Wednesday, December 5, 2007

An insufficient Gospel

The greatest plague on the earth today is a church that no longer believes in its message, and a mass of Christians who are unwilling to throw themselves fully into the hands of their so-called savior. And if the lights were to be thrown on, all would see an army of ministers leaning on everything but God. Do you ever wonder why psychologists are being added to pastoral teams at an ever-increasing rate? Do you ever wonder why your pastors bookshelves are full of self-help books, sold under the guise of Christian living? The answer, I fear, is that we have lost our faith in the Gospel's ability to address our deepest, most urgent needs.

Pastoral care classes have taught us to always have a specialist on speed-dial. We have specialists in every field, from eating disorders to alcoholism. Meanwhile, the only thing we pastors specialize in are referrals. We have become the quacks of the healing profession. Why? Because our medicine, the Gospel, has rarely been proven. It's rarely been proven because it's rarely been tried. Ministers now-a-days are trained as administrators and delagators, and we have largely forsaken our primary tasks of prayer and the proclamation of truth. As a result, we have come to believe more in the power of psychiatry than in the power of prayer. We seem unaware that most systems of psychology have little in common with the Gospel. Self-actualization and self-sufficiency have no resonance with the message of sanctification.

Our faith in Christ continues to weaken because we have given it little to stand on. We have become peddlers of secular humanism, urging our people to manage their sin rather than repent of it. When we do use scripture, we often treat it as a sort of inanimate object that we can grasp and manipulate to meet our own perceived needs. In this way and others, we have placed our religion at the mercy of science. As it stands, we have essentially said to our most hurting people, " Oh I'm sorry, you need real help, and all I have to offer is the Gospel."

Friday, November 9, 2007

Barnyard animals and at-risk youth

I've seen many a fine combination in my day, from Snoop and Dre, to Parton and Rogers. I've stood witness to the powerful one-two punch of Corchianni and Monroe, and can personally testify that the sum of cornbread and pintos is greater than its parts. But I must go on record as saying that nary a twosome has captured my fancy as that which is stated in the title of this post.

In our effort to lay the groundwork for the Bridge Project, it's our joy to work closely with the kids at the local Boys and Girls Club. A few weeks ago, I went along with them on their trip to Happy Hills farm. On that long dirt driveway, two totally opposite entities came in contact with one another; a fugitive bull, and a van full of kids with names like Elrahim, Tazmine, Drakeela, Precious, and Yadira. Up until this encounter, I "thought" I knew what funny was. I was wrong; horribly, horribly wrong. I have now learned that one has not truly known comedy until one has heard the musings of at-risk children on the vagaries of the bovine anatomy. Trust me.

A few days later, while in the gym at the Club, I was witness to another unusual encounter. While the kids were lined up on the wall, waiting for instructions, there appeared in the open doorway, the head of a full-grown horse. He sniffed a couple of the kids, and then hurried off. He was being ridden by a high school student that I recognized from the Club. Oddly, the group seemed utterly unmoved by this event. Apparently the kids had some prior experience with the horse. Enough so that they found his sudden appearance acceptable. One of them even informed me that it was "normal." Here I had to take exception. It may have been a common occurrence. It may have even been a daily happening. But there is simply nothing normal about a young black male, sporting a pair of Air Force 1's, riding a stallion bareback through the projects.

By the way, if you read my last post, you know of my obsession with spell check. You'll be amused to know that every name listed in the second paragraph got flagged. It's yet another indication that the little man who lives inside of my computer is a flaming racist.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Perfectly imperfect

I am a perfectionist. Certain things have to be a certain way. Now, you would never think that I was a perfectionist by looking at me or my place of residence. The pants that I am currently wearing have not been washed in over a week, and my shoes are not all lined up at the foot of my bed. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of untidiness, I am a perfectionist none the less. One need look no further than this blog for ample proof. Not only do I use spell check on every post, but I've even been known to consult a dictionary before I click publish. That's right ladies and gentlemen, I actually spell check my spell check. But if you think my blogging habits are bad, you should see me prepare a sermon. Every sentence must be measured for articulation and insight. What causes me to exhibit such anal retentive tendencies? Why do I lose sleep and peace over words? Why do I preach as if one stutter, one stumble, or one drawn blank will bring an onslaught of rotten tomatoes from an unimpressed congregation?

I could come up with a lot of noble reasons for my plight. I could tell you that I want to be a good steward, and present a clear, meaningful message. I've believed each of those reasons at one time or another. But ultimately it comes down to this; I'm afraid to be vulnerable, or to be real, for fear of rejection. My words need to be perfect, because I need to be accepted. I'm realizing that this is not how God intended me to live. God wants me to be at peace, and to have a sense of contentment and rest, no matter what value others may give me.

On a related note, I've been thinking a lot about entire sanctification lately. I've been trying to imagine what it might look like. I think it will look different for different people, seeing as how we have all taken different detours from the path of righteousness. I believe that for me, it will look a lot like contentment. There will be a ceasing of all striving and straining. Peace and rest will finally come to replace my compulsive self-reliance. To me, perfection is finally being able to embrace my imperfections. I will be perfect when I stop trying to be perfect. God is worthy of my trust. He is far more reliable than my intellect. He's even got a step on spell check.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Confessions of a glutton

I like food. I like it a lot. I like it hand-dipped, chicken-fried, and smothered in gravy. I like it with a side of mashed potato's. I like to chase it with an ice-cold glass of sweet tea (AKA-the nostalgic nectar of yesteryear). In all probability, you like food too. In fact, the very reading of these first few sentences is likely to have stoked your salivary glands, and left you with a notion to hit the pantry for that half-a-Swiss roll your wife left. The question is obviously not if we love food. The perpetual affection for calories is an enduring distinctive of the human condition. The question is why. Why do we love food? Why are we compelled to consume more than is good for us?

Well, I don't want to speak for you, or to rob you of the joy of discovery, but I can tell you why I love food. For me, it's not the taste of food that keeps me coming back for more. No, my love lies in the feeling of fullness. I love to feel stuffed. I like to gorge myself to the point of dry-heaval. I like for my meals to force me into a pair of unflattering sweat-pants. The reason for this, I believe, is that the feeling of fullness is the feeling of self-sufficiency. Each time I fill my stomach to capacity, I secretly tell myself; " I can do this!" Silencing my hunger pains helps me temporarily forget my mortality. When I'm filled to the brim, I'm no longer faced with the inconvenience of trusting God for my next meal.

So what do I do? Well, I can start by rediscovering the fast as a means of grace. The occasional denial of my most primitive drive is the least I can do to reclaim my dependence. But in my battle against gluttony, I need more than just a weekly fast. I need for the spirit of the fast to penetrate my every meal. Come to think of it, feasting once-a-week would likely do my soul more good than fasting once-a-week.

It was pointed out to me this past week that the first temptation of man, and the first temptation of Christ both dealt with food. The enemy must know something. He must know that if he can get us to indulge our innate drive for food, he can practically annihilate our drive for God.

Could it be that our quest for calories is about more than just our love for Grandma's homemade biscuits and apple-butter? In truth, is it not more about our pursuit of self-sovereignty?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

AG update

Anna Grace is about 2 1/2 months old now. She has come a long way since her short stay in the hospital due to a viral infection. Her mommy is now germaphobic but she's doing great.

mohawk baby

hanging out with uncle chad.

singing with grandpa.

Monday, October 1, 2007

To the left, to the left

Those of us raised in the relative conservatism of the Wesleyan Church, know all about the rules and regulations of organized religion. We have grandmothers who won't wear make-up, and grandfathers who won't wear wedding-bands. We couldn't play organized sports on Sundays. We couldn't play cards ever. And we pledged a weekly allegiance to the Bible and the flag. My, how things have changed. It doesn't take a sociologist to observe that today's crop of Christian leaders walking out of Wesleyan colleges and seminaries, are stepping a little more to the left than did their predecessors. It seems that we've traded our CYC sashes for " Coexist" t-shirts, while tee totalling has given way to tolerance.

Of course, there's a lot of good in this. Our freedom and openness brings an attraction that legalism lacked. We've become peddlers of a more inclusive salvation. We're tuned in to the world around us, and we're not afraid to ask the tough questions. Neither are we afraid to break down racial boundaries, and we recognize that God and country are not synonymous. Yet, in our rejection of the past, God forbid that we forget what our forefathers were reacting against. In our contempt for legalism, may God give us the foresight to see that there's death in the other ditch as well.

The root of left-wing Christianity is an emphasis on the here and now. If it doesn't help us here, and if it doesn't help us now, it doesn't help us period. It is, by necessity, a lateral movement. It is us moving toward our brother in charity and good-will. Anything that halts, or delays this movement, is to be rejected. Followed to its logical conclusion, it leads to an outright denial of supernatural intervention and revelation. Waiting on miracles keeps us from solving the problem ourselves. Therefore, miracles must be shunned. Somebody needs to tell Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Tolstoy, and our other enlightened brothers that a Gospel without miracles is a Gospel without hope.

The old Wesleyan guard is dying off. My concern is that our future state may look shockingly similar to the present state of the United Methodist Church, unless we slow our leftward slide. In the end, I'd rather argue over the color of the carpet than the deity of Christ.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A saint and an activist

disclaimer: sorry for the somber mood of this post. I think I've been reading too much Ecclesiastes recently.

Different people can see the same sin,the same injustice, the same oppression, and react oppositely. The activist, when he sees injustice, is thrust into the world, seeking to extract the sin from society. The saint, seeing the same injustice, is thrust into himself, seeking to extract the sin from his own heart. One is with the people. He works tirelessly in the heat of the sun to bring about restitution. The other is with no one but God, and toils in the heat of brutal examination. The activist is perpetually frustrated. When one hole is patched, another one just as big springs a little further down the line. Always searching for a clue without, he fails to notice the presence of the perpetrator within.

The saint has no false notions of moral exemption. And so, he stays hot on the trail of sin's inner descent. It's not that he doesn't go out into the world, he just does so with a different point of view. Like the activist, the saint walks the streets of a sin-sick society and seeks to administer mercy. Yet the world to him is like a mirror. It merely serves to reflect back the wickedness of his own heart. The dark, dingy alleys that surround him pale in comparison to the putrid pathways of pride in his own heart.

After a job well done, the activist rests easy. As he drifts off to sleep, he whispers a prayer; "God, give me one more day to make a difference." The saint next door is wide awake. He stares up at the ceiling and prays quietly; "Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

These days, God is gently teaching me that he doesn't need any more activists, but that saints are in short supply.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Life as a Protest

Thomas Merton was a promising young writer, destined to become a martini-sipping socialite in 1940's New York. Fortunately, a radical conversion rescued him from the jaws of decadence and landed him squarely in a Cistercian monastery, deep in the woods of Kentucky. From there Merton, a monk stripped of his worldly identity, would become a best-selling author, amassing a legion of fans who would never lay eyes on him. Much of Merton's writings were spiritual in nature, offering a transparent glimpse into one man's search for Transcendent Truth. Yet every now and again, the good Father would point his pen directly at the sinful structures of American culture.

He wrote scathing rebukes of American foreign policy, and gave articulate expression to the injustices of racial intolerance. In this way, Merton was a paradox, both relevant and reclusive. Much of this paradox was reconciled after his death in 1968. It was then, upon venturing into his hermitage, that his fellow monks found stashes of News Week magazines and Bob Dylan records piled high next to his collection of theological commentaries.

So what would possess a gifted writer with a social conscience to take on the life of a hermit? Though he had many reasons for his pursuit of solitude, one of his most provocative motivations was the making of his life into a symbol of protest. It wasn't a rejection of the world, but of its values that led Merton into self-imposed exile. He rightly saw that a perverse quest for power stemming from deep shame on a personal level, led to nuclear warfare and genocide on a grander scale. He considered it to be the calling of every Christian to let their lives stand as a ringing indictment of a sinful society. And so, he lived his life as a resounding "no" to a value system that stood in opposition to the Good News of Christ Jesus.

In contrast, I find my resounding "no" to be muffled by the undeniable presence of greed and selfish-ambition. Likewise, if we Christians are supposed to be living life as a protest, I must say that we form a pretty sad picket line. At best, our witness is more of a resounding " Uh, I'm not so sure about this."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Our Little One

Here's Anna Grace making pottery... while sleeping.

She loves her daddy and her daddy loves her.

A smile!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A tough mind and a tender heart

One of my favorite preachers of all time is Martin Luther King Jr. He is, by general consensus, one of the most persuasive speakers to ever step into a pulpit. In his collection of sermons entitled the Strength to Love, he uses his typical imagery and alliteration to state that Christians are to have both a tough mind and a tender heart. He draws from Jesus' command to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves to solidify his point.

I never really understood what Jesus or Dr. King meant until this past week. We here at the Bridge Project had our first outreach event in east Asheboro just a couple of days ago. By the grace of God, and with the help of a lot of committed church people, we delivered over 1500 dollars worth of school supplies to some financially less fortunate young people. Some of those who worked with us had done this before. Most of us hadn't, and it showed. We were perhaps naive and over anxious to be of service. Maybe we gave some of those book bags to the wrong people. Maybe there were people who needed them worse than those who got them. Maybe that old lady with the unlit cigarette in her mouth really doesn't have sixteen kids whose book bags all got stolen by a masked bandit with a hook for a hand. I know I need to have my mind toughened, and that until I do, I might get taken a few times. I just hope I don't trade my tender mind for a tough heart.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Doozie of a Two-zie

Usually on this blog, we deal with issues related to our ministry. But right now, I would like to pause and reflect upon the pleasures and perils of parenthood. I apologize in advance. We took Anna Grace home from the hospital on July 22. Since then, we have experienced the full-range of highs and lows, all punctuated by a seemingly endless supply of poopy diapers. During her first two days at home, there was virtually no bowel activity to speak of. Naturally, we were concerned. I found myself doing what I never imagined I would do; praying for someone to poop in their pants. That prayer has since been emphatically answered.

That her intestines are functioning at full capacity was never more clear than yesterday afternoon. What began as a routine diaper change quickly descended in to an astonishing display of fecal fireworks. Perhaps sensing that her hiney was finally unfettered, Anna Grace let loose with a barrage of human waste. Laura and I stood by helplessly as our little princess morphed into a merciless projectile of poo-poo. Our baby room used to be decorated in pink. Now it's decorated in a mixture of pink and a brownish-yellow. I just hope the world is ready for her highly interpretive art work. Call me old-fashioned, but I find it all a bit too edgy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Newest Bridge Builder

Anna Grace LeRoy has arrived!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Patrolling for Prostitutes

Have you ever been shocked at your own capacity to hate? To me, there's nothing more humbling than coming face to face with my personal monster of maliciousness, especially when he springs forth unannounced. I had such an encounter just this afternoon. Driving through the east side neighborhood which we hope will become the home of the Bridge Ministry Center, I was approached by two young black males. Before I had time to think, I had two new, uninvited passengers in my pick-up. I was instructed to peruse the block in search of "chicken heads" (don't ask). After mentioning that I was a pastor, my two companions thought better of my abilities to locate prostitutes, and I was alone once again. Yet what remained was a lingering skittishness regarding people of color.

As tempting as it is to chalk this skittishness up to common sense, I suspect it has a lot to do with fear's dominion over my fallen nature. Common sense is not driving down Brewer Street with my doors unlocked. Locking out an entire race just to be on the safe side is another matter entirely. To fear is to hate, therefore you cannot love that which you fear. That's why, for Christians, the fear of man is not an option. But the fear of man is not the only emotion that I must guard against in these situations. In many ways, the only thing worse than fearing/hating a people group, is feeling guilty about fearing/hating a people group. Guilt-induced pity is nothing more than a sugar-coated poison that only serves to secure the chains of those that we feel bad about oppressing. In my relationships with those of a different persuasion, I need less fear, and therefore less hate, and therefore less reason to feel guilty. Only through the annihilation of these base emotions can love rule my actions. I could also use power locks, but that's beside the point.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gettin' Settled

About a week and a half ago we moved into our new home here in Asheboro, and I (Josh) have only eaten at Bojangles twice. We've been extremely busy these past couple of weeks, but feel that the Lord is already confirming our calling . Pastor Charles and I are currently mulling over an idea for a ministry center in an impoverished section of our city. Every vacant building I drive past has become a possible suspect. I'm spending a lot of my time driving through the streets and praying for open eyes and open doors. Yesterday morning was spent in "Real Cuts" on Martin Luther King Drive. I exited the premises with an impeccable fade and a pocketful of stories.

In other news, Laura is doing great, and looking beautiful. Today is our fifth anniversary, and we plan on eating somewhere really nice (Bojangles perhaps?). The little one seems to be doing great, but her mama is starting to get a bit anxious.

Continue to pray for us as we spend our summer presenting our vision to the local churches.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

On the Move

The Bridge
Laura and I are happy to announce that the Lord has led us to begin a new church plant project in Asheboro, in partnership with the NC East District and Foster Street Wesleyan Church. We will start out on staff at Foster Street and begin laying the groundwork for a multi-racial, socially conscious church in this Randolph County community.

Many of you may be asking, “Why start another church in Randolph County?” That’s a good question, seeing as how there are more Wesleyan churches in Randolph County than there are Sir Pizza’s. Yet, by some accounts, there remain some 82,000 unchurched people in this county. In addition, there are approximately 3,000 people living below the poverty line in Asheboro alone. There is still much work to be done, and we want to be part of the solution to the spiritual, physical, and social problems present in this city.

We long to recapture John Wesley’s vision of a salvation that touches every aspect of the human condition. It was a vision birthed by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who was compelled by compassion to consistently act on behalf of “the least.” And so, we call our project “ The Bridge.” By means of this bridge we hope to provide community for the outcast, opportunity for the oppressed, deliverance for the addicted, and grace for the hopeless sinner. We'd love to have you join us in the bridge-building business. Let us know if you want to help, because we need plenty of it.

“Called to be a prophetic witness of personal holiness, racial harmony, and social healing within the community of Asheboro.”