Category Archives: Kingdom of God

When Our Reasoning Fails Us

“God gave us a brain, so use it.”

It’s a well known phrase you’ve probably heard over a thousand times. I certainly have. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve heard this phrase repeated a lot by Christians when discussing something to do with church business and ministry. Sometimes it has seemed like an effort in reasoning one’s way around the good news of the kingdom of God, dismissing Jesus by saying “Yeah, but.”

I was a seminary student living in Memphis and was working part-time with an older church that was in decline. They provided housing for my wife and I, and I would preach once a month and engage in other ministry opportunities in the neighborhood. But that is where the challenge was.

The church, a community of about 80 to 100 middle-class white people, gathered for worship in a poor neighborhood of minorities that challenged by drugs, poverty, and crime. As far as the neighborhood the church gathered in, it had its share of homeless people, many of whom suffered with mental health issues and/or drug and alcohol addictions. And that was the problem.

A friend of mine and I tried serving those who were homeless as best as we knew how. Besides hanging out with them in places like a Waffle House, we offered food from the church’s pantry, and invited them to join us for worship on potluck Sundays. But it became clear that the homeless were unwanted and some of the other church leaders went so far as to tell them so, locking the doors behind them. A few of the church members were even blatant racists, which is equally disgusting. But as we pushed against this disdain for the homeless, some of the church members voiced their reasons…

“We can’t help everyone.”

“It’s dangerous, with the drugs they’re on and what not.”

“Let them get cleaned up first so they can show respect to God in his house.”

They even were able to invoke the Bible, proof-texting in order to justify their reasoning.

And here’s the scary thing about this story… It illustrates how Christians, people who profess faith in Jesus and read the Bible, can reason their way around the gospel and faith as they actually rationalize following Jesus right out of the equation.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Rom 12:2, NRSV

So yes, God did give us a brain… a mind, that is, and we should use it. But it also must be renewed in Christ by the Spirit if it is to be of value to us living as Christians. That raises an important question for us: Are we are seeking transformation that leads us to live more like Jesus and to make decisions that reflect the good news of the kingdom of God?

Living and making decisions based on fear, self-preservation, discrimination, and national politics only continues our conformation to the world. We can reason ourselves into living and making decisions based on the fear, self-preservation, discrimination, and national politics, and even proof-texting the Bible in order to justify our rationale, but when this happens our reasoning fails us!

Welcome The Refugees!

One of the justifications people make for war is the protection of innocent lives. That is, when a dictator engages in the systematic murder of innocents or an extremist group commits acts of terrorism that kills innocent people, many people believe that civilized nations should employ their military as a defensive counter measure, striking with deadly force in order to protect the lives of innocent people from further harm. Just war, in this sense, even if considered a necessary evil, is viewed as a humanitarian response.

Now let’s think about this concern for innocent lives in the matter of welcoming refugees from Syria. Today in America, many state Governors said that such refugees are not welcome in their states and according to my Facebook feed, many people support this stance. So let me just bluntly say: Refusing to welcome these refugees is a betrayal of any altruistic concern for innocent lives! Such inhospitality is incoherent with the claim we should be concerned for the protection of innocent lives when making a moral-justification for war. And for Christians, if we’re not careful, our reasoning can actually rationalize around following Jesus and his teaching. What a shame that would be!

If we are truly concerned for the innocent, then we cannot shut our doors on the refugees. So on that note, I want to share a letter written to the Governor of Virginia by my friend, classmate, (and more importantly) fellow follower of Jesus, Jeff Saferite, a pastor with the Hill City Church in Arlington, Virginia:


I am praying for you today as the pressure mounts on how to respond to the attacks in Paris, the Daesh, and the Syrian refugees. It is my hope that you will open the doors of Virginia to those seeking refuge.

I remember the first time I walked through the Holocaust museum in DC. The story that stuck with me most is that of the SS St. Louis. I walked away from that experience asking how the good people of America could reject Jewish refugees in the face of Hitler. This question has resurfaced today.

Daesh survives and thrives off propaganda. The quickest way to defeat this great evil is to take the narrative away from them. Let’s show the world that Virginia, and America, is a place of love, freedom, and hospitality. I recognize there is danger in doing this but I believe there is greater danger in not doing so.

This is the path of Jesus, and the path that our congregation is on. The Christian congregation that I pastor is committed to joining in the efforts to serve, house, and feed the Syrian Refugees. We are deeply distressed that the violence of a few has caused a fear that threatens to overcome the compassion of many others toward the countless that needs our assistance

I pray that we rise above the attackers who see themselves as powerful when they prey on the powerless. Let’s show them the true power of a state that stands for love of another at any cost. Virginia is for lovers and sometimes love is a risk.

Lead us in making a statement by opening the doors of Virginia to Syrian Refugees!

Rev. Jeffrey T. Saferite, Jr.
Hill City Church
Arlington, VA

So can we welcome the refugees?

I was living in Memphis when the city, along with plenty of other cities, began receiving numerous refugees from the gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina. What I saw, experienced, and participated in was churches rising to the occasion by providing food, clothing, and shelter to the refugees. Many people from the community joined in to help provide basic humanitarian care for their fellow human-beings. Let’s welcome the refugees and rise to the occasion again.

As we consider the situation with Syrian refugees, Let me suggest reading the two following passages and spending some time meditating on these teachings of Jesus: 1) Matthew 25:31-46The Sheep and the Goats and 2) Luke 10:25-37The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

A Conversation About Jesus and Religion

Yesterday evening while driving for Uber in Baltimore I picked up a man I”ll call Sammy, who was born in India but was raised in America. I picked him up at a bar in Baltimore and I could tell he had a few drinks but he was a nice man and was telling me about his work, which involved working with clients all around the world. Then he asked me what I do and that’s where things became interesting.

I explained to Sammy that I’m a Christian and have spent the last ten plus years of my life serving as a minister with churches. Sammy then told me that he is not religious but respects anyone who is because religion normally make people better people. The conversation then went something like this…

Sammy: “Do you really believe in one God?”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

Sammy: “Do you believe Jesus is the only one who can save everyone?”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

Sammy then proceeded to share with me his difficulty in believing like I believe. He said that at the end of the day all religions teach us how to be nicer people to others and that’s what he thinks is important. Then Sammy said, “But you believe differently.”

I could tell he was waiting for a response but I paused for a moment as we were pulling up to his destination. Then I said, “Sammy, I believe that Jesus was crucified but that God raised him from death and exalted him as Lord… as the one who is King over all. That’s why he is the only one who can save everyone. Of course, if Jesus wasn’t raised from death then none of that really matters. But if he was, and I believe he was, and if you believe he was, then even if we don’t understand how God works all this salvation stuff out, we know that it is through Jesus that God saves because Jesus is the Lord… the King.”

Sammy stayed silent for a moment. Then he said, “Wow, I never thought of it that way before. I know I have to go now but thanks, I need to think about that more now.”

Christians… If God has raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord, as we confess, then may the Spirit empower us to boldly live as witnesses for this good news of Jesus the Messiah!

Imago Dei: They Belong to God

As I continue talking with different churches about serving as a minister with them, I have started driving for Uber in the city of Baltimore. It’s a way to earn some needed income for my family but it’s also proving to be a great way of listening and learning as I taxi people from one destination to another. Last night as I was driving though the city and seeing the myriad of different people, I began reflecting on God, creation, and the image of God. So here are some of the thoughts that came to my mind.

One of the great sins throughout history has been the objectification of other people. By objectification, we see others only as an object or means of serving us. It’s a self-serving sickness that reduces others to the value of whatever they can do for us. And sometimes that’s pretty cheap… a one night stand, a quick high, and so on. Sometimes the objectification of others has resulted in some of the great injustices throughout history such as the importation of humans to work as slaves.

The Bible tells us that all people are made in the imago dei, image of God, bearing the likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27; 5:1). Later on in life when asked about paying taxes to Ceasar, Jesus takes a coin that bears Caesars image and says to give it back to Caesar because it belongs to Caesar (Mk. 12:13-17). What Jesus is also saying, which is what we often miss, is that we dare not give ourselves to Caesar because we bear the image of God and therefore we are to worship/serve God. But here is a further point about people and the image of God.

Now let’s clarify a further point about the image of God and the others we encounter every day. The others, those we are so tempted to objectify for our own ends, bear the image of God and therefore they belong to God!

To recognize the image of God in other people and recognize that they belong to God means that they are not ours to do with as we please. They belong to God and we are to serve them as we would serve God. Whether it is our family, a person who has been visiting our church gatherings, the neighbor down the street and even the obnoxious neighbor down the street, the person panhandling money on the street corner, the person…

We cannot see people only as a means to an end, as a commodity to fulfill our needs. The world is a more enjoyable place when we instead regard others with the dignity of being a human-being, a person bearing the image of God. When we resist the easy temptation of objectifying others and instead serve them, we learn what it means to love God and love our neighbor as ourself.

Loving Your Enemy or Arming Yourself?

As the details of the mass-shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, we learned that the killer was targeting Christians. This comes only a few month removed from another mass-shooting where the killer targeted Black Christians at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, though racism was the motive in this mass-shooting. Added to all of this is the continued conflicts in the Middle-East and the threat of terrorism, especially the horrific persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS.

All of that creates a lot of anxiety and I get that. It’s scary to think that a disturbed person might show up where you study or work, or where you worship, and shoot you simply because you are a Christian. It’s even scarier to know that there is a group or terrorists who would like to kill you, or someone like you and do so by cutting off your head or burning you alive. Yet if we allow that anxiety to brew, all kinds of dark emotions and desires take hold. And as we know, fear has been the base of much evil throughout history. Shouldn’t we just wish death upon such people and do everything we can to support taking them out before they get us?

Two Different Responses

Jesus ministered in a time and region filled with more anxiety than we’ll likely ever grasp. The Roman rulers had proved themselves as ruthless in dealing with their political enemies and the Jewish people were among those enemies. Yet within one sermon about the way of life we must live, Jesus says this in Matthew 5:43-45,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven…” 

I know this is not an easy teaching but it’s not an impossible teaching either.

Too often this passage is caught in the middle of the ethical question about whether followers of Jesus can act in defense if they or someone they see is being attacked by an assailant. I understand the importance of this issue but I also think it often keeps us from seeing something profoundly important about this teaching.

Jesus is teaching us to see the enemy differently and treat the enemy differently! When people decide that we are their enemy and plot to do us harm, our instinct is to their level of evil and return the hatred. We do so by plotting how we might do to them as they would do to us. If they want to attack us, we’ll send an army to take them out before they get the opportunity. But Jesus, who defines for us by his own self-sacrificial life of service what is means to love, wants us to see the enemy as a person just like us in order that we will seek their best interest by doing good to them. By doing good to all people, even those who hate us, we participate with God in demonstrating what the inbreaking kingdom-reign of God is like. That, my fellow Christians, is why this difficult teaching is later echoed by both the apostle Paul and apostle Peter (Rom 12:14; 1 Pet 3:9).

How different is that from the advise offered by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Tennessee who, after invoking the mass-shooting in Oregon, urged Christians who are serious about their faith to get a gun. He went on to say, “Our enemies are armed. We must do likewise.” How different is that from what Jesus says! Lt. Gov Ramsey is telling is to see those who may harm us as the enemy rather than as a person like us, who bears the same image of God we bear. Invoking fear rather than encouraging faith, he is telling us that if someone is plotting to kill us then we should plan ahead by arming ourselves so that we might kill them in order to protect ourselves.

This is more than just reacting defensively in the moment, should we ever find ourselves under attack. What Lt. Gov Ramsey is telling us to do is decide now that we are going to respond with deadly force, doing harm in order to protect ourselves from potential harm. How different that is from how Jesus teaches us to live? How different is that from the disciples in Jerusalem who, when faced with a threat, did not discuss how they might arm themselves for protection but came together and prayed that would perform signs and wonders while empowering his servants to preach the gospel with boldness (Acts 4:23-31)?

Arming Ourselves!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not under any illusion that following Jesus is easy, especially when it comes to loving the enemy. It’s not easy and it won’t ever be easy. It could be the way we are called to be a martyr for Jesus, just as it has been for other Christians throughout history. But that is why we must speak with boldness now and remind each other of this important teaching, so that we will encourage faithful discipleship if and when the road does get rough. Should I ever encounter someone doing harm to others, I won’t stand by and do nothing. I pray that I would have the courage to intercede as Chris Mintz did during last weeks shooting, putting himself in harms way to save others. I’ll assume you would do the same. But I won’t resign myself to hating those who hate me and preemptively plotting how I might kill them before they kill me.

We must reject fear and accept faith! If we’re going to live faithfully as followers of Jesus then we must resist any premeditated plan to categorize evil people as our enemy with the intention of doing them harm in order to protect ourselves. To do otherwise is to disembody the gospel, rejecting the way of Jesus when it appears too difficult. What we need is more faith… more faith in Jesus. So on that note, I do agree with one tiny aspect of what Lt. Gov. Ramsey said and that is that Christians should arm themselves. We should arm ourselves by putting on the full armor of God — the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God — and praying we are instructed in Ephesians 6:10-20.

Seeking With The Spirit

I’ve been writing some on how a local church lives as a community animated by the Holy Spirit. That naturally raises the question of how does this happen and, as I said in another post, that begins with repentance. Yet that is only where a church begins. There is more…

Two Modern Church Practices

Growing up as a child, there were two practices of the church that need mentioning here.

  1. Men’s Monthly Business Meetings. These meetings were open to any male member of the church and by that, I mean any baptized male. So at age nine, after being baptized, I was considered a man of the church and was asked to attend where I would vote along with the other men on any and all decisions. That’s right.. vote. Each meeting proceeded according to Robert’s Rules of Order because it was a business meeting. Whether the issue was buying a church van, giving support to a missionary, or else, as long as all the details appeared fiscally responsible, then a motion would be made, seconded, and approved by vote — democracy at its best.
  2. Monthly Congregational Singing. These singings we’re joyous occasions because I liked to sing and there wasn’t any sermon (how ironic now that I’m a preacher). Everyone present would name a hymn request and then the men capable of leading a hymn would take turns leading the requested hymns. Each singing would begin and end with the customary opening and closing prayers, and occasionally someone might read a passage of scripture but the primary reason for gathering was to sing hymns.

Now you are asking yourself, “Rex, what did these business meetings and congregational singings have to do with the church living as a community animated by the Spirit?” My answer is that they didn’t! Yet these practices were highly valued by the church of my youth and still are valued in some churches.

Why does this matter? Because when we read through the book of Acts about the beginning of the church, we don’t find the community of Christians engaged in either such practices. That’s not to say that they never came together to make decisions or to engage in worship through singing hymns… they surely did but the prioritized other practices that have been given very little priority among many churches today.

Two Ancient, Yet Relevant, Practices

There are two practices of the earliest Christians that need mentioning which are vital for churches discovering today how the Spirit seeks to lead them:

  1. Table Fellowship. This is a smaller gathering of Christians in a home around the table enjoying a meal together where everyone can engage in each other’s life. It is a time and place where deeper and more meaningful conversation about how God is at work in each other’s lives, how the scriptures bear upon each other’s lives, and how each person can lovingly encourage one another to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is one powerful way in which the Holy Spirit, who dwells among each believer, works to reveal what must be done in order to participate in the mission of God.
  2. Prayer. This practice is rooted in the profound belief that Christians are incapable of embodying the gospel based on their own strength. On their own, fears and temptations will have mastery over them. But by creating space and committing time for prayer — whether it’s for family facing personal challenges, someone having an evangelistic conversation with a co-worker, the church seeking a bold vision for engaging the neighborhood, and so on — the church turns to the Sovereign Lord who, in a mysterious manner, gives power through the Spirit to overcome with faithful witness.

Part of the challenge in recovering these ancient practices is overcoming vulnerability and humility. You see as long as Christians only gather in large assemblies for worship, preaching/teaching, and fellowship better known as potluck meals, there will likely never be any deep engagement of life seeking participation in the mission of God. That’s because such engagement requires vulnerability and that is more likely to happen as believers gather for table fellowship. Similarly, as long as a church thinks it only needs to maintain its current way of life, believers will never come together for a committed time of prayer.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for gathering as a collective group for worship where the church can sing, read scripture publicly, here that scripture preached, etc… but that alone is insufficient. It’s very passive and doesn’t require much. Plus, few Christians really want to stand up in such large gatherings and say, by way of example, “I’m struggling to get along with my new neighbors of a different race and religion, what might I be doing wrong? Could you help me and pray for me that I might better love them as my neighbor?”

When we read though Acts, we read of a movement of Jesus followers who were committed to table fellowship and prayer, among other practices. Because they were committed to such practices, they were able to discern the work of the Spirit among them and live a life animated by the Spirit. Such commitments helped them when they had to make decisions such as who should replace Judas (cf. Acts 1:12-26), which seven servants should be appointed to care for the ministry of the widows (cf. Acts 6:1-6), and even when faced with a decision regarding what the gospel requires of Gentile believers (cf. Acts 11). Such commitments drew them immediately into prayer when they realized that the opposition the apostles were facing (cf. Acts 4:23-31). Neither coming together to make a decision or for corporate prayer was the response of democratically human power but the seeking of God at work through his Spirit so that these followers of Jesus might embody the gospel faithfully and continue participating in the mission of God.

A Final Word

Beyond the Sunday gatherings of public worship and fellowship, every local church needs believers who are committed to table fellowship and prayer. That means someone making their home available, inviting a few others over, and taking the lead so that the time is spent purposefully engaged in life and the work of God, where time can be spent in prayer. This is where the Spirit begins cultivating organic change that will undoubtably not only enhance the Sunday gatherings but also lead to organized change as the church discerns how the Spirit is empowering them to live as a faithful yet contextually relevant embodiment of the gospel among the local community.

So what say you?

Moving With The Spirit

Last Friday I published a post titled Animated By The Holy Spirit, which was an updated version of an older post. The point of the post was to state why I believe that the Holy Spirit is essential for the local church’s participation in the mission of God and mention two guiding convictions I have regarding the work of the Spirit. My friend Amy commented “…how do congregations begin to rely more on the Spirit and less on their traditions? I get prayer but I wonder if the Spirit can even work if we have other objects to over come.” So I want to write more about how how our churches are animated by the power of the Holy Spirit over several posts and I’ll begin with what has to change for us to see where the Spirit is leading.

Repentance Is So Much More

Repentance! It’s a word very familiar to our Christian vernacular but perhaps too familiar. We often think of repentance as turning away from whatever ungodly ways we lived in the past, meaning that we are not indulging in immoral and destructive behaviors any more. To say it sort of sarcastically, repentance, we think, means saying goodbye to the endless summer nights of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. There’s a lot of truth to that but in truth, the call to repentance is so much more.

When Jesus began his public ministry and Peter later preached the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, both called for repentance. Jesus called the people to repent and believe the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God (cf. Mk 1:14-15) and Peter echoed this call with even a stronger sense of urgency since God had raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah (cf. Acts 2:36-39). But what we often miss is that on both occasions, this call for repentance was issued to the Jewish people who were already religiously devout people seeking to live righteous lives. And yet… they still needed to repent. Jewish nationalism, religious traditions, and contempt for the Gentiles blinded them to the work of God among them and they needed to let go and become followers of Jesus.

Now hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to you but spiritual blindness is not a disease that has disappeared. As local churches and as individual Christians, we are capable of becoming blind to the ways in which God is at work. Consumerism, traditionalism, politics, careers and personal ambitions, and even a lifeless apathy towards the gospel are ways that obscure the kingdom of God so that it remains hidden from our eyes and ears (cf. Lk 8:9-10). This must change… We must repent!

We Pledge Our Allegiance…

Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost challenges and invites us to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” assuring us that not only will our sins be forgiven but that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Acts 2:38). Now here is the important caveat that goes overlooked to often: Peter is telling us to pledge our allegiance to the Lord, Jesus the Messiah! Join the movement, follow Jesus and receive the gift of the Spirit that animates our life together and enables us to move with the Spirit as participants in the mission of God. That’s the invitation and challenge.

But… Moving with the Spirit requires change! That’s what repentance is. It is changing, letting go of whatever other commitments we have and living, not as consumers of religion or just good church-going Christians, but as passionate followers of Jesus participating in the mission of God. As Christians, who presumably have already been baptized, that means remembering our baptism… remembering that given our allegiance to Jesus.

By remembering our baptism and living as people committed to Jesus and aligned with his kingdom, we learn to see and hear where God is working among us and how the Spirit is animating us for participation in that work. Then we are moving with the Spirit and learning to move with the Spirit.

Following Jesus Together

Let’s not kid ourselves and think that this is an easy thing to do. Even Peter, when told to not regard as unclean what God had made clean, struggled to move with the Spirit (cf. Acts 10). So I assume we will as well. This is why we need our Christian community and particular people who will speak the truth to us, challenging us to see what we are struggling to see… to see where God is trying to lead us through the Holy Spirit.

God can and will certainly speak through the hymns and liturgy of worship as well as through the reading and preaching of his word. God can even speak in a dream if he so chooses (far be it for any one of us to tell God in what ways he can and cannot work!). However, God’s normal way of working seems to be through people who themselves are moving with the Spirit. God is working through you and I, if we are aligned with him. So when we encounter Christians who are placing things like traditions above participating in the mission of God, we must have the courage to lovingly but boldly call for repentance.

A lot of this has to do with leading missional renewal among our local churches which is so necessary. However, rather than expecting an entire church to change at once, renewal will happen as we, along with a few others from our church, begin to reimagine what it looks like to follow Jesus together. As we learn to embody the gospel in new ways, we become a breath of new life that God uses to bring renewal and change within the church overtime as we move with the Spirit. So if you find yourself among a church that seems lost in tradition or anything that has stifled the mission of God then my suggestion is finding a few other people and invite them over to your home, inviting them to break bread and into the word of God as you pray together and discern together how God is calling you to serve together on mission with him (but more on that in another post).