Thursday, June 18, 2020


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying

          Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christians should stand for justice and equality of all persons. These values not only define what it means to be American, these American values were derived from Scripture.

          God is the creator of all persons, and longs that they all experience his love and grace. God longs to create a multi-cultural family of believers that then go out into the world as peacemakers, reconcilers, and seekers of justice.

          God is working against bigoted, prejudicial behavior through all of Scripture. God punishes Aaron and Miriam for their bigotry against Moses’ wife Zipporah for her skin tone (Numbers 12). God calls his people to welcome the stranger. He places persons with different nationalities in Jesus’ bloodline, like Ruth.

          When Jesus describes a “good neighbor” in the New Testament, he describes someone from a rival ethnic group to good Israelites (a “good Samaritan). He tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus places justice for the poor as the centerpiece of his ministerial call (Luke 4).

          In Acts, we see God challenging mistreatment of widows of different backgrounds, and the apostles creating a system to protect the minority group that was being mistreated. We see God breaking through in challenging the church to welcome Gentiles into the family of God.

          Paul calls the church to be reconciled, places peace and cooperation of persons of different ethnic groups as the centerpiece of the books of Romans and Galatians. He calls for tolerance and acceptance of different social, racial, and cultural mores, as long as the behaviors are not directly contradictory to Biblical teaching. He says regardless of gender, race, or economic background we are all united as equal members of the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28).

          The history of our nation, however, bears with it a long history of racism and racial violence—often while simultaneously claiming to be acting on Christian principles. Americans fought a war over slavery, and careful students of history will know that much of the Nebraska territory was as divided on the issue as well. North Platte had a race riot in 1929. Very few places have been immune to racial or cultural conflict.

          The United States military, in a series of conflicts lasting over 100 years, slowly killed off a large portion of the Native American population after stealing their land. They forced the rest onto reservations even though many of the people lived in a nomadic culture. These wounds continue to reverberate.

          American racism has not been limited to blacks and Native Americans. Our treatment, both through legislation of law and acts to protect American security, has been less than stellar in how we treat Asian Americans and Latin Americans as well. And, too often, churches and Christians were either silent or complicit in all these forms of racism.

          And so it needs to be said, that when a man named George Floyd, an outspoken Christian believer by the way, gets killed by a police officer on the street, that we need to say that this is wrong. This needs to be recognized as part of a systemic issue of violence against vulnerable people of color that includes lychings, cross burnings, and more. The same is true with a group of white men in a pick-up truck hunting down and shooting a black young man in Georgia in broad daylight. This is wrong as well. As are many other examples that have become too numerous for me to remember every name.

It is also wrong is the way we often treat and speak of persons who speak Spanish as their first language, the way many of us make broad sweeping generalizations about Native Americans. Again, the examples are lengthy.

All of this, this biblical teaching that racial prejudice and violence is wrong, needs to be said. It needs to be stated and restated by believers and clergy alike. And so I am doing so, in a church newsletter, at a timely moment in our national life.

At the same time, I feel frustrated, because I think understanding this truth and being sensitive to this issue should go without saying. You know, I think loving our neighbors, and doing justice for the mistreated is like Following Jesus 101. Actually, it is like “Common Human Decency 101”. But, over and over again, it needs to be restated.

Its as simple as this. Choose not to be a jerk. And when you are a jerk, repent and ask for forgiveness, and try and make things right. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Don’t hate those that are different than you. Stand up for those that don’t have the power or the ability to stand up for themselves. Help those in need. Be a person of justice. Be a person of mercy. Be a person that has a passion to break down walls of ignorance, prejudice, and hate.


Church Newsletter: June 18

I Never Thought I Was Going to Be a TV Preacher
          There is a meme going around in pastor circles with a picture of a pastor doing a live stream a few months ago. It had a pastor standing in front of an iPhone and said, “Every pastor is a televangelist now”. I laughed out loud, both because it had a ring of truth to it, and because being a TV preacher was never high on my list of goals.
I remember one time some of my African-American ministerial collegues jokingly tried to push and friend of mine and I in that direction. In that moment at the ABC Minister’s Council Senate about 11 years ago some of the pastors were talking about their “anniversary” gifts and their “pastor appreciation” gifts that were given from the congregation. They included an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii and a time share with an extra week of vacation, or $25,000 in a Christmas bonus. I told them (truthfully) that my cash salary at that time was not $25,000 a year. They jokingly made plans for my friend Tim and I to set up our own studios, make videos, and broadcast them across the nation to supplement our incomes. I tried to tell them I had a face for radio, and a voice to pair with water boarding in interrogating terrorist suspects, but they would have none of it. We laughed for what seemed like hours.
Look at me now! I have devotions and sermons broadcast around the world each week via the internet. It makes me as uncomfortable now as it did then, but in a worldwide crisis, you do what you are going to do!
And, of course, streaming our services on line, and sending recordings to folks who could not be here has been a blessing. It has kept us connected, and challenged us to grow. Wes, Jen, Wayne, Todd, Jim, and others have done great in getting our services put together with sound and video, and broadcast to the parking lot and the world.
Early in the COVID epidemic we received funds to set up a livestream broadcast that will be a little higher tech. It took some planning and shopping, and the supplies are almost all here (Sony shut down its video camera factory during COVID-19 restrictions in Japan, so we are waiting on that). Soon we will have the ability to stream a nice video feed with a high-quality camera on a more permanent basis. We will also be able to develop other video materials. This will be a blessing for folks that are homebound, for several of our people that do shift work that keeps them from attending, and for many others. Some believe that live streaming can be a gateway to invite people into our fellowship. I am excited that we can share our ministry in all these ways.
In all of this, I do have one concern. Online worship should never be a full-time, permanent replacement for gathering in person. I am concerned that there are several of us that are perfectly comfortable watching worship in our jammies with our coffee in one hand and our bagel in the other. There is a reason the Scripture says, “Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). We need to be present to and connected with one another. It is hard to “one another” watching a screen. Now, many of you are caring for your health and being safe. That is good and right. But slowly we will need to get out, connect, care for one other, gather, worship, and pray with our church family. When that time comes, use our live stream as helpful supplement, not as a permanent plan for spiritual nourishment.

Dealing with Difficulty (FBCNP Newsletter June 11)

Dealing with Difficulty
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5: 1-5)

            I got caught complaining the other day. I administrate our Doctor of Ministry cohort Facebook Group. I also facilitate our Zoom calls. This is all as a way of participating in a helpful way, and adding something of value since I am one of the slower and more dimwitted in our group. I was reading one of the books, which everybody is finding challenging, and put up a little post saying I did not like the book because it was too dense and “rambly” (how is that for a doctoral word?). The professor for the forthcoming class left a comment on my post. His input was basically that we needed books to challenge us and stretch our limits of understanding if our coursework was going to have any value. Of course he is right (I still hate the book).
            Sometimes we are so pain averse that we avoid challenges that are set before us that God can use to help us to grow and thrive as a believer in Christ and as a church community. We avoid the difficult thinking, the difficult conversations, and the work of processing through challenging stuff because it is a lot easier to stay where we are. We can be like the Israelites, afraid to enter the promised land because there might be giants in the land.
            The last few months have been challenging. They can, if we let them, also be profoundly formational for us as persons and congregations. We can learn in the midst of this time, new practices for worship, new ways of reaching out, and deeper ways of connecting and caring for one another. But, we have to be intentional about facing the difficulties that change presents, suffer through those difficulties, and grow through them with deeper roots and stronger character on the other side.
            As we continue to adapt to a world dealing with a pandemic (these adaptations will take varied form and be with us for a while), let us begin to think about how God may be helping us “be the church” in a deeper or newer way. I know one person in our congregation who checks in on another member more frequently than they had before. Another person I know who has difficulty attending in person due to distance from FBC hasn’t missed a Sunday service online. And, a pastor I know is working really hard to preach shorter, pithier sermons. We can all continue to grow through hardship, if we are willing to receive God’s grace to do so.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Ken Mills Principle

No photo description available.
No photo description available.
No photo description available.

I started as the youth pastor in October of 1998, the fall after graduating from seminary, in Belgrade, Montana. The church was then called Belgrade Community Church, and I was the youth pastor in growing community located 10 miles from the college city of Bozeman, MT.

Ken Mills (along with Pat Ramler) were the Sunday School teachers for the high school class. We had a Friday night hike to the M in Bozeman planned. I think we billed it as a "midnight hike". We would leave about 9:30, get to the trailhead a little after 10, get organized, and start hiking until we got to the top of the trail, and overlook the city in the middle of the night. We would have a few songs and a brief devotion, and enjoy God's creation as we looked over the Gallatin Valley.

I was keeping my eye on the weather. A possible thunderstorm was forecast for the evening. I wondered if we should continue to hike. I called Ken.

"Well, I suppose you can call off the hike on the account of a potential storm, but if you cancel activities based on potential bad weather around here, you will not really ever get much done," Ken said, "If a storm comes during the hike, we can always change plans then."

I came to the conclusion that Ken was right. He knew the kids. He knew the land. I trusted him that evening. The storm didn't come. It was a great night.

As I have went along in ministry and in life, I have found that the Ken Mills principle is a good way to approach not just weather concerns in ministry, but ministry and life more generally.

If you scuttle your plans because of potential complications that may arise, you might as well sit on your rear end, never do anything, and wait to die.

This week our family has been talking about plans. What should we do regarding summer vacation? Do we plan for the kids to be in school full-time in the fall or not? Should I officiate a wedding next spring? The questions go on and on. There is so much uncertainty. And the kids are wondering, should we just stay in a holding pattern? It is like planning a midnight hike with a 50 percent chance of rain.

And Ken Mills principle keeps running through my mind. If you hold off on plans based on a potential storm, you will probably never really get very much done. So, we have to move forward. Use precautions when necessary, yes. Consider back up plans, of course. But you can't just hide from a possibility of a storm that may never come.

The Ken Mills principle applies to how we approach congregational leadership as pastors, and how congregations approach their ministries as a congregation. This is especially true in 2020. We have taken time as a society to hunker down to protect ourselves and others from a disease. Might even have to do that again. However, we can't plan our ministries based upon worse-case scenarios. We have to live. We have to step up and step out, even if that means we might have to make changes later.

Fleeting thoughts I needed to write out before they escaped my mind. Maybe I will develop them better at a later date.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Book Review of Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Volume XII 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus, and Philemon

1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Reformation ...

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 
Volume XII
1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus, and Philemon
ISBN 978-0-8308-2975-0
edited by Lee Gattis and Bradley Green
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a book is that is a part of a larger study called the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. In each of these studies the editors attempt to go back to original source material of the Reformation, and then put different Reformation ministers and theologians side by side in their take on a specific passage of Scripture. 

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture has four goals:

  • Renewing contemporary Biblical interpretation by bringing to light Reformation era interpretation
  • Strengthening contemporary preaching through exposure to biblical insights of Reformation writers
  • Deepening understanding of the Reformation and the breadth of perspectives represented within it
  • Advancing Christian scholarship in the fields of historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral studies (xix-xxi)

The Reformation, although deeply committed to the full witness of Scripture, brings the epistles of Paul to the forefront in understanding the good news of Jesus Christ. So, in their introduction, they spend a considerable amount of time discussing the Pauline corpus of the New Testament as a whole, and then delve deeper into the specific books that they are studying. My favorite quote of the book is in the introduction. As these authors work to put the work that they have done in historical context, they found a "money quote" from B.B. Warfield. It says, "The Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church" (xliv).

This commentary traces how different Reformers approached key passages. For instance, how strictly did they believe the church of Jesus should adhere to the nomenclature and structure for church leadership in the pastoral epistles. How did they deal with these things in light of their experience with the Roman Catholic Church, and their attempts to organize church structures post-Reformation to mitagate against some of the abuses they had seen? Unexpectedly, Reformers put a lot of attention on 2 Thessalonians 2 as well, working through the issues of lawlessness, faithfulness, and authority.

Of this series of commentaries, this may be my favorite so far. The authors are humble yet well read, they bring Reformation issues into conversation with 21st century issues in a unique way, and they bring in voices from the Reformation that others may have ignored, especially in relation to these epistles.

Great job IVP Academic!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Book Review of Still Evangelical edited by Mark Labberton

Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and ...
Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Cultural, and Theological Meaning
edited by Mark Labberton
ISBN 978-0-8308-4537-8
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Written after the 2016 election, a number of persons from varied backgrounds were asked, in light of the election of Donald Trump and his overwhelming support among persons who identified themselves and evangelicals, if they could still adopt the label evangelical and consider themselves a part of the evangelical community. The eleven contributers come to different conclusions, approach the question differently, while each of them educate along the way.

The contributors are seminary presidents, activists, scholars, and members of the Christian media. They are Asian, Latinx, African-American, and European-American. Although I would have liked to see more African-American authors, this is a diverse group of authors.

I started reading this book over two years ago when I began a small group studying the text. I was not enthusiastic about it. I am kind of a lone-wolf and an introvert. I had a hard time understanding how someone could change their theological spots, so to speak, because some racist idiot got elected President. I guess I would consider myself an evangelical, but I am not a big fan of labels and cliques anyway.

So, I started reading these authors. Some feel like they need to defend evangelicalism. Some feel like they need to criticize evangelicalism. Others just feel like they need to testify about their experiences and the experiences of their community. Through the process, I learned a lot. Specifically I was afforded the possibility of thinking deeper about the following:

  • The difference between compassion and justice
  • How the history of how the marriage of conservative politics' intimate relationship with evangelicalism is historically grounded in institutional racism
  • The history of anti-Latino/a sentiment in America
  • How for many minority communities, silence by evangelicals is seen as complicity with racrist practices
  • How the default of defining ourselves by theology and belief instead of practice in Christian circles leads to complicity in evil at best and guilty participation in poltical evil at worst.
There is much more here than this. Christians need to read more and think more about these issues. Not just because there are Black Lives Matters rallies each day, but rather because racial dialogue and reconcilation is going to be a huge part of our societal and ecclesial future. If we don't address this issues now in empathetic yet reasoned ways, there will be a price to pay in the future. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Thoughtful articles regarding race and current events

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this thoughtful piece for the Los Angeles Times:

Don't Understand the Protests?

Phil Vischer (of Veggie Tales fame) wrote this on remembering his story differently

Racial Injustice has Benefited Me

Cornel West

A boot is crushing the neck of American democracy


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...