Tag Archives: Social


Faithful are the wounds of a friend … amen?! Do you like THAT wisdom? Among a few pet-peeves in my ministry, one that continues to gnaw at me (too often with respect to others, and too seldom concerning myself) is this one, concerning professing Christians ~ most of those I know being convinced about inerrancy. So of course, they will agree (quickly, wholeheartedly, without reservation) about this theological premise: “I sin daily in thought, word, and deed. I am a desperate sinner ~ saved only by the wonderful grace of God.” True enough … so ~ what is my peeve?! That if a fool (like myself) should ever point out one specific sin of the millions, to such a professor ~ well, the battle is on, it is all-out war, and the defensive walls rise!
My discovery, point, and peeve is that it is evidently much easier to confess to the general principle of sin than to any particular ones: “I am a sinner in general … but not in the specifics.” This reminds me of a groaner of a joke: “I do not like shopping at general stores, because I cannot get anything specific!” My brothers & sisters, we must deal with our own specific sins before God, and we must be faithful concerning hard words with and for our friends. I am calling for a mutual ministry of admonition … that we would be ready, willing, and able to both give and receive. Some counsel:
1. Aim to receive all criticism and admonition as coming from God’s love and grace. John Calvin admonishes: If we will be judged by people here and now (that is, repenting and turning away from sins which are exposed by the ministry of other people in our lives), then we will not be judged by God for these same sins later.
2. But what if my critic is 99% wrong ~ and only 1% right ~ in his harsh analysis of me?! Well, thank God and your critic for that 1% … and deal faithfully with that part. God can use even an ill-motivated enemy to move along my sanctification. Paul was buffeted by Satan with many wounds; through these, God worked growth in Paul. Critics can expose our blind-spots and tenderize our hardened consciences.
3. Keep short accounts with everyone so that when rebuke-for-sin is necessary (either way), nobody is distracted to think that the rebuke is really about settling old scores (or using imagined slights as excuses for another fight).
4. How does it feel, to be rebuked harshly?! Does anyone really enjoy that? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (the GOLDEN RULE). The design of this RULE is that you should lead, in the right way. Notice, then, the pattern of Paul in so many of his epistles. Paul leads with encouragement, and ends the same way ~ even if the middle of his letter is heavy on rebuke. And even in that portion which must focus on the censure, Paul will mention his true affection (brothers & sisters; my little children). Paul treated even the Galatians & Corinthians with tenderness.
5. Recall your PEACEMAKER training?! Beware (especially within yourself) the equally poor responses of Fight & Flight … of murder or suicide … of running at the enemy to do vigorous battle or running away to hide (hiding sins and hiding feelings).
6. Is it possible ~ follower of Jesus Christ ~ that you are not close enough to anyone such that this co-ministry of hard, necessary words could even happen?! If true, this is an ultimate example of Flight: You so fear this kind of necessary and healthy admonition, rebuke, and criticism that you forego all human relating. You may imagine that you are avoiding pain, but it is merely a temporary respite, and much greater pain is soon to come.
7. Finally ~ in the midst of hard words, trials, tragedies, disappointments, conflicts, admonitions, and rebukes ~ even a few of these which are really not deserved (yet all of them are painful), a question always presses us from on high: Do I really want to become more like Jesus Christ (to be continually renewed after the image of the Son of God) or am I actually more interested in preserving my dignity, fighting for my rights, and staying true to myself (even if God is interested in transforming that self)? Our response to criticism and admonition may reveal our actual answer to this greatest of sanctification’s questions.
A final “hard word” (but I hope you do not think it is): It would be inappropriate for me to pass around a clip-board right now, asking who wants to sign up for this kind of HARD-WORDS CO-MINISTRY! Why would it be improper? Because you are already signed up for this, by virtue of Christ bringing you into His body (the church), and this is especially true for you official, communicant members who (know it or not) were thereby committing to this ministry of mutual blessing. So let us be faithful (and kind) ~ in the giving and in the receiving.

No Broken Windows Here (Holiness to the Core)

I begin with an analogy which, I hope, will make a spiritual point, producing helpful conviction. In the 1970s New York City (NYC) had a deserved reputation for being a center of violent crimes. I recall a book which became a film, The Cross & the Switchblade. This was made into a comic book when I was very young. Its drawings and then the movie truly terrified me. To that youngster, NYC was a den of violence, and I never imagined wanting to visit. NYC was full of illegal drugs, gangs, pornographic theaters, and general anarchy. In the 1960s and 1970s, NYC was the living incarnation of Sodom.

But something has changed! Those of you who are blessed to travel know that NYC today is regarded as a wonderful vacation spot ~ not just Broadway and Times Square. Each borough has its unique personality and appeal. Above all, NYC is safe ~ even if busy, noisy, & bustling. So, what happened? A mayor and a police chief collaborated to ‘change the culture.’ The NYC Police Department began writing tickets for what most people would call ‘minor’ violations, well short of what most folks consider to be real crimes (especially as compared to murders, rapes, and violent robberies). Hefty fines were being levied for breaking windows and spraying graffiti! In fact, even if the violator could not be identified, the building owner had to fix the broken windows and paint over the graffiti quickly.

The message? ‘We are now a law-and-order town, & that goes for all the laws on the books.’ This was actually called the “Broken Windows Policy.”   Early critics were certain this was crazy: ‘I mean, in a world of real limitations ~ with murder as the kind of crime which truly impacts dozens of lives ~ you are going to have officers chasing down graffiti artists?!’ NYC’s answer: “Yes!” And it worked … meaning, not only did the city end up with fewer broken windows and less graffiti, but the law-and-order message bubbled up into the more violent crimes, such that criminals moved out, or shifted their energies into behavior less likely to be apprehended.

I give an important caveat here: “The heart of man is desperately wicked.” We cannot really change a spiritual heart through the writing and enforcing of external laws. There are likely as many wicked people in NYC now as in the past. But something happened to shift NYC from being a murder capital to being a fairly safe city (for its vast size), & we Covenanters do thank the Lord whenever civil governments take seriously their God-given duties to enforce order.

My big and little point here (I do have one!): Think of yourself, like a city. You surely are aware of what you would call the big, problematic, long-term, hard-to-get-rid-of, serious sins in your life. Perhaps you have read books about this or that sin or addiction, that form of spiritual bondage. You may have enlisted a good friend as an accountability partner, confessing this or that episode. Sometimes you have enjoyed a stretch of good behavior (Yeah … victory in Jesus)! But then, it comes roaring back, perhaps worse than before … the seven skinny years eating up the seven fat ones. ‘Woe is me, a weak and carnal Christian, at least concerning this dominant sin. I suppose that I simply will have to bear this cross and wait for Heaven to finally enjoy real peace and purity.’ Wrong!

By our NYC analogy, consider if the big, public, and violent sin (like murder) reads the news and figures that, in your city, little problems like broken windows and some spray paint on the brick walls are okay. Now there are written laws against those violations, but with all the big stuff you must worry about, there really are no energy or cops or resources to devote to those. Thus, the world, the flesh, and the devil know that you are not a law-and-order town. May it never be! May you care about all of God’s law, whether you imagine that your transgressions are big or little, major or minor. My specific targets here are what the author Jerry Bridges calls “respectable sins” (like coveting, gossip, worry, envy, anger, and thanklessness). But who can care about these little, minor, inner sins of the super-spiritual people (which should bother Christian giants like Bridges), when I am worried about the really bad crimes?!

I urge those of you who are struggling against long term sins, who at times gain some victory, but then they come roaring back … to consider other sins, the inner ones, those small exceptions you have been allowing, though they are against the clear law of God. May God give you victory over the big and the little, the external and the internal. And may those of you who are not struggling against particular sins … get busy! We are not in Heaven yet, so there is sanctification still to pursue.

All of this matters for the glory of Christ. This progress is according to the promise of Christ. And this is empowered by God’s grace in Christ.

Lawrence Congregations Move Forward with Social Justice Ministry

… by Giles Bruce … posted Monday, May 5, 2014


What could happen if Lawrence were a city for justice?  That’s what Justin Jenkins, pastor at Velocity Church, asked at a recent meeting of local religious leaders who have come together to make Lawrence what they describe as a more socially just community.  The group, which had its orientation in March, includes leaders from 22 local congregations who have been gathering monthly to discuss what the tentatively titled Lawrence Justice Ministry might look like.  This month, several of the clergy members will be giving “City on a Hill” sermons in which they will outline to their congregations what the scriptures say about social justice.  The religious leaders hope the ministry can help show the difference between mercy and justice.  Mercy is what many of the congregations already do ~ feed the hungry, house the homeless.  Justice, they say, means transforming the system so those needs no longer exist.  “I can imagine a day that we don’t need LINK (the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen) anymore, that we don’t need the shelter anymore, that we don’t need Family Promise anymore,” said Matt Sturtevant, pastor at First Baptist Church.  Added Jenkins:  “There’s a difference between first aid, which is to save someone’s life, and actually treating the disease, which is a long-term solution.”  “It’s about looking at the causes instead of just the effects,” said John McDermott, pastor at Morning Star Christian Church.  The group started last year after the faith leaders began talking about whether they might be able to make a difference in solving injustices.  Congregations have been coming together in Lawrence and elsewhere across the U.S. for years ~ during the civil rights movement of the mid-20th Century, for instance ~ but this is the first time locally there has been this large of a unified effort focused on transformative justice, the group says.  The ministry plans to start a listening process in the fall to identify the major social injustices in Lawrence, with community meetings open to the public.  In early 2015, they will decide on the issue or issues most important to Lawrencians and begin working on solutions.  “We believe that having justice is a religious obligation,” said Moussa Elbayoumy, director of the Islamic Center of Lawrence.

JMM Response, for CC-RPC’s website (05/2014, based on Dec./2013 intx. with DART leader)

Dear ____ (regional leader of D.A.R.T. = Direct Action & Resource Training Center, which seeks to organize local coalitions like the one coming together here as the “Lawrence Justice Ministry”]:  Thank you for the time you invested to seek understanding of/with us [late last year, 2013].  Because getting forty men together to hear from the four of us [evangelical pastors] is highly unlikely and because of your own request for it, we provide this bare summary of our long talk, hoping it will shed light on ONE evangelical position (… not the only faithful one).   We trust that you will represent this/us well in communicating with the growing DART-Lawrence contingent.

Some evangelical pastors in Lawrence are taking a “Gamaliel Approach” to DART-Lawrence at this time, certain we cannot stand against the work of God, convinced that we would never want to do so, and actually praying that Jesus Christ will be honored through YOUR efforts toward increasing justice (Let it roll down like mighty watersAmos 5:24).  That said, we are choosing to stay out of THIS justice-related union at the present time, for these reasons, among others:

(1) As much as we love justice and are working for its spread in our community, we doubt that much positive progress can be made without very careful definitions of critical words like justice, peace, shalom, God, sin, and reconciliation.  Who is God?  How can we know Him?  Through what one name may we know Him?  What does this God say about justice … and injustice?  If injustice is a form of sin, how can sinners be forgiven-reconciled, by/with God and others they offended?  So an effective justice ministry which deserves full passion and support of Christian pastors and congregations should aim for initial foundational agreement concerning Who brings about lasting justice and how He does so through His redeemed, reconciled people.  All this demands clear allegiance to the Bible (the sixty-six books of the Old and the New Testaments) and the Triune God it reveals.  To support justice initiatives from our hearts and our wallets, we must know that we are working with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, building on a foundation of inerrant Scriptures, pursuing compatible visions of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom.

(2) But as impressed as we are concerning the diversity of religious and spiritual leadership gathered around this need and opportunity, we wonder how two (or three, or four) who are so divided on spiritual foundations can walk together.  See, pursuit of true justice through long processes of reconciliation is a fundamental demand of the Christian gospel, but disciples of Jesus are not to be unequally yoked together with those who are not worshiping Christ as the exclusive Lord, way, truth, and life (John 14:6).  Paul equates “unbelievers” with lawlessness and darkness in his famous charge about unequal yokes (2 Cor. 6:14); who are we to say we know better today?  While it is in our nature to be just as polite, congenial, and neighborly as the rest of the gents in the room, several decades of history in Douglas County tell us that not all of the early D.A.R.T. participants have proven themselves to be friends of truth, life, and Jesus Christ.  This should be manifestly clear to everyone, as non-Christian religions are represented, along with cultic versions of Christianity and groups which long ago gave up on the idea that people are saved by grace alone through faith in the God-man alone according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone [and all of those terms must be defined Biblically/creedally as well].

(3) This leads us to sincere doubts about the nuts and bolts plan for justice pursuits through such an ecumenical endeavor:  Will this be yet another repeat of the “social gospel” agenda which forgets the gospel?  Might we expect a high priority for leftist-style wealth redistribution under the guise of love for the poor?  Will it be assumed that civil governments should play the primary role in bringing about this justice and equity (that is, members of religious communities will basically appeal to elected officials to “do justice”), instead of each person, family, and faith community acting justly within their sphere?  And will we see yet another wave of “gender-identity justice” become the dominant concern in our liberal community, just as previous pushes have enjoyed strong support from our most liberal congregations (“Christian” and otherwise)?  And will it ever occur to DART-Lawrence to consider that the deepest injustice of OUR lifetimes, in the United States has been the legalized killing of 55 million babies in the womb since 1973, leaving those dead plus millions of wounded would-be parents and siblings?  Yes, we know that a passion for eliminating legalized abortion in our community would be too controversial, not a topic to bring together Lawrence faith communities; it would be a non-starter.  But sometimes litmus tests are useful, and a number of us wonder how true justice can be pursued by those who cannot see this crime of the centuries for what it is.  God forgive us.

(4) We urge LJM members to recognize that many ministries already at work in our community, supported well by many of you, already have strong justice components (for the hungry and homeless, underemployed, “strangers in our midst” from other lands, “pregnant & scared,” etc.).  We are resolved to continue supporting these initiatives well, giving out cups of cold water and much more, always in the name of Christ, such that Jesus is front-and-center in the witness and in the gift … not a copilot, a side-thought, or a footnote in a bylaw or brochure.  Christian pastors & churches are to present to a lost world the message of Jesus with absolute clarity, in all its forms.  True words are ALWAYS necessary to explain our motivation for these acts of charity and justice.

(5) Finally, we urge great caution through mentioning the title of a culture-changing book, representatives of which will be coming to Lawrence in September, 2014:  When Helping Hurts.  The history of charity, help, & justice ministry is littered with kind deeds worked out unbiblically, such that helpers & victims are NOT seeing one another as we are (beggars before a generous God who makes known HIS paths of relational reconciliation).

It is not a little thing for us to claim the mantle or the spirit of Gamaliel, as his Acts 5 counsel was honest only if he ceased speaking ill of the followers of Jesus Christ in venues other than the Sanhedrin Council, and possibly joined hands with those Christian disciples after he could see the godliness of their lives and message.  We look forward to seeing positive developments through DART and LJM, and we will eagerly encourage our friends to join in on the public gatherings you propose which are in keeping with the priorities summarized above.  To use one of your own picturesque analogies, we understand that “the DART Bus” will be coming around the block more than once, such that there will be other opportunities for us to get on board!  Friends of justice that you want to be, we trust that those who hesitated to jump on during the first round will receive a hearty welcome and not be kept out in the cold nor pushed to the back.

And [Jesus Christ] is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created … all things have been created by and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also the Head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.  For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. …” (Colossians 1:15-20).

Sincerely for Jesus, on behalf of a few evangelical pastors who are still learning & growing ~ JMM