The Purpose of Power Pt. 2

Below is the second part of a three part series. I encourage you to read the first post prior to continuing.


Now onto some examples…

An article published in 2016 showed the disparity and discrimination we see in our supposedly much enlightened marketplace here in America. Over 1,600 resumes were sent to employers in 16 metropolitan areas of the country—not way out in the sticks—the only difference in the resumes being evidence of ethnicity. Not surprisingly, there was a direct correlation between the number of callbacks and an applicant’s ethnicity as you can see in this graphic taken from the Harvard Business School’s “Minorities Who ‘Whiten’ Job Resumes Get More Interviews” article at https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/minorities-who-whiten-job-resumes-get-more-interviews:

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Another example of the inequity by ethnicity in our society comes from a book written in 1997 titled “Poverty and Place.” The author illustrates that the ethnicity highest in number is also the lowest in poverty rate. Which ethnicity is this? That would be white. There has been a concerted effort to place poor people of color in concentrated areas geographically. Essentially, our nation has worked to group poor people of color together where there has not been a similar effort to group poor white people together.

These are just two examples of the how the inequity and the balance of power has been intentionally tilted in our society, but there are countless other ways this plays out over the course of our nation’s history. These ways are apparent to anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear.

So why are we even talking about this?? It’s for sure not because we thought it would be fun or just a good idea! And it’s not because we’ve become leftist, socialist, liberal, humanist activists, or whatever other label you might be tempted to apply. Instead, there’s another reason…

When you walk through disruption and discomfort, you find faith and freedom on the other side.

I’m sure you have experienced this in your life at some point. It may have been at work or it may have been with your health. No doubt there have been difficult moments in life that knocked you off course. And you now know that growth has occurred in those times of discomfort. They go hand in hand.

Whether it was something forced on you or something you chose…

you stuck with it…

you persevered…

you pushed through…

and you came out the other side with more

Many times, when a situation begins to feel uncomfortable, we want to say, “No, thanks!,” and run the other way. But when we choose to run, we also choose not to mature.

As I shared this message with the congregation of Multiply Church, I told them the real reason I am talking about this is because I love our community. I love the people who are Multiply Church too much to not talk about these issues.

The freedom we experience on the other side is from a bondage that many of us don’t even realize we’re in until we walk through the discomfort and the disruption.

So what does this have to do with the Gospel?


I’ll answer this question and make the connection in the final installment next week!

The Purpose of Power

Let’s get awkward…

We are in this season at Multiply Church we’ve been calling Clash of Kingdoms. In this season, we are examining the Kingdom of God for certain values and behaviors of those living as citizens of the Kingdom. Many of these values and behaviors are countercultural to what we regularly see put on display in our earthly kingdoms. This conversation can get awkward quickly…especially when we focus on politics, poverty, and racism.

Now for our next topic: power and equity in our society


But first…why are we even talking about these things?? You might be thinking…can’t we just preach about the love of Jesus? After all, shouldn’t this be what the church is about? Love, forgiveness, etc.

Love and forgiveness are great and, yes, we could simply just preach about these concepts every week.

But to be honest, there have been countless preachers living homogenous lives and just preaching the love of Jesus to homogenous congregations for centuries. And this might be related to the fact that the church hour on Sunday mornings continues to be the most segregated hour in our society. Therefore, I will preach about the love of Jesus, but not just the love of Jesus. We also have to preach about how the love of Jesus commands and empowers us to address biblical injustices in our society today.

Ya dig?


I recently had the opportunity to attend an extremely eye opening and difficult racial equity workshop over the course of two days thanks to our partnership with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. The information in this workshop was not necessarily new to me, but the order in which it was compiled and presented made the experience especially powerful.

In this three-part series of posts, I will give you some high level learnings from this workshop, along with a framework to better understand power and equity in our culture. Then there will be some examples of the inequity in our society. Finally, I will answer what this has to do with the Gospel. (Remember, the Gospel is the good news that the Kingdom of God is near.)

Let’s go!


Let’s start with a definition of power. Power is the ability to do something or act in a particular way. Power is also the capacity to direct or influence the behavior and actions of others. As we consider the concepts of power and equity, the biggest takeaway from the workshop for me serves as a great metaphor!

The workshop facilitators used this helpful metaphor to frame the narrative of inequality in our nation. Allow me to explain…

If you go to a body of water and you see a single fish floating upside down on the water, what question do you ask? Most likely, you wonder to yourself, “Huh, I wonder what happened to that fish?”

If you come to that same body of water the next day and there are hundreds of fish floating upside down, you ask a different question. Your curiosity shifts from the fish to the water…to the environment in which the fish are swimming. In other words, what’s wrong with the water?

Now to the best part of the metaphor:

Did you know that 94% of the freshwater in the world is underground? This water is cleverly called groundwater and groundwater feeds all of our rivers, lakes, and other bodies of freshwater.

When it comes to power and equity in our society, we have been reared and trained to blame the fish. The fish have defects and deficiencies. That fish is lazy. This fish is unintelligent. And we become a nation of fish fixers. The problem is that the root of the issue is not with the fish. The real issue is with the groundwater.

So we can try to create programs that address the so-called defects and deficiencies of the fish, but the environments in which the fish swim remain the same. Our fish-fixing programs are good, however, they do nothing to address the real deficits in the lake and the toxicity of the groundwater.

So this is the framework to better understand where we are in our society. You may be tempted to disagree, and I totally understand that pressure, but the real and the full history of our nation leads to this conclusion.


Next, in part two, I will begin by providing some real-life examples of how this metaphor plays out in our society. Stay tuned!

Was Jesus Political?

(This is a follow-up to my original post on politics.)

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No, he was not.

Before you revolt, let me explain…

Let’s start with the definition of politics: activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties hoping to achieve power. If we begin with this foundation, then no, Jesus was not political.

Jesus never aligned himself with a political party.

Jesus never aligned himself with a political leader or political agenda.

Jesus never lobbied or campaigned for a political candidate or cause.

Therefore, Jesus never participated in politics.

And at the same time, yes, Jesus was political. Again, let’s look at the narrative…

Jesus was born a refugee – seeking asylum in a foreign country to escape political persecution.

Jesus was executed by the state (in collusion with the religious leaders) in a political execution.

And, most importantly (with all diction at his disposal), Jesus used the language of kingdom.

The documentarian, Mark, reveals some of Jesus’ perspective on politics in his account of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and Herodians. (Sidenote: the Herodians were a group with very convoluted beliefs that mixed religion and politics in an unhealthy manner. Google it.)

These two groups – the Pharisees and Herodians – who were enemies, expect when it came to trying to trap their common enemy, asked Jesus if it was right for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar. In other words, “Jesus, what are your views on the separation of religion and state?”

And how does Jesus respond?

Mark writes:

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Rather than dismissing them because of their hypocrisy, Jesus uses the opportunity to engage them and those who were observing the scene. Then Jesus, being the master teacher, employs a prop and asks a thought provoking question before giving any instruction; which is:

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.

And the question I remember a professor in seminary asking as a followup to this teaching…

Now, whose image is on you?

If Caesar’s image is on the coin and we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and we should give to God what is God’s…hmmmm.

Here’s what I take away from Jesus’ political message:

All political matters are matters of the heart and you cannot legislate matters of the heart.

So for those of us who are in to following Jesus and maybe for the sake of those who are not, there’s another question:

Will we politicize these matters or practice these matters?

As a quick example…

Will we get caught up in the passionate conversation around issues like communism (i.e. universal healthcare, etc.) or will we choose to live generously so that our resources are used to provide for those whom life in this world has not?

It may sound idealistic and many, if not all, of you may want to push-back (which I very much welcome in the comments below), but at the end of the day…I still think this is an extremely helpful question:

Will we politicize matters of the heart and align our identity with current politics or will we, perhaps even quietly, practice the matters of the heart that inform our politics?

Our answer to this question, and the implications it carries, will demonstrate to this world the true source of our hope and faith.

So was Jesus political? Yes…

and no.

Who’s Ready To Get Political?

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I’m either a few months late or nearly a year early with this post, but aside from the American election schedule, politics feels like it has no season these days!

I actually remember one of my earliest introductions to the way civil politics influences our relationships…

Way back in the third grade, I had my first experience of politics. My teacher at the time, Mrs. Houck, had a very good reputation as a teacher in my hometown of Parkersburg, WV and she was always providing opportunities for her students to learn beyond just the textbook.

One sunny afternoon at Gihon Elementary, Mrs. Houck was able to coordinate a visit from a major candidate in an upcoming election. I don’t remember his name, his party, nor the office for which he was running. Actually, all that I remember is that he was old, white, and wore a gray suit. I can’t even remember what he shared or the feeling in the room that day. I do remember thinking it was a big deal.

In fact, it was such a big deal that I told my parents all about it. I even shared how I had enjoyed it so much, that if I could vote in the upcoming election, I would vote for him!

I will never forget my mother’s response to my excitement.

“And that’s why they don’t let third graders vote,” Barbara Knopp responded.

Still to this day I don’t know if my mom said this to say that they don’t let kids vote because they would not vote for the right reasons or if her response was actually her way of saying that she did not agree with this particular candidates’ positions.

Either way, welcome to politics!

Our parents are the greatest influence on our political beliefs and how we tend to vote. Actually, there are three #1 influences on our political beliefs. They are parents, local leanings, and our spouse. Now, you might be asking, “How can there be three #1 influences? Can’t there only be one #1 influence?” I’m glad you asked!

According to a study published in Political Psychology, our parents are the #1 influence at age 18. By age 35, however, it is local leanings that most influence our beliefs. If you live in a blue county, you’re most likely to vote blue. If you live in a red county, you’re most likely to vote red. We are truly a product of our environment! And finally, by age 50, it is our spouse who most influences our political beliefs. So that’s how we have three #1 influences! They change over the course of our lives.

Whatever influences your political beliefs or wherever you fall on the spectrum—from a completely disassociated hippie living in a van down by the river to the other extreme where your politics are completely inseparable from the rest of your identity—you have to agree that politics are everywhere these days. And it may feel like politics have never been so troublesome, but I think they’ve actually always been this complicated and cantankerous—in every society and every age.

The question for those of us who believe in and follow Jesus is, Was Jesus Political?

 

Stay tuned…I’ll give a couple different answers to that question (and their potential  implications for us) next week!

The Art of Neighboring (Pt 2)

Let me ask you…how well do you neighbor? Do you know the names of your neighbors? Do you know their stories…their needs?

If the reason you don’t know them is not because you are in a different stage of life, then maybe busyness is to blame. Maybe you don’t really know your neighbors or love them well, because you are just too busy. Or maybe it’s because your neighbors are weird! (We all have them.) And if you can’t think of any weird neighbors, maybe you are the weird neighbor.

Either way, does your level of neighborliness depend on your neighbor? Or do you neighbor well despite who your neighbor is?

What kind of impact could we have on our communities if we all were intentional to move from stranger to acquaintance to friend with all of our neighbors? I am convinced that we could make major change in the world if we just start by loving our neighbors.

So who is your neighbor? Glad you asked!

Jesus answers that same question with a parable about a man who, while traveling from one town to another, was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. A couple religious people pass by, but they step over him on their way to wherever they’re going. (Side note: it’s been my experience that the most religious people can be the least compassionate people.)

This is possibly the most well known of Jesus’ parables and most of you know how it goes. The thing that has always stuck out to me and I’ve not heard many others speak to is this…

When we consider our neighbors, we can’t ignore needs.

It seems to me that Jesus is binding the two together here. There is an obvious connection between neighbor and need. The man who was robbed had a huge need. The Samaritan passing by chose to meet his need. This was the answer to who is my neighbor.

When I gave this message in The Gathering for Multiply Church, I shared examples of what to say and what not to say as we begin to reach out to our neighbors. The list was funny and people laughed, and we should have fun with this. Rather than feeling like an obligation, I think Jesus understood that it was in our best interest–part of living into abundant life–that we make loving our neighbors a priority.

So who is your neighbor and how do you love him or her?

The best first place to start is by knowing the name of your neighbor. After all, how are you supposed to know the need of your neighbor when you don’t know the name of your neighbor? So let’s start there. If those you live closest to are only “buddies” or “mans” or “hey theres,” let’s go through the potentially awkward first step of learning (and remembering) names.

Then we can move onto needs…

 

The Art of Neighboring (Pt 1)

The church I get to pastor, Multiply Church, recently participated in an incredible display of church unity with over 100 other churches in the Charlotte metro area.

Local churches of different socioeconomic, denominational, and ethnic make-ups together focused on loving our neighbor. The reach of this effort spanned over 60,000 people here in the Charlotte metro area.

As you play those numbers out, 60,000 people with 8 neighbors each is a potential of over 480,000 lives impacted by this effort! All this to say…the opportunity the church has to make an impact in our local communities is huge!

And it all starts with a simple command.

As we think about the greatest command Jesus gave…to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves…I have to admit that I’ve not always been the best neighbor.

In fast, when we originally moved to the Matthews area almost six and half years ago, we decided to rent for a short time while we discerned where best to set up permanently. Our neighbor right next door was named Sicily. Sicily was like 130 years old…and she was amazing!

She was originally from a Caribbean island where everyone eats only greens and mangos for every meal so even though she was nearly a century old, she was active and could easily pass for being in her late 60’s or early 70’s. I guess there’s something to that whole clean eating/ natural diet thing!

Even though we knew her name and would say hi whenever we saw her outside, we didn’t have much interaction with Sicily. One day, after returning from a week at the beach, Sicily rang our doorbell. I welcomed her in and said it was good to see her.

Upon entering the foyer, she asked if we had been out of town. Without considering why she might be asking, I told her how we had been on vacation and shared some details of our time away.

What she said next convicted me about my neighboring…

“Oh, well I had picked some fresh tomatoes from my garden last week and left a basket for you at your door when you didn’t answer, but since you were out of town, they rotted. You should let me know when you will be out of town. That’s what neighbors do.”

Ouch!

I immediately knew she was right and looking back on it, I wonder if it was the difference in our stage of life that kept us from really acting like neighbors. In fast, there was a family who lived a couple streets over who we had befriended because our kids played so well together. And they actually knew we were on vacation!

(More to come on neighboring next week…)

Clash of Kingdoms (Part 2)

(This is a continuation from last week’s post. You can find the first part here.)

To illustrate the answer, and the accompanying framework that hopefully simplifies it for us, let me tell a story…

My wife, Emily, works for a large financial corporation and recently transitioned into a role where she analyzes the effectiveness of their training for lenders. I know what you’re thinking…sounds like a barn burner of a role!

She actually loves her job and the people she works with, including her supervisor. In one particular conversation with her supervisor, she was told that they were looking to hire a new employee with a masters and/or PhD in “descriptive statistics” to help use big data in the evolution and analysis of their training effectiveness.

Just like we do in the church world, Emily’s supervisor was thinking that more education would be the key to unlocking their greatest potential. Emily, however, began reading a book on the subject and discovered something…it turns out that through an Excel add-on, anyone with a computer and Microsoft Office can accomplish the goal they were thinking they’d have to hire an (overly) educated addition to the team to do.

Again, this is an (overly) long way of illustrating that when it comes to the Kingdom of God, the key is resourceful action over knowledge. The Kingdom of God is something to live into and pursue through our action…not something to be studied from the outside. That’s what the Kingdom of God has to do with you.

And even more pointed, the Kingdom of God has to do with whoever is right in front of you.

So we’re through the warning and the framework regarding the Kingdom of God. Now onto the overview

For this, we will turn to a passage from Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ ministry and a few places in the physician-turned-journalist, Luke’s, account as well. Mark writes, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'” So, first of all, according to Jesus, the Gospel or good news is that the Kingdom of God has come near. Is our personal salvation a part of this good news? Of course! But it’s sooooo much more!

And as you can read, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is accompanied by an instruction. Repent and believe.

Then Jesus gives us some further glimpses of the Kingdom in a few different places we read of in Luke’s documentation of his ministry. Looking at 8:1-3, 10:8-9, and 17:20-21, we can understand that:

  • the Kingdom of God is good and it is good news
  • the values in the Kingdom of God are often counter-cultural to values in kingdoms of man
  • Jesus will use whatever means He so chooses to support and grow the Kingdom of God, including the earthly wealth of those who are in power at the top of kingdoms of man and at odds with the Kingdom of God, such as that of Herod Antipas himself
  • the Kingdom of God is accompanied by healing, often times miraculous
  • the Kingdom of God is less tangible and more mysterious than kingdoms of man

There is so much we can understand about the Kingdom of God by looking at the narrative of the Old Testament as well, but as you can see here, we get a great view and understanding from the ministry of Jesus.

So the next time you read or hear someone talking about the gospel, consider what they are really saying. Is it the whole gospel? And what does it look like for you to live as a citizen of this Kingdom?