The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Finding Me Again

Paper has always been a challenge for me. This is true at home and in the office. One book about organization helped me immensely. The big secret for taming paper piles is cutting down the number of times you defer making decisions. If you act on a note, your can get it off your desk. If you take a moment to evaluate whether you’re really going to follow up on an advertisement, it may land in the trash immediately instead of taking the slow route and cluttering your workspace. 

There’s still a class of paper that I wrestle with; quotes and scriptures that I’ve jotted on tiny scraps of paper. For years, I’ve kept a supply of business-card-sized pieces of paper handy on my desk. When a quote or a scripture inspires me … I jot it down. When I had a desktop computer, I used to tape them around my screen or on the wall just behind. Eventually it would get a bit unruly looking and they’d all come down and end up in a little pile. I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw them away. The good part was that those quotes kept finding me, challenging me and inspiring me.

One of those little scraps found me just the other day when I moved my desk out into the front office. It simply reads … “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12” I needed to read it again.

It’s one of those beautifully simple portions of scripture that clarify life. It’s just a snip out of chapter filled with commands for Christian living. Each phrase begins with an active participle. It could be translated, “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in persecution, devoting (yourself) to prayer.” This is ongoing action … it’s how Christians are to face every day.

What hope gives us joy? Paul defined it for Titus as the “blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13) He wrote to the believers at Thessalonica, “We continually remember … your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonian 1:3) Gazing with confidence toward the day of Christ’s return (and all that will mean) focuses us forward. As we concentrate on what will be, we get joy for traveling through what is. Christians don’t live in the past … we live in sight of our glorious future and that sustains us in the present. That’s why hope and perseverance are inseparable in the Bible … and in our lives.

What’s the connection to prayer? Affliction … or persecution always ignites prayer among the followers of Jesus. Their anticipation of the world to come, keeps them from expecting ease and security in the world that is. Because their real joy and hope are in Christ, they are constantly praying for power to serve, endure and honor Him until He comes.

The Drug of Choice

There have been many wonderful things about electronic social platforms. There are also aspects I find increasingly alarming. One of my less productive activities is browsing one platform’s video feed. I’ve noticed that it tracks my habits like an overindulgent parent … always trying to anticipate what I want and give me more of that. It will feed me more cake … more candy … or more poison if that’s what I have a taste for. Now, I’m not a kid. I’m responsible for monitoring my own media diet, keeping it balanced and healthy. So, I can’t blame the platform if I start seeing a lot of junk in my video feed. Or … can I?

My dad passed on to me his love of military history. I enjoy watching videos and movie clips about WW2 on social media. But the clips gathered for me by that platform trend steadily toward more violent and bloody … and farther off topic. I’ve noticed it happening in other topics I’ve perused. Even watching Christian videos introduced a stream of other “religious” videos. Why am I getting all these Hindu gurus? A live tarot reading … what? So, I’m changing my analogy. This media platform acts more like a drug pusher. If he gets a kid to have a beer … the next time he offers him a little whiskey. If the kid displays a liking for hard liquor … he pushes him toward marijuana. When the kid dies of a crack overdose, the peddler says, “Hey, I was just giving him what he wanted.”  Or … did the peddler purposefully escalate his client’s preferences.

If I want to watch WW2 videos, I must be diligent about not allowing that escalation. When something appears that seems provocative or gratuitously violent, I click on the video preferences and select “hide video.” I don’t allow the platform to choose for me … I tell it “shows me less like that.” My video feed on that platform is now almost entirely political commentary and Christian apologetics. Now … even the political videos seem to be getting more and more hateful. Would a media platform intentionally push each of us toward the most extreme version of our political views? I’m sure they’d say they were only giving us what we wanted.

Be careful brothers and sisters. I’m not telling you what to watch. I’m just saying lead your eyes … don’t be led by them. You ultimately hold the responsibility for your feed … whether that’s on a video platform or in the privacy of your own thought-life. Stop your aimless drifting … take charge!

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23

Am I Racist? (Part 2)

Last week, I told you my first memory of noticing skin color … and of questioning the difference. My Mother’s wise and Biblical answer set a good direction in my life.

Today, I want to tell you my first experience with feeling the weight of racism. Growing up in small-town Kansas didn’t give me many opportunities to examine my own feelings about ethnic difference. There just weren’t that many minorities. I only realized after high school that some of my friends were Mexicans. I encountered more ethnic diversity in my work life and college, but again I don’t remember feeling any different towards people based on their skin color. It just wasn’t an issue for me.

Then we moved from Kansas to Chicago and encountered a palpable difference. Two things shocked me: hearing racial slurs among older members of the church I was serving, and I feeling a coldness from black people that I had never experienced. The sense of division was undeniable.

Shocked and uncertain how to respond, I felt myself withdrawing. I would not offer a greeting when a black person approached unless I was spoken to first. I began avoiding eye contact. I wasn’t pleased with how I felt, but I didn’t know how to remedy the situation.

One day I was in the check-out line with an older black woman. She regarded me without expression and then diverted her eyes. I suddenly knew that I had to speak to her … no matter what response I received. It took one comment (which I can’t even remember) and she came to life. We talked all during the checkout process, exited the store together and talked like old friends all the way to our cars. I began making a point out of breaking the ice … and I honestly can’t remember a time when my attempts to be friendly were rejected by a member of the black community. I believe the coolness I felt originated from their uncertainty (or perhaps their certainty) about how they would be received by me.

So … am I racist? I don’t believe so. But, “Do I act like a Racist?” I am capable … it is in me. So, when world events present the chance for self-reflection on this subject, I need this prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23–24

I also need to go back to the basics of how God has called me to treat all people. If I find that the color of a person’s skin affects those core Christian behaviors … I need to take that to God in repentance and ask for healing. I heard a preacher say, “If we will not be subject to God … we will always want someone to be subject to us.” Here’s a good place to check your own heart …  “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Am I Racist?

My first memory of noticing that someone had a different skin color is so early as to make the setting vague. All I know is that my mother and I were in the back of a taxi driven by black man. Without any malice, I asked a perfectly innocent question, “Mommy, why is that man a different color?” My mother didn’t miss a beat. She said something along these lines … “Because God loves variety sweetie. He created people in all different shapes, sizes and colors, but we’re really all the same. God loves us all just the same. Everyone is special to Him. He loved you and this man so much, He sent Jesus to save you both.” You know … I never questioned my Mom’s answer. It made sense to me then and it still does. So, from the standpoint of thinking I’m a better kind of human because of my skin color … no, I don’t believe I’m a racist.

My mother’s theology was good. The Bible backs her up. Many people have argued erroneously for race inferiority from the Bible, but those arguments all do violence to the texts and ultimately fall apart. Paul speaking to a group of Athenians who believed they were the master race said , “From one man God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” Acts 17:26–27  Paul also confronted two ethnic groups entrenched in racial hatred for one another with these words, “God’s purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” Ephesians 2:15–16  My great hope as a believer in Jesus Christ is to be part of the numberless host standing in His presence. John described them as, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.” All people share a common paternity and therefore equality before their Creator. His loving goal of redemption and reconciliation pursues them all. Those who embrace His grace will one day stand side by side in His glorious presence. So, theologically, I am not a racist.

Space does not allow me to answer one more necessary question, so I’ll raise it but save the discussion for next week. Do I act like a racist? I’ve told you what I believe … but does my walk match my talk? Here’s where I’m starting with that question, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23–24

The Father Blessing

It has become my favorite picture of my Dad. The split second of the photograph coincided with his fleeting presence. His dementia had progressed so far that he wore a perpetual gaze like curios bewilderment … as if world and people around him made no sense at all. But surrounded by his family, headed out for a meal, some synapsis fired, and he was with us. Like a man suddenly appearing out of a dense bank of fog. Focus returned, eyes twinkled, the broad smile flashed … and just as quickly he faded back into the disconnectedness of his own mind. I whispered a “Thank You” to God for the gift of that instant.

My name was lost to him first; then the recognition of my face. He seemed mostly to live in a time before he had children. He was headed down a flight of stairs leading into the room where I was sitting. My Mom was whispering to him, “Go give your son a hug.” She never gave up trying to coax Dad back to the present. After several more of her quiet pleas, he said with exasperation, “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Wanting to ameliorate the situation, I got out of my chair and walked toward them. I think it must have been something in the height difference created by the stairs … but suddenly there was recognition. He threw his arms open wide, stooped as if greeting a toddler and exclaimed, “There’s my boy!” That instant of belonging, of being claimed again by that fine man, was another gift from God. My father was a gift from God.

After that incident, we traveled from Kansas back up to Illinois where we were living. That Sunday, during the worship set, we sang these words …

I have a Father, He calls me His own

He’ll never leave me no matter where I go

He knows my name, He knows my every thought

He sees each tear that falls and He hears me when I call

As you might imagine, I quietly ‘lost it’ there in my pew. Tears of longing and loss rolled down my cheeks … my earthly father no longer knew my name. But in that same instant, my heart pounded with feelings of privilege and peace knowing that I belong irrevocably to Another Father. He calls me His own … He knows my name!
I hope you can hear in these stories the powerfully positive impact my earthly Dad had on my life. He was not perfect … but he was present. So, Happy Father’s Day! Thank you for staying in the lives of your children. God bless you … and where you feel you’ve failed, rest in the fact that “nothing can separate you from the love of God (your Father) that is in Christ Jesus or Lord.” Romans 8:39