Confession

By Buddy Eades

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I don’t know about you but the idea of confessing sins in church and doing so in a formal liturgical reading along with verses of assurance wasn’t exactly like my experience in church growing up. Confession was something that was done at the end of a service after a the pastor preached his sermon. In each and every service there was a time for people to respond to the gospel. People who had not yet received Christ as their Lord and Savior were asked to come down front and pray with the pastor. After a verse or two the pastor would ask the musicians to play softer as he then called to those of us who were already saved yet needed to re-commit our lives to Christ to come and pray with him. I would sit wondering if I should go forward. Certainly, it would mean others seeing that I really must have some serious sin in my life to get up and walk all the way down to re-dedicate my life to Jesus. Confession began to be associated with moments where after I couldn’t bear it any longer I needed to walk down the aisle and confess my sin. Altar calls and confession were a place of great emotional turmoil. It wasn’t exactly comfortable to sit wondering if there was anything that I needed to confess. Had I really lived like Jesus this week? Was there anything that was getting the way of my relationship with Jesus? Then there was the added fear of what my friends would think of me. What did he do? Or course there were other times where altar calls were just one more thing to endure till I could go home and have lunch or go outside and play with my friends.

As I began to be serious about my faith in High School, confession was connected to my personal walk with Jesus. Confession was an individual thing. Only in college did I realize that there were churches where confession wasn’t just about me and part of a altar call or response to an evangelistic sermon. It wasn’t just what I did with a pastor after building up a whole list of sins to confess. I found that a worship service could be a place where the gospel would be for all of us and not just the un-saved people. Confession in the context of church was a part of a bigger event.

A Definition of Confession

Robert Webber defines confession, in the context of worship, this way.

“A confession of sin is an act of repentance, motivated by faith and characterized by the expectation of forgiveness.

Protestant traditions have rooted the confession of sin in the experience of Isaiah. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on the throne (Isa. 6:1–7), his response was ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!’ In the presence of God we see ourselves as sinners, confess our sin, and hear the Word of forgiveness. Thus the purpose of the confession is to rehearse our relationship to God.”

In worship we are all rehearsing our relationship with God. We are preaching the gospel to ourselves. So the worship service and times of confession are teaching me what I do all the time. I don’t wait till the altar call to confess. I have a savior who has already granted me forgiveness. This act of repenting is ongoing. It is motivated by faith where I expect forgiveness. Our worship together trains us to carry these truths into our hearts each and every day. Confession isn’t something I do with my pastor. Confession isn’t even something for Sunday service. Confession is part of the ongoing dialogue with Jesus.

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Confessing Together

Confession together is still somewhat an unusual thing to consider. I am still learning of what its benefits are to us. I can see why it is important to confess my sins to Jesus. I can also see how it is important to confess to others when I have sinned against them. But what benefits are their to our confessing together in worship?

Here is an example of a written corporate confession:

Merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

When we confess this or prayers like this, I honestly have trouble entering in to this part of worship with the same urgency I might feel in silent confession. The words used in this confessional reading are pretty generic actually. It would be easy to generally say, Yes I have not been loving my “neighbor” without actually taking time to ask myself, “who is my neighbor?” Confessing for others means that I have to actually engage my mind and heart to consider who “We” are. I have to think about how “We” are part of not only a church but the world in which we live. Would we think differently, act differently, speak differently if we were to think about St Paul’s as a whole?

I believe that if the body of Christ would humbly come to our Lord with a confessing, humble and contrite heart, we would provide a glimpse into the very gospel we profess. The foreigner in our midst, the forgotten, the scorned, and the dismissed of our community might find that the gospel changes whole groups of people. The Church would be known as a place where Jesus is changing our whole culture.

Worship brings us together to align ourselves to God and to one another. We certainly need to take time to prepare and ask God to reveal our individual sin. We also need to consider that the act of confessing corporately changes us as well. We learn that we need to repent as a body as well as individuals.

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Worship Unites Us: Individually, Corporately, and with the World

by Adam Snow

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Worship Unites Us:

There is something about music that affects all of us. God put something in our hearts that makes us respond specifically to music. We may have different tastes or preferences for a certain musical style, but all of us have had an experience where a tune caught our ear and we were moved emotionally, or heard a rhythm and started to dance, or heard a song from time past and were instantly transported to a memory.

God made us musical creatures. Scripture gives us several hints on why we sing. Though there are many, one of the most meaningful ways that God uses musical worship is to unite us.

I believe 3 things about worship:

  • Worship unites us individually by engaging our whole being
  • Worship unites us corporately through a common experience
  • Worship unites us with the world because of our shared purpose 

Worship Unites us Individually:

Psalm 63:1-3

1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

   my soul thirsts for you;

   my flesh faints for you,

   as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

   beholding your power and glory.

3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,

   my lips will praise you.

David is raw with emotion. His soul thirsts. His flesh faints. He feels like he is in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Instead of focusing on his problems, he turns to song. He sings his sorrow to the Lord. When he comes to the Lord, he is reminded of how great his God is. He is reminded about the truth of God; that He is powerful, glorious, and that His steadfast love is better than anything else in life. David must respond with praise! Even though he doesn’t feel joyful, he is moved to respond by singing to a God who loves him.

When we sing to God, it can provide an opportunity to be “united” personally. In singing, we get to combine our thoughts of God (lyrics), our feelings about Him (melodies), with our will and actions (voice and body). The greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). Music provides an excellent opportunity for this.

“In singing, we get to combine our thoughts of God (lyrics), our feelings about Him (melodies), with our will and actions (voice and body).”

For David, it was his connection to his emotions that led him to respond to God through song, but it can also go the other way. When you feel emotionally distant from God, let the truth of God captured in the lyrics draw you in. Maybe you got in an argument with your spouse or your kids on the way to church or are overwhelmed by some stress at work. Maybe you lost a loved one and are emotionally empty. Maybe you’re just having an off day.

I invite you to contemplate the words we sing and reflect on them personally. When we sing “Oh praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!”, take a moment to consider the truth expressed here. I am a debtor, and I was dead. But there is One who paid my debt by taking on the full weight of my sins and dying on a cross. More than that, He has defeated death and has called me to live with Him forever! Like David, we can behold His power, glory, and His steadfast love that is better than life and be moved to sing.
 

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Worship Unites us Corporately

When we sing together on Sunday Mornings, it is one of the few times we are all “doing the same thing” during the service. When the Word is preached, one preaches, and the others hear. During communion, the elders serve, and we receive. When we sing together in worship, we are united in one voice to God. Though some of us may be using microphones and have instruments, we are all singing to God on the throne.

God is not our only audience however. Tolivar did an excellent job this last sermon speaking of how we can encourage each other through worship. The Psalms, which were written to be sung, are filled with exhortations to “Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” (Ps 105:2). God is the primary audience of worship, but the church is the secondary audience. When you feel disconnected from God, let your heart be moved by seeing your brothers and sisters sing to God.

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Worship Unites us with the World

All people have been made in the image of God, including those outside of the church. They may not know God, but they have also been made as musical creatures. When we sing worship music, we can uniquely express the truth about God to the unbelieving world in a “language” that they understand. When I was new to the faith, much of the truth about God I first learned through song. When we express our joy and hope in music, others can see the kind of God we worship in the satisfaction that He gives His people.

More than that, music unites us to God’s plan for all of creation. When Jesus came into Jerusalem before he would be crucified and was told by the Pharisees to stop the crowds from worshiping Him, he replied that “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). All of creation was made for and exists to reflect the glory of God. When we raise our voice in praise to our God, we join with all of creation in a Great Song that has been sung from the dawn of time and will ring out through all eternity. As we come together on Sunday mornings, let this be our song:

If the stars were made to worship so will I

If the mountains bow in reverence so will I

If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I

For if everything exists to lift You high so will I

If the wind goes where You send it so will I

If the rocks cry out in silence so will I

If the sum of all our praises still falls shy

Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

 

Call to Worship in the Everyday

F166CC8D-287A-46E5-B2B9-07D10CE52801What an exciting word we heard yesterday, as Hung walked us through the Biblical foundation for the Call the Worship and its significance in refocusing our hearts and minds on GOD as the center AND the initiator of our worship. In this week’s blog, I want to turn our attention towards how the Call to Worship and the practice of this rhythm fits into our daily lives as well as the outward forms of praise that accompany our response to it. In order to do this, I think a quick recap of where we’ve been thus far in our series would serve us well…

On week one, we began with one of the foundational truths of our confession: that worship is indeed the chief end of man on this earth. If it is then an inherent part of our very nature to worship, we come to the conclusion that it is not if we worship, but what we offer this ultimate worth to in our lives. This is a daily battle for us all, as in our fallen state we can so easily make anything other than God our #ultimate. But thanks be to God who delivers us from these bodies of death! (Romans 7).

Through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, we can live on the other side of the grave, as new creations, daily offering our bodies as living sacrifices to our God (Romans 12). THIS is our worship. And how do we do this? By not being conformed to this world through the renewing of our minds.

In the everyday.

Here, we see the truth that fuels the importance of recognizing and responding to God’s call to worship on a daily basis. The Greek behind that word renewal in Romans 12:2 carries with it the idea of making something fresh or new, accomplished only by God’s power. My mind immediately connects the gospel narrative here. In order to live a life of worship, we must be daily renewing our minds in the good news of the gospel, much like what we do on Sunday mornings in our worship gatherings. And as Hung spoke on Sunday, that story begins with GOD. GOD initiating. US responding. From creation to the fall, from redemption to send – this is the rhythm of the gospel. And each part of that story elicits a response (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and consecration).

One of my favorite descriptions of worship comes from the Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. He describes it as this constant dialogue between us and God; our lives living out, in a sense, acting out the drama of worship before an audience of One each day. This is where beginning with passages that call us to the worship of our God are so important for this process of renewal. We are called to turn our hearts and minds away from this world and its distractions and back to who God is and what He has done. To be still and know that HE is God; it is He that made us and not we ourselves (Psalm 100). We are called to return to this perspective of living out our lives in constant response to God. And unless we begin here, by seeing Him high and lifted up (and responding in adoration), we will not come to the place of truly seeing ourselves in light of who He is. For when we truly see Him, we truly see our poverty of spirit and our great need for a Savior. Like Isaiah, we are undone before the King (Isaiah 6), and we move forward in responding to the story of the gospel, step by step. But to get there, we must start at the beginning. And as we daily push that ‘reset’ button (and let’s be real, most days we need to on an hourly basis…), we are truly seeking to walk in line with the spirit – to live ad coram Deo, before the face of God. I want to urge us to begin thinking of worship in this way: as our chief end – the goal we are striving for, as the rhythm which we orient our lives around, as the way in which we walk. If we do so, we cannot help but train ourselves to be hungry and thirsty for this rhythm in our lives. It will be our lifeline.

The nature of our outward response.

It’s important to understand that our response is not just intellectual. Though it heavily involves our minds, we are called to follow this element of worship by responding with various outward expressions. Why?

1. It is because this is how God commands us to respond. He has specifically told us what our outward response should look like – whether it be singing, shouting, clapping our hands, dancing, bowing down, etc. These are mentioned all throughout Scripture and are not just suggestions, but God, in his infinite wisdom and through these inspired words is urging us to participate with all of creation in these heart, soul, mind, and body expressions of worship – will we respond in obedience? Many of us feel so uncomfortable when we gather together joining in and responding to these calls because we have no experience responding this way on a daily basis in our own lives. Many of us also fear the emotional aspect of worship to a fault, excluding it all together, only engaging when we can truly be sure we are not responding to feelings alone. Yet God calls us to respond with our whole person to who He is and what He has done. And not just when we gather together.

2. These physical expressions of worship are truly how we offer and express worth to what we deem worthy. They are how God created us to interact with our senses; they are universal forms of praise that unite us not only to God but to each other. To borrow from Tolivar’s blog last week, “ when we like what someone has to say or want to congratulate a job well done, we applaud someone, give verbal praise, or even shout. When we are so enamored with love for another or so filled with excitement, we break into song or movement. Is our God not deserving of these? Is His Word not perfect? Are His commands not good? Is His ENTIRE work throughout history not the most excellent? Is He not the One we desire to love to the utmost? Is there any higher reason to celebrate? How good is our God and how could we not respond accordingly? And the true beauty here, is that when we respond in obedience to His call by giving Him the praise and honor that is due His name via the ways He has instructed, we experience renewal, encouragement, and are filled with joy. For as we have briefly discussed and will see in greater detail next week, responding to this call is the starting block for gospel-centered worship and renewal.

But what if we don’t feel like it?

What if one finds themselves in the midst of a season of suffering, grief, doubt, depression, or apathy? It is true that we will have these days, even seasons, in which it takes effort, maybe even feels like a fight against our flesh, to be able to respond with our whole beings in worship. Yet the truth remains that even when we do not feel like it, our God is worthy. There may be times when like the Psalmist we must say to our souls “AWAKE” and “hope in God.” There may be days when that is the prayer we cling to. But I believe that it is in this process of being faithful to respond even on the days we don’t feel like it, the days of being vulnerable yet obedient, that God does the hard work of sanctification within us. These are the days of striving to live faithful to the end (Hebrews 3). It’s in that process of faithfulness where God meets us, and we are made more like Him. Let us be a people that is not only willing, but faithful to come – trusting in what Christ has done.

May worship be the way in which we walk.

To close, I want to give us some practical ways to engage:

Engaging with the Call to Worship in the Everyday:

• Begin your personal times of worship with a few verses from the Psalms. After you have taken time to contemplate their meaning, read the text out loud and respond accordingly. If the text tells you to shout, then shout. If it tells you to lift your hands in praise, lift them. If it tells you to sing and dance, then put on the praise music and celebrate the Lord freely through song and movement, and so on. If the text does not specify, then respond freely to the Lord in whatever way you choose! Let this usher you into gospel-centered rhythms of worship this week.

• Set aside 5-10 minutes this week to spend responding in adoration to God’s call via song. Find somewhere where you will not be disturbed and do not fear others hearing or seeing you/etc. Play a few songs you know the words to and can participate in singing along with. Spend this time glorifying and enjoying God freely. Truly seek to remove all distractions and engage with your whole being in worship.

Idolatry and Worship

By Pastor Tolivar Wills

Dr. Greg Biehl, in his book We Become What We Worship highlights the significance of what our idolatries convey about our beliefs about God. In particular, when believers disobey the first and second commandment of the law we immediately begin to subtract from the divine nature of God. In one sense we begin the process of taking an eraser to the character of God. It is this reality that helps me understand why the first two commandments are so important in the mind of the Triune God. The Lord wants us to have a knowledge and experience that literally goes beyond anything that we can experience within our senses and mental capacity.

These points force me to call into question my trust in the idolatries of my life. Specifically, it forces me to ask the question of why I submit my heart, soul, mind, and body to that which is limited and fallen at the same time; or by illustration, why would I give my life to a debilitated ship that is doomed to sinking because of the decay of the fall? Secondly, if I am putting myself forth as an idol, am I ok with the prospect of knowing that I am putting others on the same path of destruction, for I myself am experiencing the decay of the fall every day as well? Regardless, both of these scenarios lead to destruction of ourselves, God’s people, and His glory.

These questions bring me back to the supernatural foundation and only hope of the Christian faith; namely, that an infinite and eternal God has reached across eternity, into time, and united His holy being to a sick and dying creation, so that He may give it newness of life. Even so, the beauty of that statement loses it shine in the blurriness of my fallenness, both spiritually and physically; as Paul stated in I Corinthians that we look through a glass dimly into the eyes of a eternal God. It is this seemingly impossible scenario that further drives home the truth that God breaks through my blindness and grips my heart. It is this truth that necessitates a means by which our Father can renew our vision of Him and ourselves within His kingdom. Apart from Him, we simply do not have the ability to walk with confidence beyond our senses. Thankfully, it is the gracious provision of worship that puts before us the triune God reaching out once again via a gospel-driven service, to remind us of his enduring embrace and direction through the work of Jesus Christ, and the mediation of that work by the Holy Spirit. Worship, by the Spirit, uses our senses to lift us beyond them to the eternal throne of Heaven. Worship brings heaven to earth, and earth to heaven by the mediating work and presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is our faith in this reconciling work of the Trinity that enables us to trust His invisible nature and good guidance into the infiniteness of His person, while remaining grounded in the finiteness of our earthly existence.

So what is a practical way that we can experience these truths in the midst of our finiteness? One practice for me to help with this has been the slow development of a scripturally-based imagination. While in corporate worship, I try to envision standing before the throne of God, singing, enjoying and marveling at the glory of God’s presence, with billions of believers from around the globe. In addition, we are joined by the billions of saints who walked by faith in the millennias before us. In my mind’s eye, walking through the different elements of our service, I look on with anticipation, knowing that this vision is not just something made up in my head, but is a scene the the Lord has given us over and over again throughout scripture. Sometimes, my experience is so real that I feel like we are worshipping in the new heavens and the new earth; that some of the dust of heaven actually falls on us, leaving us transfixed. At other times, when my soul feels dead and unresponsive, our participation in Word, Sacrament, and loving one another enters into my mundane experience to remind me that despite how I feel, God is faithful and near. Sometimes worship lifts me up into the heavenly places; and other times it meets and nourishes me in the mud of my constrained heart. Either way, I have seen the Lord meet with me in either place, giving me what I need at the moment. My hope and prayer is that the Lord will give us more of his grace and apprehension of His presence in our lives as we learn to dig deeper into His person through worship. Amen!

Responding in Worship: Can We Help It?

17D14D38-2EB5-4F7A-8E75-44ACD3F2195CBy Drew Archer

Why do we worship? When I say this, I am not asking why Christians gather together on Sunday morning. Rather, I am acknowledging that all humans worship something. Whether that is God, self, a significant other, family, job, political ideals, entertainment, or an addiction; we cannot help but place something as our ultimate, something that is the most important thing in our life.

Why are we like this? It is how we are made. All of creation is made to respond to its Creator in worship (Psalm 96). We are created to be worshipful beings, it’s just a matter of whether the object of our worship is the right object. This is an idea that’s clearly laid out by Paul in Romans 1. There are two possibilities: we either respond to God’s faithfulness in the gospel with faith, leading to worship of the true and living God (1:16-17), or we respond to God’s faithfulness by refusing to acknowledge who he is, choosing to worship creature rather than Creator (1:18-23).

As we go about this week, let’s reflect on God’s creation around us. As big as the creation is around us, God is bigger! Think about Genesis 1 and Tolivar’s sermon this week and reflect on how comprehensive He was in creating the world and creating us. There was nothing, it was formless and void. We should not picture God walking into an empty room and putting things in it, we should acknowledge that there was no empty room apart from him. There is no space and there is no time apart from God. He created everything! Let that drive you to respond in worship.

Let the account of God’s creation also drive you to Christ. As those in Christ, we look to the new creation, the new heavens and earth (Isaiah 66, Revelation 21), that began with Christ’s resurrection and has already begun in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Embrace your identity as a new creation in Christ (Galatians 6, Romans 8) and respond the only way we can: with worship!

The Role of God and Spiritual Disciplines in Transformation

By Tolivar Wills

Megachurch pastor, Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Church, shares a beautiful metaphor for the nature of how change happens in the life of the church and individuals.  In the opening chapter, he shares the process that a good surfer goes through to be able to have a good day on the waves; needless to say, there is a lot of preparation that goes into such a quick and short ride.  Factors such as right board size, waxing of the board, weather reports, shark reports, knowing one’s skill level and much more need to be factored into the day.  Even so, there is one dynamic that not even the best surfers in the world cannot control:  ‘WHEN’ OR ‘IF’ THE WAVES COME! The only thing they CAN do is prepare for its arrival; and when it does, surf.  In much the same, Foster, and others like him (Dallas Willard, Kent Hughes, the Desert Fathers, etc.), are encouraging the body of Christ to put themselves in a place where they can catch the wave of the Spirit’s movement in their lives and churches.  

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As we at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church begin our journey of reading Richard F. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline together, I am reminded of one of the key principles of my reformed faith; namely, that all change that occurs in the human psyche, soul, and will for the glory of God is a result of what God is doing by His Spirit.  God is sovereign over all things, including my transformation.  While stating that truth, I realize that it smacks up against our western or human confidence to be able to be in control of ourselves and destiny.  A proclamation of ‘God’s sovereignty’ begs the question, ‘what about man’s role or responsibility?’ Are there things that we can do to be prepared or in a position where the Spirit’s movement will be greeted by receptive hearts?  

Chapter 1 of CoD lays out perfectly, in my humble opinion, not only a reformed view of the mechanical components of this sanctification process, but much of historical Christianity throughout the centuries.  

This basic position states that God moves within time to affect the hearts and minds of people to turn from their rebellion and to depend upon the redemptive work of Jesus Christ via His life, death, and resurrection.  

As a result, coming into this relationship with Christ one quickly learns that it is a connection initiated by God the Father, secured by Jesus His Son, and sealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Upon the completion of this relational transaction, the nature of this connection continues in the same vain; the believer continues to be in a state of dependence upon the Triune God to bring about our spiritual growth.  This is a truth that both Jesus and Paul state repeatedly in the bible:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.                                             John 15:5

and then in Paul:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.                         I Corinthians 3:5-7

And yet, despite these clear descriptions, we also read of the role of individual responsibility to pursue ongoing dependence and obedience:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.                             Philippians 2:12-13  

So as we begin this journey of learning about and implementing the means of grace given to the church throughout the centuries, let us keep a few of these principles in mind.  

  1. We need to do so with measured expectations.  Making use of these spiritual disciplines are not a magic pill or a rabbit’s foot; they merely put us in a place where we can wait on the lord to do whatever it is He chooses to do both in and through us.  
  2. Two, and of paramount importance, is that we all keep in mind that the Word of God is the ultimate authority for the Christian life.  Whatever the Lord impresses upon us through these practices needs to be siphoned through His Word.  As our confession states, ‘the Word of God is our only rule of faith and practice.’  With these few caveats in mind, by God’s grace, may we all catch some ‘killer waves’ of the Spirit this summer.     

Getting to Know Your Elders: Pat Pickren

Thank you Pat Pickren for opening up your soul. Here are a few things you may not have known about Pat.

1.) When/how did you start coming to St. Paul’s? What do you enjoy most about it?

We started May 2014 – Memorial Day – just  over three years ago. For years Phil and Lauren Ellen told us about the community at St. Paul’s and opportunities to love, serve and do life together. We finally took them up on their offer to come and be a part! I enjoy most the ethos of St. Paul’s especially the sense that you can come as you are (you don’t have to try and impress others) and be a part of a group that wants to become more like Christ. It’s a value that Tolivar and Hung have called “unedited community”. 

2.) What is one scripture that is currently resonating with you in your life?

Jesus’ words during the Sermon on the Mount: “everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7). Also in this parable is the foolish man who hears but does not do them. Jesus invites us to either hear and do or hear and not do. There is no in between. I want to build my life on Christ – the rock – and not on the shifting sand of culture, others, or myself. It also helps the my children love to listen to Rain for Roots album which has a song based on this parable which means it plays in our car and my head often.

3.) What is the best live musical show/concert you’ve ever attended?

I’m dating myself but the best live concert was Lollapalooza ’92: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, etc. It was a 90’s quasi-alternative music mecca. 

4.) Fill in the following statement: “One piece of advice I’d like to give to 25-year-old Pat Pickren would be…..” 

Dream big, trust in the Lord, love others well with the freedom that comes from self-forgetfulness (not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less – via Tim Keller). 

5.) If you were on a deserted island and could only bring one movie from the ’80s what would it be?

 Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Classic!

Reconciling Reconciliation Within My Own Heart, Part 1

 

By Tolivar Wills

I think it is important to lay out a few caveats or presuppositions before I delve into addressing this mammoth topic called ‘Racial Reconciliation’.  If I don’t, there is the huge possibility than I am going to be misunderstood because of my inability to communicate clearly via writing.  With that said, here are a few ‘heads-ups’.

First, I come to the topic, in my humble opinion, with a little more confusion about the topic due to the fact that I am bi-racial.  My father is black and my mother white.  Staring at the previous phrase on the surface strikes me as insignificant considering where we are in our cultural awareness and norms.  Nevertheless, despite being the product of a bi-racial relationship and being married to a lovely white woman for 23 years, which has brought forth 3 lovely bi-racial children, I am still stunned whenever I see other mixed couples.  There are latent norms, ideas, identities, and much more which come from both sides of the cultural/racial divide, which underlie my understanding of race, identity, and my own personal experience, making interpretation of clear boundaries and definitions difficult.  In one sense, I feel like the middle child of a family who perceives that they need to be the perpetual ‘peacemaker’; the one who is trying to take both sides into consideration, but never really being able to come down on one-side or the other.  As such, I hope my article will help shed light on why I think there are issues that make racial reconciliation not only a little more confusing for people like me, but will provide a unique vantage point on which to think about the issue. (A perspective that I feel is often neglected, ignored, oversimplified, or glossed over in discussions, though not necessarily intentionally.

Second, I bring a good amount of frustration and emotional fatigue.  This was never more apparent than in my preparation for MNA’s 2017 Reconciliation & Justice Conference in St. Louis, MO.  Once on the road, I could literally feel the angst building throughout my body, finding its way up my throat, and out my mouth at an unexpected target: The driver and my wonderful white friend. He must have been confused as we headed up I-75, thinking this was going to be a great time of fellowship with his bi-racial pastor and of other mutual servants of Christ. Instead, he was lambasted by my emotion and distrust of everyone who would be talking about the topic. My hope is to delineate the points of my frustration that we discussed, repent where needed, an to possibly offer a different perspective on how we discuss and implement a pathway to ongoing reconciliation.

Third, despite my confusion and cynicism, it is very important that you understand that I do believe there is a biblical mandate for reconciliation and very much desire to see it increase in God’s church and world.  My entire life and calling is the product of racial reconciliation. I am a bi-racial man who was raised by a white mother, whose immediate and extended family were from the very white and rural hollers of Southeast Kentucky; many of whom were very integrated in my daily life. I don’t know a person of color who has been loved and cared for more, by people who typically would not have anything to do with people of color. I am theirs. They are mine. My family is very proud of me and ask about my well-being on a consistent basis. I am a blessed man.  In addition, I was raised in a small rural village in central Ohio, where I was the only person of color in a town of approximately 3,800 people.  Yes, there were some prejudices and uncomfortable experiences, but by far, my life in the community was safe, kind, loving, strong, accountable, truthful, and many other positive characteristics.  Despite the towns unfamiliarity with anyone outside of their race, most of them were able to see me as Tolivar. To this day, they see me as theirs and look forward to when I come home to visit; and just as important, they are mine. Most of them are like my extended family, who I have lived, played, fought, kissed, hugged, and much more, since I was three years old. And every single one of them were white.

Finally, I am a Christian and pastor today because of the reconciling endeavors of many believers, both white men and women, who have invested in my life for the sake of preparing and developing me for a lifetime of ministry. From my neighbors who led me to Christ and took me to church, to the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, to seminary at Gordon-Conwell, to my first pastoral position in a church in New Haven, I have been loved and developed for the sake of the kingdom of God by white people. In fact, it was by the influence of several white men, that the Lord implanted a desire for ministry to the poor and underserved communities; it was they who pointed me to my first African-American spiritual influences via various books, talks, people, training, and much more which ultimately led to me planting a multi-cultural church in the inner city of New Haven.  Today, I have the privilege to help lead a multi-cultural church with a Vietnamese-American co-pastor, who is also in a mixed marriage.  What I am conveying here is that the sovereign God of the universe has orchestrated my entire life to be at the center of His reconciliation project via the gospel and His Church.  I am all in! So what is my problem? Why is talking about it and going to conferences to be a part of encouraging others to do the same so uncomfortable?…

 

Learning Through Lent

By Sarah Healy

It was a normal Wednesday morning in the drive-thru line. As a college student in Tallahassee, I dragged myself out of bed most mornings at 4:30 am to help open the local Starbucks. This particular morning, however, I couldn’t understand why so many people had the same bruise on their foreheads. “Weird coincidence,” I thought. “Did everyone get in the same bar fight last night?” Although I grew up in a godly Christian home, this is how little I knew about Ash Wednesday and Lent.

lent

This year David and I decided to explore lent and to press in and see what God wanted to teach us. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting 40 days before Easter. This was patterned after Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Generally, Catholics aged 14 and older abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday leading up to lent. It is also customary to “fast” from something that is important to you or that you would miss in order to propel you to prayer and introspection.

What am I learning about Lent, you ask? First, I’m learning that I’m very bad at it.

Yes, terrible.

I gave up sugar and then accidentally ate some the very first day. I think I’m also eating some daily in my vitamins. Why am I telling you all of this? To point out I’m not even capable of perfectly keeping a rule I made for myself. Which means it’s accentuating my humanity and God’s divinity.

And all of that leads me to grace. “God’s grace, grace that can pardon and cleanse within…Grace that is greater than all my sin.” Lent is reminding me that it was, in fact, my sin that sent Jesus to the cross at Calvary. No amount of good doing and rule following would have made up for the sins in my life. And thankfully, it didn’t have to.

Second, I’m learning that Lent is about lamenting. As I consider the last moments that led to Jesus’ arrest and death I think about sorrow and lamenting. As He prayed in the garden, he lamented. He lamented over the task that was before him. He begged that “this cup may pass.” He lamented over the separation of Himself from His Father. And He lamented the sin of the world and all that it entailed.

He didn’t just weep for the hurt and pain of the present or the past, but also the future.

Our world is daily showing the effects of sin and its pain. As I write now, families of 44 people are mourning the deaths of their loved ones in a Christian church in Northern Egypt. Just this year, hundreds have died at the hand of ISIS and its followers.  Many others have died because they are black, police officers, gay, Jewish, or Christian, just to name a few. The hate that runs rampant is a reminder that this is not our home. But as believers, we are wrong to gloss over and ignore this hurt.

Lent has taught me that part of being a Christian is lamenting over the pain and hurt of the world. Pressing in. Like Job’s friends did, we must be willing to sit in the pain with the hurting before moving toward a solution. We must sit in the pain and then offer hope. Thankfully, there is a hope that will not put us to shame. “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

Finally, Lent leads me to love. How can I think about the cross and not think about love? “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.” (Romans 5:7) This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” (1 John 4:10, The Message) There is no greater love than this.

So it turns out that Lent is much more than a bruise on a forehead.

It’s about grace.

It’s about hope.

And most importantly, it’s about love.

Grace gives us hope in a world full of hurt. This hope points to love. And nearly 2000 years ago, Love Himself walked up the steps of Calvary to accomplish the greatest rescue mission of all time.

Happy Easter, brothers and sisters. He is risen indeed!