Friday, February 26, 2016

3 Paragraphs: My Testimony




I have been a follower of Jesus for nearly three decades. While some question if a child can fully embrace a faith apart from her or his parents, to the best of my ability, I was fully aware of the reality of the Living God at a young age. I remember God healing and transforming aspects in my life as early as third grade. Even though I desperately struggled with doubt as a young adult, a story I'll share in a future post, I recognize that God has been with me guiding me, protecting me, teaching me, inspiring me, comforting me, and transforming me all along the way.

Now in my mid-thirties, I have read dozens of books that have shaped my faith. But there are three paragraphs that had a significant impact on my faith formation when I was in the early stages. When I was a junior in high school my dad gave me a copy of A.W. Tozer's, The Pursuit of God. I remember taking it to school and reading it during our mandatory reading segments (gotta love TAAS test prep). This book had a profound impact on my early faith formation. I recently picked it back up and was instantly reminded of how much of a gem it is. Even though Tozer wrote this on a train ride back in 1948, God continues to use it to teach, challenge, and transform me.

There are three paragraphs in particular that I underlined and read over and over. These three paragraphs helped give me a simple understanding of God's desire for us to enjoy God through creation and how sin can derail a person's life.

Here are my three paragraphs (Try not to get distracted by the fact that he didn't use gender neutral pronouns):
Before the Lord God made man upon the earth He first prepared for him by creating a world of useful and pleasant things for his sustenance and delight. In the Genesis account of creation these are simply called "things." They were made for man's uses, but they were meant always to be external to the man and subservient to him. In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him.
But sin has introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul.
Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and "things" were allowed to enter. Within the human heart "things" have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there is no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.
These are my three paragraphs. What are yours?


Note: I hope for this to turn into a series of posts that tell pieces of my faith story. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Prayer for Mizzou, Paris, Beirut, and Beyond

Image Source

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading my congregation in prayer. Here is the script I used for the base of my prayer.

I want to open our prayer time with a couple of minutes of personal prayer. This has been a very difficult week for our country and our world. As the music plays I want you to cry out to God. In a couple of minutes I will end our prayer time.

In the words of David in Psalm 61:
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

Lord, we’ve gathered here today, some of us walked in triumphantly and some of us barely crawled out of bed. Thank you that you meet us where we are and you take us into the shelter of your wings.

This week we are mindful of all of the college students in Missouri and beyond who are working to make the universities in our country equal for all. We ask you for breakthroughs, softening of hearts, and systemic transformation. We ask you to protect them as they work for justice.

Our hearts are heavy for those who suffered at the hands of violence this week. We are mindful of those who lost their lives and were injured in Beirut, Paris, and Baghdad. We are also mindful of those who continue to suffer at the hands of oppressors in Syria and beyond. We pray for resolution, for the healing of broken communities and broken bodies, and for the peace that transcends understanding to reign.

We pray for those on the ground seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ. Specifically, we pray for Quester, Davis who is serving Syrian refugees in Greece. Protect him. Guide him. Help him to feel your presence. 

Like David, we call to you as our hearts grow faint. Please, Lord, lead us to a rock that is higher than us. We long to dwell in your house, lord. We take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

So we cling onto your promises as we ache for the hurting in this world.
We know that you will never leave us.
We know that you comfort the broken-hearted.
We know that you are the author of peace.
We know that you are the giver of life.

As we move forward, help our response to have the fragrance of Christ. 

 

So come, Lord Jesus, come.

Risen Lord, teach us to trust the power of your cross…bear the burdens we are too weak to carry.

In the name of the father, son, and the holy spirt, Amen.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Legacy: My Message to the Carolina Panthers




Last week I got the chance of a lifetime. I got an opportunity to partner with my brother, Aaron Cho, and preach a sermon at the Carolina Pathers' chapel service. About half of the 53 person roster showed up. A few coaches were in attendance as well. It was the perfect intersection of my passion for Christ and my passion for football. I was given about 15-18 minutes to present the sermon. As all sermon scripts go, I didn't follow this one exactly. I ended up feeling compelled to talk specifically about Christ's work on the cross and how surrendering to Jesus creates space for transformation. I also lost my place a couple of times because I got a little too excited.

Here are my notes:


The question before us tonight is not whether or not we will leave a legacy. We will all leave a legacy. The question before us is this: what kind of legacy will we leave? How do you want to be remembered?

All of us in here are MORE than the profession that we have chosen. Yes, being a pastor absolutely impacts how the world sees me. But I am more than a pastor.
I am a husband.
I am a father.
I am a brother, a child, a friend, and a citizen of this beautiful planet.
I’m a follower of Jesus; I just happen to have gifts and a calling that aligns with being a pastor.

I know that there are husbands, fathers, boyfriends, sons, and scholars in this room. You are not just a football player. Yes, you have worked your butt off for over a decade to be in this room, but at the end of the day, you are a child of the Creator of the universe who just so happens to have gifts, a calling, and a passion that lines up with being a professional football player.

So I ask you again, HOW do you want to be remembered?

My wife used to work for an executive business coaching firm based in Portland, OR. She worked with very successful business men and women who wanted to not only learn how to increase revenue, but they also wanted to learn how to be more present with their kids and their spouses.

The first exercise they would have their clients do is write their Eulogy. Yes, writing your own eulogy when you are decades away from death is very somber. But the point of this exercise was to help people figure out how they want to be remembered and make goals and live life accordingly.

The text Pastor Aaron just read is poem that was written by King David, the second king of Israel. If we were to write a Eulogy for David what one sentence would we inevitably include?

David, man after God’s heart.

I imagine that we would all like to leave this sort of legacy would we not?

Why is it that we remember David as a man after God’s heart?

In order for us to unpack this well, we really need to start at the beginning.
  • David rose from obscurity to become the most beloved and arguably the most successful king in Israel’s history. 
  • Do you remember, David was a shepherd. Shepherds were not very high on the pecking order of society. They were smelly, dirty, and poor.

But God says -
1 Sam 16:7
For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’

God saw something in David that nobody else saw. From the start it is clear that God does not operate in the same manner as us. The world may have said David was not big enough, tough enough, or manly enough to be a leader. Heck, if we were to choose a king we would choose the most obvious candidate. But God chose - David who was the youngest son. He was a mere shepherd… 
  •  1 Samuel 17 David takes out a 9ft tall man named Goliath without armor or a sword. Though he was small he was fierce. Nothing was going to get in his way. 
  • The king of Israel at the time loved David…how could he not. But eventually Saul becomes jealous of David. People were singing songs like “Saul has sleighed his thousands but David has sleighed his tens of thousands.” 
  • Saul tried to kill David multiple times. And David had opportunities to kill Saul. But David felt God was calling him to serve the king. So he remained faithful. It’s a remarkable story.
  • Eventually, in 2 Sam. 2 David becomes king. Now if this were a movie this is probably when the story would end. Our unlikely hero rose above the villain and, using honor, integrity, and hard work became king.
But that isn’t where this story ends.
  • In 2 Sam. 2-10 David’s power increases, he even starts building a temple 
  • In 2 Sam. 11 our hero takes a seemingly unforgivable fall. You probably know the story. He sees a woman bathing from the roof top, he ends up unable to control himself…he has sex with her, impregnates her, then has her husband killed to cover it up.David, a man after God’s heart.
There is a lot here that could be said in David’s eulogy. He killed a 9ft tall man. He rose to prominence out of nearly nothing. He was a military hero. And yes, he was a murderer and an adulterer.

Why on earth did God choose to use a man like this to further his kingdom? It just doesn’t make sense.

Ah, but then I remember the rest of the biblical narrative…
  • father Abraham 
  • I remember Noah 
  • I remember Jonah 
  • I remember the ragamuffin band of brothers also known as the 12 Disciples 
  • and then, I remember me.
No matter how holy, no matter how strong, we all have the capability of falling.

So what do we do with this tension? This man who committed murder is one of history’s most passionate pursuers of the living God. Why was he considered a man after God’s heart?

I want to read the passage again that Pastor Aaron read. This was a poem that he wrote as soon as he killed Bathsheba’s husband.

Psalm 51
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. 5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Do you feel his pain? This song reveals what made David a great man. This highly successful military hero knew he was nothing without the living God.

Notice it says nothing about wealth, nothing about battles won, or his high social status. David was a great man because
  • God is a God of grace 
  • David acknowledged his brokenness and his sins.
  •  And David surrendered to the Living God. 
The truth...
The truth is, that each of us is capable of sleighing giants and sleighing good men.
Again, each of us is capable of sleighing giants and sleighing good men.

We wouldn’t be in this room if we weren’t courageous. We wouldn’t be in this room if we weren’t strong. But don’t let our success mask the reality that we are sinful people in need of a loving God. We are not as strong as we think we are.

I love the David story. I love the David story not because I’m so much better than him. I am David.

But that is not the end of the story. There is good news.

Pastor and Author Eugene Peterson says, “David’s story is the gospel story. God doing for David what David could never do for himself.”

You see this is the beautiful thing about the God that we serve. God’s grace saves us in spite of us. In other words, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you have been.

Your new legacy begins the moment you surrender to Jesus.

Gentlemen, your legacy, begins tonight.

1.     Will you be remembered as a man after God’s heart?
2.     Will you be remembered as a man who sacrificed for his family?

Tomorrow on the battlefield…
1.     Will you fight with tenacity until that last whistle blows?
2.     Will you make the most out of every down you are blessed to play?
3.     Will you play selflessly in order to make your teammates better?
4.     Will you play with character, with honor, with integrity? 
5.     Will you leave everything you have on that field?
6.     When you play, will you play as though you are playing for the Lord?

Your legacy begins today. So I ask you again, how you will be remembered?

The choice is yours gentlemen.

Let’s pray:
God, I praise you for the men in this room. I praise you for their desire to know you, to follow you, and to help others know you. Lord we know that much responsibility comes with success. So give them courage live with a confident humility. Give us the guts we need to acknowledge sin and surrender to you.
And tomorrow…
First and foremost we pray for protection. Protect their bodies Lord. Keep them safe as they play the game they love.

We pray for strength. Give them the mental and physical strength to play to best of their ability. Help them to think clearly, quickly, accurately…

Ultimately, we pray that you are glorified with every step, every play call, every throw, every tackle, and catch. We are yours…so be glorified as we live out the gifts you have given us.

We praise you for allowing us to enjoy such a beautiful gift.

I ask these things in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Now, go out there and rip somebody’s head off…for the Lord, of course.


Friday, June 19, 2015

It is about race...

 
I first saw this sign in 1992 when visiting my grandma in Arkansas. My step-mom said,"You know what that means, right? No black people are allowed to swim at that pool." I took this picture two weeks ago. The sign is still there.


Last night, as I held my cream colored son who shares my European heritage, I couldn't help but think about my friends of African descent who were holding their chocolate colored children. Two nights ago a white, racist terrorist walked into a black church with a rich and painful history and massacred a group of black praying saints. 

This is not an isolated event. 

For hundreds of years black bodies have been targeted and brutalize by people who look like me. And though we think we live in the most civilized nation, race motivated murders have not ceased. So, as I held my child whom I love more than I ever thought I could love another being, I had to acknowledge that my son will not face the same threats as the dark skinned children in my church family. And I wept.

Let me back up...


I was born in Louisiana. My southern roots run deep. I grew up squirrel hunting...SQUIRREL HUNTING, PEOPLE! When I was 2 my dad got a job as a pastor at an inner-city church in Houston and we moved to a city of 5 million people. Though Houston is considered to be the most diverse city in the nation and I had friends with many different ethnic backgrounds, we did no talk much about race. 

As a child I thought I only had two options: 
1. be a racist 
2. be "colorblind"

I knew that racism was wrong, so I chose to try to be "colorblind." I have many white Christian friends with good hearts who are doing great work for the Gospel who continue to approach life "colorblind." There are many problems with the "colorblind" approach

Succinctly put, when be believe the "colorblind" lie... 
...we refuse to see the rich beauty of the ethnic cultures around us. 
...we are unable to see the rich beauty of our own ethnic culture. 
...we are unable to see the systemic injustice that is rooted in race

Let Justice Roll 

Justice and righteousness are at the center of God's heart. Did you know that most of the time the Bible uses the words "justice" and "righteousness" they are translated from the same word in the original language? In Hebrew the word is tsedeq. This word is translated to "justice" 102 times, "righteousness" 394 times, and something else 14 times. In Greek the word is dikaios. This word is translated to "justice" 38 times, "righteousness" 135 times, and something else 7 times.

I am not passionate about social justice because I want to be a part of a political movement. I am passionate about social justice because the Gospel compels me to be passionate about social justice. In other words, if Justice = Righteousness and righteousness = being Christlike, then Justice = being Christlike. As I am transformed by Christ, I become passionate about things that he is passionate about.

My Challenge to You, White Christian

As followers of Jesus, we have an obligation. We must speak out against oppression and injustice. Otherwise we are part of the problem. Pursuing biblical justice is a life-long journey. That being said, there are some basic things you can start doing today to shed light in the darkness.
  1. Explore your own ethnic identity.  White people, listen to me. We come from a beautiful people. But we come from a broken people. Explore what it means to be white. Celebrate some of the culturally specific holidays that your ancestors celebrated. Acknowledge the beauty. Recognize the dark side of your familial history. 
  2. Build empathetic relationships with people of color. Notice that I used the word "empathetic." It isn't enough to sit next to a black guy in church. When we build empathic relationships, we share each others joy and burdens.
  3. Listen to stories. As you build empathetic relationships, it is critical for you to listen and learn.You don't have the be the expert in everything. Listen. Learn.
  4. Recognize that there is no singular narrative that defines a people group. Check out this great TedTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled "The Danger of a Single Story."
  5. Research statistics. I know many of you don't want to talk about this fact, but there is systemic racism rooted in how we make and enforce rules. Start with this unbiased study done at Texas A&M University. Researchers followed over a million students for six years in public schools in Texas and had some startling findings.
  6. Consider the multi-ethnic church. When we worship, study scripture, and build empathetic relationships in the context of a mult-iethnic environment, we are exposed to injustice and problems that don’t necessarily influence people who look like us. We are exposed to our blind spots. And we realize that God is much bigger than we imagined.

Go and Do Likewise

"God and do likewise" is from the parable of the good Samaritan in which Jesus uses a person considered to be “the other” as the model for Christ’s love, compassion, and grace.  
 In Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech, he referenced this story. I want to close my post with his words.

It's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?". That's the question before you tonight.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Building Bridges and the Drama Triangle


"Building Bridges" by Liz Jardine

Once a dad of a new kid in my youth ministry set up an appointment with me so he could get to know me. I can't remember how the conversation started, but I do remember immediately feeling threatened. I felt like I was on trial for something. I eventually erupted. He had no right to put me on trial!

I'll never forget his emotional response.

"Coby, you are completely missing my heart." 


I froze. We sat in silence. My heart broke. He was right. I approached the conversation out of my woundedness and never heard what was causing him pain.

When many of us are confronted with conflict or an idea that we find threatening, we stop listening and start attacking. As a result, we don't allow ourselves to learn some very valuable lessons from the other person.

Building Bridges

 

Building bridges is essential for thriving and growing in a world where we have such an array of ideologies. It's easy to assume the worst in a person if you do not know their story. I believe that bridge building and reconciliation are key aspects of Christian theology. Indeed, the Biblical narrative is full of passages that suggest our relationships with other people matter e.g. Matthew 5:23-24. The reality is today most of us get so caught up in arguing a point that we "know" is true, that we completely miss out on connecting with the other person. This is particularly true in conversations about politics and religion.

 

Politics and Religion

 

I spent most of my life in Texas and parts of the deep south but I currently live in Seattle. My time in Seattle and Portland has played a key role in my formation as a follower of Jesus and a minister of the Gospel. I love the Pacific Northwest. Yet, Texas is my home. Like most Texans, I have a somewhat irrational affection for my state.

As you might imagine, in my travels I have befriended people all over the spectrum of politics, race relations, and religion. When I say befriend, I don't just mean on Facebook. I genuinely love people who are on opposite ends of the spectrum of many issues. It's a combination of how I understand the Gospel and my wiring.

When I witness arguments on social media I find that...

...many people dehumanize those who disagree with them.
...many people think the other side is comprised of halfwits.
...few people think they have something to learn from people on the other side.
...few know how to respectfully dialogue with a person on the other side.

As I have been reflecting upon this reality I realized that many of the conversations or posts that I read sound a lot like I sounded when I was confronted with the parent. They sound pointed, annoyed, and defensive.

If we don't change how we handle these conversations we will not learn and grow. If we do not learn and grow we will not make progress as a diverse society.


The best tool I have encountered to help me deal with conflict and situations where I feel threatened is called Karpman's Drama Triangle. I think the Drama Triangle has much to say about healthy ways we can approach divisive conversations around politics, race, and religion.

The Drama Triangle


   

The idea behind the drama triangle is that we all tend to approach conflict from a position that will lead to victimization. Here is an in depth explanation of how it works. The best way to explain it is to tell a story.

My natural tendency is to approach conflict from the angle of the "rescuer." This is how it plays out in my family. I mean, this next example is totally hypothetical.

My wife gets on to my son for something. In my limited understanding, I see her as the "persecutor" and my son as the "victim." I enter into the conversation as the "rescuer."

 I unwisely say, "Perhaps you are over reacting. He didn't do anything that bad." I move from "rescuer" to "persecutor" as I confront my wife. At that point she becomes the "victim."

 I hurt my wife's feelings. Having overstepped my boundaries, my wife responds in a way that hurts my feelings. She shifts from the "victim" back to the "persecutor." This time, I'm the "victim." 

The drama triangle is this vicious cycle of victim hood. Nobody feels heard. Nobody feels validated. Everybody feels hurt.There is never progress in the conversation or in the relationship.

Where do you tend to start on the Drama Triangle? Are you a "rescuer" like me? Or do you automatically start as the "victim"?

There are a few things that we can do to step outside the Drama Triangle and pursue reconciliation. 

1. Know that the other person is expressing legitimate concern. Even if you don't understand, they deserve to be heard.
2. Recognize your place on the Drama Triangle. Familiarize yourself with your triggers that send you into defensive behavior.
3. Recognize your contribution to the dysfunctional conversation.
4. Know that you cannot control other people. You can only control your response to other people.
5. Stop the blame and shame game.
6. Recognize that you are not perfect.
7. Know that the end goal is not necessarily for everybody to know you are correct. The end goal is productive movement. As a Christian, I think the end goal is also reconciliation.

Disclaimer

The Drama Triangle theory applies to many situations at home and work. It can also be applied to conflict around really difficult topics like politics, race, and religion. However, this theory only works when the parties involved share the power equally. 

In a system of oppression, people need to step in and speak on behalf of those being oppressed. That isn't being a "rescuer." That is simply being a decent human being.

In a system of inequality, the systemically oppressed group should not feel guilty when they speak up. They are not being the "persecutor." They are calling out injustice.

Thus, this post applies to situations where the power is shared equally or to people who hold the power. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Danger of Confusing Christianity with Your Culture

[UPDATE: After I published this piece I received some healthy pushback. One of my friends questioned how this was a response to Mr. Shuck and also questioned whether I interpreted Mr. Shuck's article correctly. I'm thankful for thoughtful feedback. It makes me better. I decided to change some of the wording to more accurately reflect what I meant. 

I should not have used the word response. I meant that his article evoked a response in me. In retrospect, this blog post is more of a reflection that was prompted by reading Mr. Shuck's article. Also, I made an unfair, and possibly inaccurate, assumption about Mr. Shuck's use of the word culture. 

I decided to focus less on Shuck and more on the dangers of thinking there is a singular Christian culture. My intent all along was to challenge this belief and not challenge a random person that I do not know.]

A worship ministry of Mending Wings called Dancing Our Prayers

A few years ago I read about a PC(USA) pastor named John Shuck who does not believe in God but remains to be an active minister. Yesterday he published a piece for Patheos.com titled I’m a Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn’t Believe in God.

Here are some examples of what he believes:
  • Religion is a human construct
  • The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
  • God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
  • Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
I imagine many theologians will respond to one or more of those points in the days to come. Those points deserve a thorough and thoughtful response. In this post, I want to respond to reflect upon a point that was buried in the article. Mr. Shuck wrote, "I think of Christianity as a culture. It has produced 2,000 years of artifacts: literature, music, art, ethics, architecture, and (yes) beliefs."

While I do not know exactly how Mr. Shuck defines culture, many times I hear Christians lump the church together as if we are one homogenous group. While we are certainly united as brothers and sisters in Christ, our values, our interpretation of certain passages, and the ways we worship can be dramatically different. When we lump everyone together like this we risk dismissing all of the manifestations of the Christian faith that do not look, sound, smell, and feel like ours. In conversations like this I often hear, "Aren't we all one in Christ?" Absolutely, but that doesn't mean we are the same. Unity is not sameness. I am not promoting universalism.

Rather, I am arguing that there is no singular Christian culture.

 

This is Brazilian sculptor Guido Rocha's "The Tortured Christ."
When we talk about Christian art, what is included and what is excluded?
The sad reality is, many of the Christians in the U.S. regularly confuse Christianity with their own culture without even knowing it.

This is a dangerous practice because, when we live out this misguided theology, we end up oppressing others. Conservatives do it. Liberals do it. I've done it. This very misunderstanding fueled all sorts of atrocities in our past and continues to fuel them in our present. Entire people groups have been wiped out in the name of Christ because Christians confused Christianity with their own culture.

Who are your people? 

 

My friend Corey Greaves feels the pain of this unhealthy approach to Christianity on a daily basis. He is an indigenous youth pastor on the Yakama Reservation in Washington. Corey is passionate about helping people learn how to worship the Triune God in ways that resonate with their culture. He is also one of the funniest and kindest people that I know. He has been a tremendous help in my journey to understand my own ethnic and cultural identity.

Corey (third from left) at an evangelical church with the Dancing Our Prayers team
Corey's Christ-centered ministry, called Mending Wings, has a program that teaches indigenous kids on the Yakama Reservation their native tongue and the history of their people. In a conversation I had with him a few months ago he said, "We have a dying language and culture thanks to the U.S. Government and the Christian church." Imagine the horror of having everything that you value ripped away from you by the church and the government. What would it feel like to be forced to no longer speak English in the name of Christ? Corey's people are living in the midst of historical trauma. This is the world in which he lives and ministers.

One of the many reasons I appreciate my friend Corey is that he is passionate about helping me learn how to worship God in a way that resonates with me. He isn't trying to convert me to the Yakama version of Christianity. He sees value in who I am as God created me to be (sounds like a certain Jewish carpenter circa 26 C.E.).

When I first met Corey he asked, "Who are your people?" This question was motivated by a realization that the Gospel is timeless truth that is revealed in and through culture. As I study Scripture, worship, and pray with some friends from other cultures, like Corey, my understanding of God is enhanced. We need each other for growth, healing, and spiritual vitality.

Culture is key to connecting with God

 

Culture is a beautiful part of being human. Culture is one of the things that shapes how we read and understand Scripture. Imagine how powerful Jose Ignacio's painting Cristo Campesino Crucificado is to Christians living in war torn Nicaragua in the 1980's. I imagine the metaphors in this painting stir the hearts of those who suffered during this time.

Cristo Campesino Crucificado
José Ignacio Fletes Cruz (Leon, Nicaragua)

Culture is key to connecting with God. In the incarnation, the all-powerful, self-sufficient, creator God entered into our space and our time to communicate his redemptive love in ways that we could understand. God chose a particular time, place, and culture. God speaks to us in a culturally relevant manner that resonates with the songs of our hearts.

God even chose a certain ethnic group to teach the world what it meant to be in relationship with Yahweh. The message was never intended to stay within the chosen ethnic group. In the Old Testament, God's covenant with Abraham specifically stated that Abraham's people were blessed to be a blessing. But some early Christians didn't get it. One of the first arguments in the church had to do with whether or not Christians had to first become Jewish before they could become real Christians (Acts 15). Remember, Christianity started as a Jewish sect. Paul uses his letter to the Galatians to argue that Gentile Christians do not have to adopt Jewish customs to be welcomed into the family of God.

Again, culture dictates the language and metaphors that help us connect with the truth revealed in Scripture. Yet, if we make the mistake that the early church made, and insist that people must first become like us before they can become Christians, we are perpetuating destructive cultural imperialism. 

Where do we go from here?


We must acknowledge that the Gospel is timeless truth but that it is always communicated in the context of a culture.

We must acknowledge the way we worship, study Scripture, and pray is shaped by our culture.

We must acknowledge that our culture (and nation) does not have the corner on biblical truth.

We must acknowledge that our cultural (and national) values are not always in-sync with the Gospel.

We must learn to listen and see what the Triune God is doing in the context of other cultures (and nations).

We must commit to learning from others, especially the marginalized and oppressed.

If we do not, we will continue to preach a "gospel" that is only good news for people who look, dress, and vote like us. And if the gospel is not good news for all people, it is not good news.




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Looking to learn more about culture, race, and the Christian faith? Check out these resources!

1. The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Captivity by Soong Chan Rah
2. Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Christian Practices by Frank Viola & George Barna 
3. One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss
4. Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
5. The Heart of Racial Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson
6. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
7. Every year my church in Seattle has depth/discipleship class on faith and race. We have accumulated a ton of great resources. Check them out!