimes specialize in ministry that includes only a certain demographic of the church.  Work hard to minister to everyone.

There is value to a long tenure. Pastor Doug Munton also recently celebrated twenty years at First Baptist, O’Fallon. He lists the following benefits to a long tenure in his recent blog. Here is a synopsis of his assessment. A long tenure builds trust, builds loving relationships, and builds churches. You can read his blog by clicking here:

From John and Doug’s example we can appreciate the value of serving in a ministry position for such a long time. We applaud them. We thank God for them. From their example we can increase our efficacy in the local church.  Salute!

Is the OLD still relevant in Worship

Is the OLD still relevant in Worship

In my reading I am learning how corporate worship was observed in the Old Testament. The basic definition of worship has not changed. According to Robert Webber editor of The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, the Old Testament worship was a “response to God’s mighty acts of deliverance on our behalf.” Worship in the Old Testament was patterned after ancient political treaties of which people who lived in the culture were aware. Here is a quick overview of a primitive political covenant.

The great king would always compose a covenant for a lesser King. First, the boundary of the great king’s territory was laid out. He then would assign boundaries of the servant king. The covenant would always include a list of regulations and requirements for the subjects to follow. There would be blessings and benefits listed for following the covenant and curses and consequences for breaking it. The servant king then would take an oath in front of witnesses that he would carry out the covenant and explain it to his people. Usually the covenant included a physical sign as identification with the oath. Often the subservient king would scar his body to show his identification with the great king. Often times the covenant was sealed by the shedding of the blood of an innocent animal. Interestingly enough the covenant king was often referred to as the shepherd and the servant king as the sheep.

An Old Covenant to God’s People

The first corporate covenant between God and his people is found in the exodus from Egypt. Yahweh, the great king, delivered the people of Israel from the bondage of the Egyptians. He was their God and they were to be His people. He gave the stipulations of the covenant via the Ten Commandments along with the blessing of following and the curses of transgressing. The people under the covenant marked their bodies to show allegiance to the King through circumcision. The people were to be obliged followers of the great King and give their “undivided loyalty and complete obedience.” (Webber). The people would then enjoy the many benefits of the benevolent king and thus show their appreciation by celebrating with festivals and worship of the king. J. D Crichton says, “the people must also love on another as brothers (Lev 19:18) because they are in covenant with the same God.”

God gave several new covenants during the hundreds of years that followed. The New Covenant with Jeremiah reminds us of the King’s unfailing love for his people. God’s faithfulness will remain regardless of our unfaithfulness. Of course, the ultimate covenant was delivered by Jesus Christ; by His death on the cross, thus offering forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

A New Covenant for Us

Fast-forward several millenniums. In so many of the churches I observe (Baptist and similar non liturgical denominations), corporate worship seems to often be focused on the wants and needs of the sheep instead of the worship of the Great King. It seems we too often concern ourselves with peripherals like the length of the sermon or decoration of the building instead of focusing on the God who has promised to love, guide, guard and direct us.

Where in the biblical covenant does it give rights to the subjects? Where does it say the sheep get to make the rules for the Shepherd to follow? If it wasn’t for the mercy of the Great King we would still in bondage “but God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (Ephesians 2:4) If God did this then why do we argue about the music style?

I wonder if our worship service would be different if God’s people behaved like the subject of the kingdom and not the King?