Friday, December 19, 2014

I'm Uptight White

As many of you already know, on November 24th, my Dad crossed over to glory.  And one of the ways we have celebrated his life together as a family is through watching some 8mm home movies, no sound, mostly black and white but also a few in color.  We hang a sheet on the wall and use this 1940's Revere projector that we found in a little consignment shop (Red Feathered Nest) here in Newport News.  The best $30 I may have ever spent!

This projector produces a little 6 inch square image on that sheet.  But the clarity is amazing...the hum of that projector, all those memories, us huddled together, pure nostalgia!  And there is young, so full of life, so happy to be with his family!  And the second time through our favorites, both my brother and I noticed something we had never seen before.  In one of the frames, there was some footage Dad putting up his first mailbox at the house they built in 1965, the house where I grew up, the house where he died, the house our family still calls home.  And right there on the flag you raise to let the mailman know there are letters to be mailed...a small confederate flag.  What?  That wasn't on there when I was growing up...and as a child, we loved watching these home movies...never noticed that before.  And the more I reflect on that image of that flag on that mailbox, the more I smile.  Why?  Because it's just another reminder of how Jesus changes people.  If you knew my Dad, expecting something like that on his mailbox, impossible!  And just in case there is some Southern historian readying their comments in defense of that Dad was born in 1933 and history was not his passion.  He grew up in a rural, white South...and back then, that flag on your mailbox had nothing to do with history.  But Jesus changes people!  And I'm so glad he changed my Dad and now that spiritual heritage is passed to me.  That spiritual heritage demands two questions:  how is Jesus changing me and am I doing the work of passing that spiritual heritage to my children?  I want to talk about that first question.

I'm uptight white.  What does that mean?  Back when Vannessa and I lived in the inner city of Richmond, I had the privilege of taking some post graduate classes to help prepare for my vocation in the ministry.  I chose the seminary at Virginia Union for two reasons.  One, they offered a program where all classes were Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.  Second, this was a black college and a black seminary.  I wanted to be in an environment where I would be challenged in my view about social equality, social justice, multiculturalism, diversity, and especially my Christian views that had been shaped in a very white world.  It was an amazing experience!  One of my classes talked specifically about cultural norms and how they varied from one ethnicity to the other.  He talked about how in the black community, relationships transcended everything.  Being on time was far less important than begin present.  Meaning, if you had a schedule that day but ran into a friend you hadn't seen in years, you stop.  You are late for everything else the rest of the day.  People matter more than schedules.  Now of course there are always exceptions, but generally speaking, for white culture, it is all about efficiency.  If that had been me, I would have pretended not to see them so as not to mess up my schedule then Facebook stalk them later when I had time to say hello!  I'm uptight white!  The class continued giving basic generalizations about different ethnicities to help us as pastors better relate to our diverse communities and hopefully diverse congregations.

At our church, City Life, we talk openly about wanting to be a diverse church.  But I wonder sometimes if people really mean that?  I think what lots of people mean is that they like the idea of different colored people worshipping long as they can adjust to who we are culturally.  We want to look collectively like a rainbow on the outside but secretly desire being collectively monochromatic on the inside.

We had the awesome privilege of inviting someone to join our staff last year.  Our church continues to grow which requires expanding staff roles.  We were ready to hire a Director of Creative Arts who would also be our primary worship leader.  We did not set out with any strategic goal of broadening the ethnic diversity of our church but that is exactly what happened.  We hired Chris House.  Love him!  Vannessa and I attended his wedding to the lovely Shanicka Atlanta last weekend.  The wedding was scheduled for 5pm that Saturday.  Earlier that day, you know what Vannessa and I did?  We drove to the venue that morning to make sure we had good directions, paid attention to traffic patterns, had alternative routes in case of traffic...we are uptight white!  Saturday afternoon...we promptly arrived at 4:30.  There was one other person there.  By 5...there were maybe 10.  People were still pouring in at 5:30.  The wedding didn't start until 6.  We both had to get up to use the bathroom twice before the ceremony even started!  And I loved every minute!  I started thinking of that class years's not about a schedule Fred, it's about people, about relationship, about loving people deeply, about spontaneous conversations...the schedule only exists to serve the meaningfulness of people's lives.  I'm so glad I'm on Chris' and Shanicka's team...I have so much to learn from them!

But that cultural exchange goes both ways.  I've had the opportunity to be with Chris on a few occasions when he is inviting people to visit City Life.  And when that person is black, this what Chris says, "Hey, you should come visit my church, the service only lasts for 90 minutes."  The response, "WHAAAAAAT?  And it's Christian?"  Cultures need one another, but not in the sense that we need to change each other.  If there are excesses, then sure, let's temper one another.  But diversity brings inexplicable beauty to our world...let's protect that!

So if a church is going to be truly diverse, it needs to be open to cultural shifts.  And part of that cultural shift needs to be asking more questions than we are offering opinions.  I'm an avid reader of Facebook.  You learn a lot about people there.  That's really helpful when you are their pastor!  And with everything that is happening in our great, beloved Country right now, I think we would all be better served to ask some questions before we offer opinions.  If you have some strong opinions about Ferguson...if you have some strong opinions about the Eric Garner tragedy...find someone you respect who you know has different views than yourself, buy them lunch and ask some know who would do that...Jesus.  Have you ever noticed how much time He spent with people who were ethnically different from Himself?  Now you might say, "Fred, He didn't do that to learn from anyone."  That is true, but He most certainly did meet with them to affirm them, to celebrate them, to offer acceptance when everyone else who shared His views and His culture only offered rejection, ridicule, and contempt.  How about the Samaritan woman at the well, how about the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit, how about the Roman Centurion whose servant was sick?

I'm uptight white...Jesus change me.  I don't want to walk past people who need to know they matter just because my routine matters too much to me!  I don't want to start on time when being delayed means someone was cared for!  I don't want to end on time when being over-due means more people were awakened to a living God and His great love!  I've never had a mailbox like that one my Dad once had...but I'm not so naive to think that my heart is pure of any subtle biases and prejudices.  Jesus change me!  JESUS CHANGE ME!

I know you see me Dad!  As the Apostle Paul said, oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory!  He is changing me Dad...just like you taught me...and as long as I have breath, I'm teaching my children.  I have a spiritual heritage.  I have an eternal purpose.

Oh, and by the way, church tomorrow might not start until 6...and go to 10...

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why I Tithe...closing thoughts

If you have been following this series, thank you for taking the time to consider the point of view I have been sharing about tithing.  I hope that whether or not you agree with everything written, you have been inspirited to live a life of deeper generosity!

Since my last posting, my father was born into eternity...his journey this side of Heaven began on October 15, 1933 and he breathed his last earthly breath on November 24, 2014.  My Dad would have loved this series of articles.  One of the many God honoring life lessons he taught me was that it is always better to have less so that we can give more.  Dad, may your legacy of generosity live on through us all!

Some closing thoughts...

Walking in the supernatural often begins by embracing the practical.  I believe that God has a material destiny for all of us, one that is predetermined.  My life of wealth is based on God's divine plan for me.  However, while my material destiny is ultimately determined by His sovereignty, my progress toward that end is achieved through my activity.  If I am unwilling to live according the principles of Scripture, I have little hope of achieving all the wealth that God has set aside for me. And my activity is plainly prescribed for me...if I am willing to read all that God has written by way of instruction!

Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are three words we often find in Scripture.  And although they are often used similarly, interchangeably...they each still hold a distinct meaning.  We find them listed together in texts like Proverbs 2:6 and Colossians 1:9.  Biblical knowledge only comes through the discipline of learning Scripture.  We must avail ourselves to the body of eternal truth that God has so graciously given us.  This requires commitment, time, reflection, study, learning from others, prayer, and so many other activities that are self evident for spiritual health and well being.  Simply, knowledge is having a command of what the Bible says.  Understanding is then taking that knowledge and making it personal and actionable.  I may "know" that the Bible says I am to love my enemy.  Understanding is then considering who my enemies are and then plotting a course of action that will consistently demonstrate love toward them.  Understanding is having comprehended what my knowledge of Scripture now expects of me personally.  Wisdom...that is the courage to now act.  Wisdom is having the courage of conviction to put into practice what I understand to be true for me based on my inventory of Biblical knowledge.

If you have read these now know Scripture states that tithing should be a part of every devoted follower of Christ's stewardship plan.  What will that look like for you?  How do you need to change your budget to accommodate this Scriptural mandate?  Once you have determined a course of action, you have stepped into the realm of understanding...actually doing it, welcome to wisdom!

There are a host of resources out there available to you if you need assistance.  From Crown Financial Services to Dave Ramsey...find a resource that resonates with you and begin the work of building a sound, Biblically based plan for stewarding your material resources.

Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of the first verses I memorized as a new Christian.  I can't think of a more appropriate text to consider as we are concluding our conversation about tithing.  Ultimately, whether I tithe or not is about trust.  Do I trust God?  Even if I read chapters like Psalm 24 and am convinced that all I have belongs to God, trust is what empowers me to give much of those possessions away.

I hope you take the time to read a favorite story of mine found in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 4:1-7.  Every time I obey Scripture, I am gathering one more pot for Him to fill!  I hope you live a generous life, that you commit yourself to be a pot gatherer, not so that you can be enriched but so you can be well positioned to give even more!

Pastor Fred