Racism, Hatred, and the Image of God

“So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”
—Genesis 1:27

Another significant event. Another senseless death.

We said that many times in the past, too many now to count. We thought that in 2012 with Trayvon Martin. In 2014 with Eric Garner in New York City. Michael Brown in Ferguson. Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. And now, George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Sadly, we fear that this won’t be the last. A recent study shows that 1 in 1,000 young black men will be shot. No pattern of geography. No correlation with crime rates. Not even the race of the officer. Only one major factor: the victim is black.

The controversy is real. The fear is real. It has affected how black people perceive other groups. It has impacted the mental health in the black community. It has caused white people to go from being in denial of the issue to disbelief, and now, to feeling helpless about what to do.

And there’s no denying that a problem exists. But it goes deeper than racism.

The problem is something deeply rooted within each of us: our sin nature. We live in a fallen world. We live with sin in us and all around us. It affects our relationship with God and our relationships with people. It causes us to dismiss others, placing them in categories of “us” and “them.” We effectively, then, dehumanize “them” in our minds. We make “them” faceless, even less than human, when these types of incidents occur. They become statistics, not people. 280-character tweets, not horrific stories of pain and sorrow. People who are often forgotten by the general public until the next incident in the news cycle.

We’ve been dismissing people throughout our human history, and we’ve gotten really good at doing this. We dehumanize to do evil things like slavery or an unjust war. We do it to hate the kid down the block or the new boss. We take our perception, profile a person, and then react to what we fear rather than what is reality. We “justifiably” hate because we think that it’s less complicated, and that we think that it’s easier to deal with uncomfortable human interactions in this way.

Yet this behavior is wrong. Even corrupt. Sinful.

Sin is disgusting and horrible. Sin pollutes our human mind. It affects how we perceive others. How we interact with them. It causes us to forget that people are made in the image of God. And when we fail to see the image of God in people, we treat them, well, inhumanely. At best, we ignore them. At worst, death happens.

This is the effect of missing the image of God in people. But there is hope, the hope that Christ died for the world (1 Jn 2:2), that no matter the sin or the situation, and that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13). That Jesus died for sinners at the cross, sinners who include people of every tribe and tongue.

Christian, now is the time. Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” We are the bearers of good news. Better news than what we see today. The best news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus offers a totally different worldview than what we see today, that people who turn to Him see others the way God sees them: not from what is outside but what is inside. He is, as He has always been, our only hope.

And so, we need to repent. We must repent. Christians, we need to be peacemakers, people who speak to the condition of the heart and yet know the dignity of the individual. We can and should make the death culture know that people are created by God, that all life is precious, that all bear the image of God. Our world needs to hear from God in this issue. Our world needs to hear of the hope found in Jesus.

I look forward to the day when every knee will bow before Him. Until then, let us share the hope of Jesus. If you are a believer, now is not the time to be silent. There is no better time to share the gospel of our Savior, the slayer of sin, the redeemer of His people, the King of the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Let’s do this.

Fran

5 Things I Hope for the Church, Post-COVID

It’s been far too long since we met in person. Thankfully, due to technology, many of us haven’t ceased meeting, yet many of us can agree that the online environment just isn’t the same. It’s not.

As churches begin getting back to meeting again, pastors and staff are taking appropriate precautions. As time goes by, however, even those precautions will be loosened up as people get more comfortable and the threat of the virus has passed. That said, we have a lot of work ahead of us as we regain our footing as the church in order to do Jesus’ Great Commission work.

Here are five hopes that I have for the church, post COVID:

  1. People will appreciate and attend worship more often. The fact that we have not met together in person should be a reminder of how precious our gatherings really are. My hope is that believers will not forsake the assembling and worship God with their church more consistently.
  2. Pastors will continue to be creative. One thing that came out of the COVID period is that pastors had to be more creative in reaching out to their congregations and the world. The use of Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube was a new thing for many pastors, but my hope is that they can build on this medium and supplement (not replace) their ministries through these tools.
  3. There will be a return to one-on-one conversations about Christ. Many church leaders have encouraged church members to invite people to come to church. However, this kind of passive evangelism can unintentionally threaten to “professionalize” evangelism, overshadowing the believer’s need to have personal conversations about the gospel. I hope that the church will see how healthy and energizing it is when believers tell others about Jesus’ gospel.
  4. Groups will explode in a new discipleship emphasis. Groups somehow got deemphasized over the years in favor of worship. The thinking is that people can be led to groups after coming to a worship service. This is true to a point, but just like in my previous hope, focusing on outreach through groups such as Sunday School or home study groups will energize a group and create excitement as new people attend and come to Christ.
  5. The church will regain her mission of making disciples. It’s so easy to focus on the business of budgets and buildings, because these things aren’t as messy as people related issues. Yet, we are not called to buildings or budgets, we are called to the work of the gospel. While we need to be good stewards of what we are given, we must never let our attention be taken away from the best gift we have ever been given: the gospel. My hope is that we have a disciple making revolution, where everything is focused not on keeping the aquarium but on fishing for people.

There you have it. My hope is for a changed church, different than where we were and more like the church that existed immediately after Christ’s ascension. Is it possible? Yes absolutely, as long as we hold near and dear Christ’s calling and focus all of our attention on that.

Fran

I was once stuck on a rollerCoaster.

I was once stuck on a rollercoaster. Backwards. In an almost vertical position. And what I thought was fun was not. Nope, not at all.

The people around me on the coaster car started to groan, first in a reaction to the delay, but then quickly groaned impatient ones as the minutes ticked by. We waited, hopeful that the unexpected expected drop would begin, but instead there we were, stuck, with blood beginning to rush to each of our heads. More impatient groaning. Now some cursing ensued (no, not me, from others). We can hear the clicking of the coaster resetting itself, but still nothing. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Backwards, at a steep angle, hoping that a change in our circumstances won’t take too long.

Suddenly, after what seemed like hours (it was only a few minutes), the coaster let off a loud click and it finally started up again. The potential energy of our hanging backwards in the almost vertical position was finally released (as designed). We dropped quickly down the track, still backwards, going down each slope and around each curve, not knowing what each next turn will bring. The groans became screams of joy, a happy terror, and after a thrilling rest of the ride, the journey on the coaster was soon over.

It was fun and at times, not fun, but either way, it was an experience!

Life sometimes has delays, slopes, curves, and unexpected surprises. There’s groans, screams, laughter, tears, thrills, and plenty of memories. We might be able to predict to a certain extent of what’s next but we definitely can’t predict the far-off future with a level of certainty. Only God knows the future, controls the future, and plans the future.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven.” We have a finite amount of time and a whole life of experiences, and we don’t ever know what the future will bring. I mean, who would have been believed if they were to say a year ago that a worldwide pandemic would shut down nations, drive people indoors, and cause so much destruction? No one. And no, not even Bill Gates.

Our future is in God’s hands. David wrote that all of our days were written in God’s book, “planned before a single one of them began” (Ps 139:16). We don’t know the roller coaster that we are on, but we know the God who knows every twist and turn. And ultimately, when we devote our lives, our time, our gifts, and our passions to Him, we can be guaranteed that we will not be lost, but will be right where He wants us.

Fran

The Day Our Church Van went on a Beer Run…

It was the summer of 2006, and a group of members from my church and I were outside of New Orleans to help with the rebuild of the area, recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Our assignment was simple: replace a badly damaged roof of a home that week. The owner of the home was in the military, called out constantly to serve our country while his family’s needs remained. We were proud and honored to serve our Jesus as we served this family.

Over the course of the week, a neighbor kept checking in on us. Usually drunk in the middle of the day, he would shout out comments to us, asking us about how much longer we would be there, and even attempting to climb up to be with us (we stopped him from his climb up the ladder).

On the third day, however, he asked us for a favor. It was mid morning, and he needed a ride to go to the store and asked for one of us to take him there in our church van. I gladly offered to take him and we began to talk about him, his life, and the reason for us being in the community in the first place. We arrived at the store and he went in to make his purchases while I stayed in the church van.

When he came out, I was shocked to see him holding in his hand a 24-pack of beer. Essentially, I had just taken him in our church van on a beer run!

He got in and I reluctantly began to drive, but only after I protested a bit. However, picking up where we left off from our earlier conversation, I shared the story of Jesus with him, about the seriousness of sin, what Jesus did to conquer sin and death, and how he can be changed through his step of faith. We returned back to and parked in front of the house, and he began to share the pain in his life and how he had struggled with this pain during the time after Katrina. I listened, offered to pray for him, and, again sharing the gospel, I encouraged him to place his trust in Jesus.

That moment, in the church van, he prayed to receive Christ, finishing with a sentence that I will never forget: “I don’t need this beer; take it, I don’t need it anymore!” My heart skipped a beat as I realize what had just happened: this man’s life was changed forever that day!

What can we learn from this? That in the midst of crisis, there is a world hungry for the sweet, soothing words of Jesus Christ. People are scared and confused. They want to make sense of the world in order to find purpose and meaning beyond what they see. Sure, some turn to alcohol, drugs, or even pornography, but none of those things bring satisfaction and only make things worse. Instead, they need what we have: the truth of God’s Word and the love of a God who brings life through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this time of a world-wide pandemic, people are looking for answers. Be open to talk, be available, and be ready to help them see the heart of the issue. Most of all, speak the truth in love. People are in pain, and they are looking to fill a void in their lives, so show them that the only true satisfaction is found in Jesus Christ.

You never know how God will be using you next. Things are not always as they seem. May your interactions go beyond the surface and to the heart. May your conversations be Jesus-centered conversations!

Fran

3 questions to ask for your next Ministry

No matter what you do, any profession is something that God can use for His Kingdom. We are all ministers. All of us are called to something for some greater purpose in Christ (see Ephesians 2:10).

For me, to borrow a term that one of my former colleagues just used, right now, I am a free agent. Because of the revenue impact of the COVID-19 closings, my organization had to eliminate a significant number of positions, including my entire ministry team. No one did anything wrong, nor did I leave on bad terms. But the truth remains that like some of you, I am prayerfully seeking God’s next assignment.

During a time like this, it’s perfectly normal to do some soul-searching, trying to get guidance on what to do next. For me, I have chosen to look at my own life, aspects of my personality, and remembering the times that I had the most joy while I served Jesus. My process has been to ask myself three basic questions. And while none of these questions are earth-shattering or overly creative, they are still helpful:

1. What is my passion?
2. What are my gifts?
3. What is my calling?

First, what is my passion? I believe that a person’s passion is God-given. These are the things that cut the heart, that stir up excitement, that keep you up at night (in a good way). When I served in my last ministry, I would wake up at 5 am or sooner WITH NO ALARM CLOCK just to get into the office and get started. That’s an example of the type of passion for doing what you are supposed to do!

What are my gifts? When a person comes to Christ, God the Holy Spirit provides gifts to a believer to build up and multiple the church. I have gifts, you have gifts, but none of us have the same gift. It’s different for each person. The key is finding out which gifts you have and use them in the work of ministry.

What is my calling? We all have a calling from God. Christ has given us the general call, to make disciples of people (Mt 28:19), but how we exercise this can be different. And God will take that calling, use your gifts and passion, and guide you to the ministry that He has placed before you. This ministry can be across the street or across the world, but it is a ministry nonetheless.

Here’s a general example of what this looks like (I just used some terms at random as possible examples):

My encouragement: ask and answer these three questions prayerfully, carefully, and spend time with a trusted, godly counsel talking about them. When you do, I am confident that you will have a better direction for your sweet spot, allowing you a new freedom to serve with joy for Jesus.

For me, this process has helped me to better hone in on my next steps. It’s good for me, but also good for the next ministry that God leads me to be a part of. And this is the key: to follow God’s leading to a place in order to serve Him joyfully, effectively, and faithfully, all so He can be magnified through me.

Fran

Keep on Pedaling…

Philippians 3:13b–14 (CSB), “…but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

It was a muggy, hot summer day in South Florida. I can feel the sweat dripping off of my forehead and my legs felt like rubber. I was pedaling on my 10-speed bike up the Old Cutler road bike trail, going from my neighborhood to my destination almost 25 miles away. My best friend was riding with me, and there we were traveling up the trail, side by side.

To get where we needed to go, we had to get off of the trail at some point and make our way around town. A few things amaze me about that: 1) we had no GPS and 2) we had no cell phones, and 3) we had no clue! All we had was the desire to get to our destination, the energy to keep pedaling, and the happiness of our journey. Yet somehow, we got there!

In the Christian Life, we have very few goals other than to live a life completely and fully dedicated to Christ, making disciples along the way and glorifying God through our words, actions, and deeds. We do these things out of love, a love we have for both God and people.

Why? Because of God’s example of love. He created the world and the people in it, and His heart is for His creation. And despite our fall, He sought to redeem it. He sent His Son, knowing what price He would pay on the cross, and yet did it. Out of love. He did it.

And God’s heart should be our heart. His desires, our desires. His goal, our goal. We love what He loves and we pursue what He pursues.

That said, pursue Him daily. Follow His calling. Seek an intimacy with Him that you’ve never had before: a close, personal, prayerful, focused journey with Him. Not dwelling on the past, but joyfully pedaling in the present and excited for tomorrow.

Fran

Taking joy to a new level…

Over the past week, I started to read through and meditate on the Book of Philippians. My time in the book was so encouraging, and I am thankful that God led me in this direction for my devotion time as I was reminded of the joy that I have within me. There’s so much that Paul wrote that applies to us today!

Now for some news: just a few days ago, I found out that the team that I have led had been eliminated due to the negative impact of COVID19 at the ministry where I serve. Sadly, many of my coworkers also felt the effect as the cuts were widespread, painful, but needed. In a few weeks, I and many of my friends and coworkers will be looking for God’s next assignment to serve Jesus.

So I have, on the one hand, this incredible, fantastic dive into God’s Word and the reminder to be joyful no matter what the circumstances, and on the other hand, a radically changed circumstance which demands that I apply what I read. Wow, thanks, God!

So with that said, here’s what I see that God is saying to me as I apply this magnificent letter from Paul. First, despite my circumstances, despite a changing world, I have a God who does not change. This is a God who has made me His own, who has begun a good work in me and who has promised to complete it until Jesus’ return. Who has called me to His gospel, something to be preached through me, no matter what situation and no matter what the outcome might be. And even more, this God gave me an example for me of His humble obedience, an obedience that for Him, took Him to the point of death.

This a God who is present in my thoughts as I meditate on what is pure and holy. A God who knows my heart and speaks to it, even when I deceive myself. Who takes care of me so that I can be content because, most of all, I have Him, and even so, He will still supply all my needs.

And through it all, above it all, my heart fills with a joy that comes from my Savior. This joy, which serves as a reminder that Jesus is preeminent in the universe, and that the least that I can do is to point to Him as I demonstrate my life that has been changed by Him.

This is what I learned and continue to learn. I know that I am right where God wants me to be, dependent on Him. I am excited about the now and the future, and I am happy to do His will, whenever and wherever He will take Teresa and me.

Until next time,

Fran