Why do we fast?

Not my will, but yours be done.

What a stunning thought that Jesus, the King of kings would feel the need to pray these words. That he could will something that was contrary to Father’s will – and yet remain sinless. Possessing a will contrary to God’s is not a sign that you should give up, it’s a sign that your human body is still living on planet earth.

This is where fasting comes in.

Fasting is not about twisting God’s arm to get him to do my will. It’s about untwisting my soul to desire his will. I strongly encourage you to pray through Isaiah 58 over the next few days to develop this idea.

Fasting is not about giving up desire. It’s about foregoing lower desires for higher desires, lesser joys for greater joys, weaker glory for stronger glory, temporary satisfaction for eternal satisfaction.

Fasting reminds me that I can be ruled by God. That I really don’t need to live by bread alone. That I really can wrap my life around the will of God. And that’s the thing about God’s will: there is always a deeper joy on the other side of that choice. It may be delayed gratification, but rest assured, joy comes in the morning.

Your will is an awfully big deal. Submit it to God and you’ll start to see things go on earth as it is in heaven. Fasting helps your will bow to God’s in ways that nothing else seems to do.

And so we move into a 10-day period of prayer and fasting. I invite you to join in. Eyes on Jesus. Feast on his words. Purge the urge to twist your fasting into dead religion. And stay the course. You won’t be sorry.

 

Smart people can be really stupid

I’ve been troubled by King Solomon this morning. He was basically the wisest man who ever lived. And yet.

Solomon loved many foreign women … and his wives turned away his heart. For when he was old… (it takes a while) …his wives turned away his heart after other gods. 1 Kings 11:1-4.

This is the man who had multiple face-to-face encounters with the living God. Yet an experience, no matter how authentic, is never enough. Encounters with God must be maintained. Relationships demand loyalty and endurance, which is why it is entirely possible to have legitimate experiences, true encounters, to hear God’s voice – and still fall hard. The brother had 700 wives and few hundred concubines on the side. No wonder he died young.

The human heart is more sensitive than we imagine. It must be guarded. Left unguarded, our souls attach themselves to subtly toxic relationships that dull the heart. We are moved by relationship far more than information, which is why nothing predicts your future like your friends. Good thing there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother, if you’ll let Him.

Perhaps a relationship inventory is in order. Some relationships are life-giving, even eternal. Water those gardens. Don’t take them for granted. Carve out space in your life to maintain them. Connect over the holidays. Send the text, write the note, make the call. But some relationships are polluted and you know it. They dull your heart and delay your destiny. Be wise, Solomon.

How do smart people become stupid? Relationships.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

I hate envy

 

If you ever realized who God made you to be, you’d want to be you so badly you wouldn’t know what to do.

Which is why I hate envy; it’s soul-sabotage.

Because what if the gifts of God really are stunning? Including yours.

What if He really doesn’t make mistakes? Including you.

What if He is so infinite that every single one of His children is fashioned uniquely significant beyond our capacity to describe? Regardless of their age. Regardless of their qualifications. Regardless of their past.

What if He is so potent that His resources never become exhausted, and your potential is more weighty than you’ve realized? Perhaps His economy is not like ours. What if He doesn’t run out of money, or food … or talent?

What if His grace is so amazing that His mercy and kindness are able to swallow up your failures and darkness? What if this tree we call the Cross and this savior we call the Christ really have removed the only thing standing between you and the real you. Between life and real life.

If only you realized who God made you to be.

You’d stop this whole envy thing.

And you’d step out and be you.

 

brutality

Brutalized by police, arrested by authorities, hounded by hypocrites, abandoned by students, forsaken by followers, flogged by officials, abused by interrogators.

The guilty accusing the innocent, peasants mocking the king, criminals judging the judge, the impotent waving the sword of fleeting power, the almighty staying the hand of eternal power, the vile clothed in honor, the blameless clothed with shame.

Hell on earth.

The darkest of Fridays, a crown of thorns, a robe of mockery, a tree of cruelty, beaten without mercy, nailed without pity, positioned between criminals, numbered with transgressors.

Miserably thirsty, shamefully uncovered, publicly exposed, mocked by the bouncers, disgraced before his mother, forsaken by the father.

Absolutely alone.

Bearing grief, carrying sorrow, stricken and smitten, wounded and bruised, absorbing wrath, paying debt, deflecting destruction, bearing the scars of treachery, the hell of humanity.

Freedom is coming, hope is alive, redemption is paid.

Say his name.

Repeat After Us

1. My all-time favorite Florida Gator is Joakim Noah.

Last week I was reminded why I loved this guy so much when the SEC Network aired their 52-minute documentary on the back-to-back Gator basketball champions. Repeat After Us is the story of the team who started school together, sweat together, bled together, beat the odds together, wept together, and put together one of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball. After winning it all, each of the big four had every opportunity to leave school early and make their millions in the NBA. Instead, they came back for the incredible repeat. I had forgotten how special this team really was. By the end of that documentary I found myself choked up as I realized again, these guys really loved each other.

It reminded me of Jesus: “By this all will know that you’re My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Joakim Noah was a ringleader of love.

2. It’s been another love-challenged week for the nation. As I watched the riots in Charlotte, you could feel the despair and tension in the air. Hope deferred really does make the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).

It causes me to revere again the otherworldly nature of Martin Luther King’s leadership. The more I watch current events, the more magnificent and virtually miraculous his influence is revealed to be. How in the world did those civil rights leaders do what they did? How did they maintain a non-violent conviction in the face of such evil? How did they persevere long enough to transform hardened hearts?

Repeat after us.

I’m not hearing enough of a call to learn from our activist predecessors. They did cry out for justice. They did lift their voice. They did take action. They did renounce evil. They did get angry without sinning. They did affirm dignity. They did not accept the status quo. And yet they found a way to do all of that without forsaking love.

3. Unity matters. “I plead with you by the name of Jesus, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

I am personally dumbfounded with how easily the political parties have hijacked (and divided) both the left and right wings of the church. For the life of me I cannot understand how we have allowed such blind spots to go on unresisted. Can we not agree that the way of Jesus is to stand with the oppressed? Can we not understand that the effects of hundreds of years of racialized sin will not disappear as quickly as white people would like to move on? Can we not acknowledge the need for police reform while simultaneously acknowledging the multitude of officers who serve above reproach? Can we not recognize that when right-winged Christians are silent in the face of racial injustice they lose credibility? Can we not recognize that when left-winged Christians are silent in the face of abortion injustice they lose moral authority? Can we not concede that cherry-picking our biblical issues is not a biblical option? Lord, make us one.

I relate to hip hop artist Sho Baraka, who feels left out by both major political parties. “Baraka, an evangelical Christian, recently wrote a column entitled Why I Can’t Vote For Either Trump Or Clinton. In that article, the son of a former Black Panther says that ‘as an African-American, I’m marginalized by the lack of compassion on the Right. As a Christian, I’m ostracized by the secularism of the Left.'” (NPR interview here)

Do we not see that when the church fails to lift her voice for justice with Jesus, we leave a void where culture offers justice without Him? This is why, while I really like a lot of the current media voices, I’m troubled when modern activists are reading more Shaun King than Dr. Martin Luther King. It is mind-blowing to go back and read the Scripture-dripping words of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. My heart is convicted, my blind spots are confronted, and my soul is challenged to take the holistic Gospel seriously.

Repeat after us.

4. Leadership matters. But leadership must become clear. I am highly concerned by the lack of clear leadership with a clear voice and a clear direction in this moment in our history.

  • Let us confess our sin. Call it what it is, and repent. Stop denying your racism. Don’t say black lives matter but ignore the 1500+ black lives that will be aborted today.
  • Clarify what we (you) want. What’s the goal? What would get Colin Kaepernick standing again? What constitutes discernible and acceptable progress? When goals are unclear, progress is unlikely.
  • Engage in relationships with people of other races. Share meals, share hearts, and listen.
  • If you’re white, please read The New Jim Crow. Or Just Mercy. If you’re angry, read more Bible and less internet. Stop reading the trolls on people’s social media posts.
  • Don’t surf the net more than you pray. Your response will be nothing but flesh.
  • Use your time. You can help us reach unto neighborhoods all over our city with holistic, strategic initiatives.
  • Use your voice. When tragedy strikes, say something. But do it in the name of Jesus. You can blog. You can march. You can sign petitions. You can affirm Campaign Zero. You can call your congressman. And when people get it right, let them know. In our very city I am watching first-hand as motivated (and woke) police officers are trying to bridge gaps and bring reform. Encourage them. Take it from someone who takes a hit every time I step out to use my voice: the negative voices are 10-to-1.

Repeat after us.

joakim

#TerenceCrutcher

1. Too many hashtags.

2. I keep hearing warnings not to overreact when another black men gets killed. It reminds me of the people of Israel responding to the cries of the prophets of old.

3. I’m not sure if we realize how toxic our silence is. When it comes to justice, the lack of a consistent, united, and culturally audible voice from the church is beyond troubling. Lift your voice.

4. Stop blaming the wrong people. I’ve watched abuse victims come into my office to bring to light the agonizing darkness of their family experience. And I have been horrified to watch families circle the wagons, turn the table, and blame the victim. Why are you trying to divide the family, they demand. Things are getting better, they argue. But the abused are not the problem. And insisting that people get over the abuse of the past in light of some level of improvement is absurd. Stop blaming the media for reporting it. Stop blaming Youtube for posting it. Stop blaming the onlookers for recording it.

5. There’s something potent about this word repent. But it’s impossible to repent of sin we won’t acknowledge. It’s impossible to repent of a transgression that we will not see. Systemically, historically, consistently this racial sin has been allowed to operate and devastate and multiply into subsequent generations. Like water to a fish, it’s the current in which we swim. That means, unless you intentionally fight it, you’re under its sway. It’s the air (pollution) we breathe. Which is why extremely sincere people could pass a lie detector test defending their lack of prejudice, and size up a guy calling him a big, bad dude. Racists don’t believe they are racists. Implicit bias really is as deadly as overt racism, because it operates undetected. And unconfessed.

6. We change by amazing grace. When I had no defense because of My sin, Jesus acted on my behalf from the tree of condemnation. He made my problem His problem, and worked His transforming miracle of mercy by His bloodied body. In my anger I am so tempted to try to shame people into a change that only happens by grace. I must cry out for justice, but I must do it while loving mercy and walking humbly.

7. “If My people called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Here’s a prayer: God, we confess our bias, our indifference, our slowness to turn from our racial sin. Change me. End racism. Stop the violence. Let justice roll. In the name of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, & Racialized Sin

Blog - Alton SterlingTroubling thoughts keeping me up late and waking me up early:

1. It’s devastating to see non-Christians more torn up over black people dying than white Christians. I’m sad and angry and embarrassed and grieving.

2. Implicit bias is more dangerous than overt hatred because it operates underground. It has been stunning to witness all the racism that has risen to the surface over the course of Obama’s presidency. My head was in the sand.

3. Refusal to address racialized sin has undermined our capacity to fulfill our Romans 12:15 calling to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Mika Edmondson) As a son still grieving the loss of my father, I can tell you how incredibly healing it is when you encounter people who choose to grieve with you. And how painful it is when people do not. I grieve and feel for the family of Alton Sterling. My heart breaks for the family of Philando Castile. Their lives matter.

4. Refusal to call out racialized sin has blocked our capacity to heed the warning of the prophets of old: Repent. It is embarrassing that it has taken the ubiquity of cell phone cameras to open the eyes of culture to injustice that has been there all along. If the church won’t say it, it seems that God will allow Youtube or BET to bring it to light. Injustice must be confessed. Hatred must be addressed. Indifference must be forsaken. The blood of the innocent cries out to heaven. God forbid that we block our ears. I have been a part of the problem, and I repent. My silence has been part of the problem, and I repent. I have benefitted from a system where the playing field is not level.

5. If you question the need to repent of corporate or systemic sin, then I challenge you to consider Nehemiah (1:6) or Daniel (9:20). These giants of the faith found the need and humility to repent of both personal and corporate sin. Tell me what I can do, people ask me. Please read The New Jim Crow. I don’t want to hear another white person tell me they never owned a slave. I never want to hear another white person bring up black on black crime. Enough. Lord we confess our sin of racism, which we have sinned against You. Have mercy.

6. Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week. Why are all the black kids on one side of the spiritual cafeteria while all the white kids are on the other side? Because the church forgot who we are. The church forgot our prayer, on earth as it is in heaven. And in heaven it’s every tongue and every tribe gathered in reconciled unity under the blood bought banner of Jesus.

7. I don’t want to hear another person invalidate the pain. Or fear. Or suspicion. Or anger. Or hurt. Or outrage. The tears are rolling and the hearts are broken. Friends are asking me, how can people be so passionate about abortion and human trafficking and clean water halfway across the world, and then be so cold to death in their own backyard. These same people that prayed with you, worshipped with you … How can they be so blind? And it’s hard to not feel like they’re blind on purpose. Maybe they wouldn’t pull a trigger, but how can they be so silent when it happens? If my white brothers and sisters in Christ don’t get it, what white person will? I thought they’d be different. I’m angry. We’re struggling – in a different way. A lot of us in a speechless way.

8. Someone has to be different. If you’re a majority, we need you to model the way in humility and understanding and contrition and repentance. Grieve. If you’re a minority, your challenge is something like what you’re needing from white believers. Be different. It is rare to hear a God-centered response in times like these. When the heat is on, Christians are so tempted to play the predictably tune of the rest of the world. Taking their cues and becoming echoes of whatever talking head they just heard. Stop being an echo when you were made to have a voice. I just hung up the phone with Civil Rights activist John Perkins. This is the man whose brother was killed by white policemen. This is the man who was imprisoned and beaten to the point of death because of the color of his skin. This is a man who bears in his body the marks of racial injustice. Yet he constantly warns me: Feel the pain. Be angry. But bring it to Jesus, and let Him make it redemptive. If your eyes move away from Jesus, you won’t see straight. You never beat hate with hate, you beat it looking at the One who took it with whips and thorns and beatings.

9. If you are reading this as part of our faith family, I charge us afresh to embrace our call to offer this world the Gospel alternative. It’s a day to pray and fast and weep. To have hard feet and soft hearts. To open our mouths and spend our lives. To be a community with too much brown to be called a white church, and too much hispanic to be called a black church – a body that models the diversity and reconciliation and redemption and healing and power and grace and justice and mercy of God’s kingdom. I was supposed to be on preaching sabbatical for one more week, but I’ll be coming back early to address these painful realities from the heart of the kingdom of God. Please pray for us.

10. The people with the most hope lead. So let’s go lead, because we have hope. Not because of where we are, but because of where He is: sitting on a throne of justice