Tag Archives: gospel

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 killed by the police. 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

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

The Answer to the Why

When crisis happens, “why” questions often begin. These are fair to ask, things like: Why would this virus, any virus, be allowed? And why the earthquakes, the tornadoes, the locusts, or even a set of asteroids whizzing by so, so close to earth, and all this week? And where is God in all of this?

The truth is, no event surprises God. Wars don’t. Famine doesn’t. Pestilence, earthquakes, even weather related events are known, seen, and allowed by God. Yet we have this wisdom from God in verses such as Proverbs 3:25–26 (CSB), “Don’t fear sudden danger or the ruin of the wicked when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare.”

So why the tragedy, the heartbreak, the fear? Why the wickedness?

The simple answer is that the world is fallen. Sickness, sorrow, and death are all conditions that we have experienced ever since the first day that sin had entered the world. Cataclysmic phenomena, wars and rumors of war have always been with us, even if we have closed our eyes to it. The truth is, pain is a part of our fallen world, and we hate it.

But so does God.

This is why God brings hope in a fallen world. That in spite of the sin which introduced all of this, He has provided a way to eternity where “Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Rev 21:4, CSB).

God is here, with us, comforting us, leading us to a better way. Yet we can’t miss the fact that the events of today are a reminder that there is hope for tomorrow. That all who trust Jesus and His free offer of salvation will receive eternal life and the guarantee that all will be well one day, that soon and very soon, we are going to see the King. King Jesus awaits!

So let me encourage you to have hope, because Jesus brings hope. In fact, He is hope. His love for you and for the world will never fade, even when things look bleak. Hold on to His promises that He is with us, even to the end of the age.

For those who don’t know consider yourself a Christian, let me tell you: come to this hope. No matter where you have done, He lovingly forgives you and invites you to a better way. He proved it when He paid the price for you on the cross, becoming a substitute for your life, exchanging His death for your life. Your response is to ask Him to be your Savior, your Lord, your God. That begins your new life in Him, a life that is all about Him, a life of worship to Him.

And that new life is freeing from the circumstances of today or any day. When you live in a closeness to Him, He is your guide. So that even in the midst of a confusing time or a cycle of seemingly endless tragedies, Jesus is your “why,” your new purpose in life. He is here. Always.

Stay holy and healthy, my friends.

Fran

Making the Imperfect, Perfect

Life is messy, at least it is this side of glory. We as sinful humans are really good at making a mess of ourselves. We blow it. We screw it up. We step in it. Well, you know what I mean…

And while life isn’t perfect, it’s perfectly imperfect. Nobody is perfect. We’re full of imperfections. We are broken, and we as broken people in a broken world need that perfect, merciful Savior who can take us just as we are and make us new in Him. It’s all grace, and it’s wonderful, and it’s offered to us freely.

This is why I’m so grateful. I mess things up and Jesus forgives me when I repent. I deserve nothing, but God offers me everything. And it cost Him everything, because it was on the cross that Jesus died, all to make the imperfect, perfect in Him. It’s all Jesus, all the time.

How about you? Have you received that gift Jesus has bought for you? If not, it’s never too late: “for all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13).

Fran

The Day Between the Days

“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body.”
Mark 15:43

It was a toiling day and a grueling night. The Savior had died, confirmed by the Roman centurion. Jesus’ followers, distraught and scattered, had no plan, no focus, no unity, and little hope.

congerdesign / 2682 images

Yet one unlikely man would be bold enough to lead out. Joseph of Arimathea, a man who Mark called “a prominent member of the Sanhedrin,” courageously asked for the body of Jesus for His burial. Pilate granted his request.

The place where Jesus was buried, a tomb cut in a rock, had never been used before. The clothing, linen freshly bought and carefully wrapped around Jesus, was His attire. Roman soldiers sealed the entrance and then guarded it against intruders. There was no doubt that Jesus was dead and there in the tomb He was buried.

This was the day between the days. It was a day of silence, a day of waiting between the first and the third days. For the disciples, it was likely the longest day of their lives as they waited and wondered about what was to come next in their lives. But God was still in control, His power ready to be miraculously displayed the next day. As we now know, the best was yet to come!

7 Reasons Why You Need a Pathway for Discipleship

Although some churches do a wonderful job of discipling, I continue to be amazed at the number of churches that have no pathway for growth for their members to follow. Yet, we all know that spiritual growth is essential! And while we know that growth is a work of the Spirit, it is also healthy to have a plan to follow as you let Him do His work in you. I’ll share another time on how you can set this up, but for now, here are 7 reasons why you need a pathway for discipleship, both individually and collectively as a church:

  1. You are tempted to sin. Sin has been here for a long time, and temptation is not going to stop.
  2. You need a far off view. A big picture view is an important part of objectively tracking areas where you are growing and where you need to grow in.
  3. You are tempted to be passive. There are more tools for spiritual development than ever before, but there is a great irony that biblical illiteracy is so high. It is very easy for you to sit back and not get intentional with your spiritual growth.
  4. Accountability is needed. The rugged individualism of the American culture tends to shy away from accountability, but there are many passages in Scripture that call us to submitting to each other in Christ.
  5. You can avoid an unbalanced diet. Having a strategy for study will help you develop a healthy, balanced diet for discipleship and avoid doctrinal “hobby horses.”
  6. You’ll study topics and books that you might not normally study. It’s natural that we tend to avoid the areas we are unfamiliar with, but a properly implemented pathway will stretch you a bit.
  7. You can be humbled and challenged. You might see growth in some areas and a lack of growth in other areas of your life. This is a great opportunity for you to be further challenged!

Hope this helps. Next time, I will write on the “how” of creating a discipleship pathway.

Fran

The Dark Side of Facebook: How to Redeem It

Facebook, as we all know, has a dark side. In fact, it’s interesting to see how destructive it can be. We can all cite multiple examples of over dramatic, overindulgent attention seekers who want nothing more than to get “likes” or even “loves” to their postings.

FB cross outPersonally, I’ve seen people create fake realities on Facebook that in no way resembled their reality. I’ve counseled married couples in which one or the other engaged in an adulterous affair with an old flame that they became friends with on social media. I’ve seen countless debates over the issues of the day, multiple shares of “fake” news (the Babylon Bee is NOT a real news site, people), and drama, drama, and more drama over situations so they could try their case in the court of Facebook opinion. Selfies rule the day, and for some, selfies brutally altered by filters are, well pathetic. And, yes, whether it’s the snarkiness of Twitter or the drama of Facebook or anything else pertaining to social media, it’s ugly, it’s awful, and it’s, well, just not really social.

Yet I can’t help but want to dig deeper to find out the reason for this continuous move to the dark side by so many on social media platforms. And when you look at it, the true root cause, the core issue, is because we naturally desire to be fulfilled in something other than God. We are idolaters, fallen and depraved, lost without Christ. All of our self-righteousness, justification, name changes, and even new filtered images of ourselves will not change anything about us in our nature and our corrupt desire tries to replace God with a god. What we find, however, is that nothing will satisfy us, ever, except what we can get in our satisfaction in Christ.

This is why anything we touch, we have the potential to destroy it. That’s what sin does, it corrupts, and we need to remember that without Christ we are “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) rather than God. Our nature comes back from time to time and fools us, wrecking our lives. This is why we can “play church,” or act as if everything is “fine” when it isn’t, because phony is easier to deal with than our harsh reality of our depravity. Our brokenness, then causes us to put on masks wherever we are, whether on social media or in front of others in real life. And the only way to mend this broken state is through a true, deep, growing, commitment to the truths of the gospel. We must have a committed relationship with the Savior of our souls.

And the gospel is where it begins. The life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ will transform your thinking and your desires. You desire the things of Christ, not the things of the earth. This is how I believe that social media can be redeemed, not for the sake of being known, but so Christ can be made known in you. To be real on social media is refreshing, to be patient and kind in an anonymous environment is, well, unexpected these days. Jesus told us in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Maybe it’s time to kill that temptation for fakeness and honor Christ even in this environment instead.

Fran