Pastors Forum on Race in America and Resources for Digging Deeper

Pastors Forum - MKE Declaration

Two weeks ago my friend Kurt Owens reached out to me about joining a panel discussion of pastors from The Milwaukee Declaration discussing race in America in light of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. With the killing of George Floyd this past week, the discussion feels even more important than before. We will join a few other ministry friends—Peter Borg, Kurt Boyd, Jay English, and Beverly Rehfeld—for this panel discussion today, Thursday, May 28, at 11 AM via Facebook live here.

As part of previous gatherings for the Milwaukee Declaration we assembled a “Next Steps” guide of resources for furthering the conversation. I am including that here with some updates for more recent resources:

If you are interested in continuing to learn more about how race and racism have defined life in America, and in our country’s churches and denominations, consider watching the following movies or reading the books listed below.

Movies
Drama
Amistad (1997)
42 (2013)
Hidden Figures (2016)
Just Mercy (2019)
Selma (2014)
Twelve Years a Slave (2013; WARNING–due to Hollywood’s most accurate portrayal of slavery, some scenes are inappropriate for children)

Documentaries
Milwaukee: 53206 (2016)
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 (1987, 1990)
13th (2016)
The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2006)
The Making of Milwaukee (2006)
Slavery By Another Name (2012)

Books
By Dr. King
Strength to Love
Why We Can’t Wait
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Milwaukee and Housing
Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee by Patrick D. Jones
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Race and Inequality
Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas Sugrue
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Race and Faith
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey
A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow by David Chappell
White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter-McNeil
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson
Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David W. Swanson
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

Learn more about the Milwaukee Declaration and/or sign the Declaration here.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 27, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I highlight one theme of Hebrews related to hearing the word of God, both in Scripture and in Jesus. I focus that in by mentioning a verse from Psalm 119:

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

If we want direction in the midst of confusion, there is no better source than turning to God’s Word. If we want light in the midst of darkness, there is no better source than the Scriptures.

If this theme captures your interest, you may also enjoy reading a few other posts on my blog:

Three Ways God Uses Suffering in Our Lives

perseverance

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

The sufferings we endure are not meaningless within the hands of God. This is true regardless of whether we have brought the suffering upon ourselves or whether it has come upon us through the hands of others or our environment. When we put ourselves in the hands of God by faith, our sufferings are invested with another purpose. As the Apostle Paul outlines here in Romans 5, God takes us in the midst of our sufferings and shapes something valuable into our lives.

First, Paul writes, God shapes perseverance into our lives. This is the capacity to keep going, even in the midst of adverse circumstances. Perseverance does not just magically appear in our lives. It is something that we must develop, like a runner suffering through training until she can run a full marathon. While none of us desire suffering, when we submit our suffering to God we free Him to develop perseverance into our lives. Without perseverance, nothing else will come because we will continually push against our circumstances and against God. But as we grow in perseverance, God can have His way in developing us for His glorious purposes.

Along with perseverance, Paul tells us, God uses our sufferings to shape character into our lives. Character is not an abstract gift from God—just an idea about virtue—but is something tangibly confirmed in our lives through the furnace of our trials. If you want character without suffering, you are looking for something else; perhaps a good reputation. If you want character without perseverance, you really want something else; perhaps informational knowledge of what character is. But if we really want character, there is no other way than through the furnace of suffering. Character is developed through trying and testing, like a precious metal refined in the fire as the dross is burned away to reveal its highest quality. Our character is developed and revealed through the fires of suffering combined with our willingness to persevere.

Third, Paul tells us that hope follows character and perseverance when our suffering is given into the hands of God. Hope arises as we persevere amidst the fires of suffering in which character is shaped. Without hope we give up in life, as we know from those who lose a will to live in dire health circumstances or imprisonment. But with hope, we can find meaning in life and keep going. It is by clinging to God by faith amidst suffering that we begin to see that God is indeed doing something else as we bear up in the challenges of life. Contrary to what we perceive with our eyes, God is at work, and this revelation that God is at work brings hope into our lives. We walk by faith and not by sight, as Paul writes elsewhere (2 Corinthians 5:7), but it is hope that keeps us walking. When we yield our sufferings to God, letting Him shape Christlike character in us, hope simultaneously springs up as we realize God has not left us alone and is working in our lives.

All of this meaningful work of God amidst suffering is sustained not by sheer human willpower (although the will is significant), but by the Holy Spirit who is the bond of love tying us into the presence of God through Christ. God is at work, completing what He begins in us (Philippians 1:6). God is working within us with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). And so, even as Christ’s suffering was powerful significant, so, too, when we yield our sufferings to God they bring forth a harvest of righteousness for His glory.

A Prayer inspired by Hebrews 4:1-13

image 3 - Hebrews

Throughout our new series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I am writing prayers related to the text on which we are preaching each week. This prayer is drawn from Hebrews 4:1-13. The complete list of prayers inspired by Hebrews is included at the bottom of this post. You could also view a message, “Finding Rest in God,” by Amanda Kilponen from this passage here.

Lord, our current time is a time of weariness;
of endless reports of trauma, change, and death.
Worn out by such words, we confess that we need
a good word of great joy for all people this day.

Today, Lord, we turn to You to find true rest.
We admit that many places we look for rest
do not really provide what they promise to offer.
And so, Lord, we look to You for sabbath and peace.

Lord, we thank You that You are true to Your promises
and that the promise of rest is still open to us today.
We draw near in full humility before our need
but also in full confidence of Your provision.

Today, Lord, strengthen us to diligently obey You
that, walking in Your will and your way,
we might truly enter into the rest You provide
both for now and unto eternity.

All this we pray in Your name, Triune God—
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
You who are truly at work and simultaneously at rest,
to whom be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.


Prayers from Hebrews:

Eastbrook at Home – May 24, 2020

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home as we continue our series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews.” This weekend we look at Hebrews 4 and what it means to enter into the rest of God.

Join in with a virtual small group on the sermon every Sunday at 11 AM. More info here.

Each Sunday beginning at 8 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts.

As we continue to tweak this experience, please let us know your experience by emailing us here. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 23 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


May20_20_AlwaysOn-1200x675“How to Cope with That ‘Always-On’ Feeling” – Many of us trying to navigate the already existing pressures of constant availability find those pressures increasing beyond our capacity in the current moment of the pandemic. “So, what are we to do? While we’re all experiencing greater job and family stress in this new normal, our recent research has found there are steps that employees can take to protect their well-being.” This article from The Harvard Business Review offers three suggestions for ways that employees can navigate this and take care of themselves.


President Trump

“Trump deems houses of worship ‘essential’ amid coronavirus pandemic” – One of the hottest debates is whether churches and other houses of worship are “essential” during the pandemic and now the President has weighed in. At the present moment, this has been left to governors to decide or, based on some states, local municipalities. Where I live in the city of Milwaukee, churches are still limited within guidelines for gatherings of 10 or less for the time being.


unity“Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You” – Given the heat that can be generated by the last discussion, let me encourage you to read this article by Brett McCracken. “For church leaders and elder boards everywhere, the last few months have presented a near-constant array of complex challenges related to shepherding a church during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest complex challenge is perhaps the trickiest yet: how to prudently resume in-person gatherings….n such a precarious and polarizing environment, how can churches move forward in beautiful unity (Ps. 133) rather than ugly division? It won’t be easy. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working to unify us in ways our flesh resists, the opportunity is there for us to be a countercultural model for the rest of the world.”


Ravi Zacharias“In Memoriam: Ravi Zacharias” – While many of you may already have heard, Ravi Zacharias passed away on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, after battling with cancer. I first encountered Zacharias’ work while at Wheaton College as an undergrad, both through his writing and his speaking. One of my mentors, Lyle Dorsett, assigned Zacharias’ books in classes on the ministry of evangelism. His books, particularly Jesus Among Other Gods, was pivotal in helping me frame my understanding of how the Christian faith made sense in relation to other faiths. A notable apologist for Christianity, Ravi spoke with intellectual clarity and pastoral concern within his ministry. There will be a global livestream memorial service to honor his life on YouTube and on Facebook on May 29 at 10 AM (CST).


Francis Collins Templeton Prize“NIH Director Francis Collins Wins $1.3M Templeton Prize” – In early April, I referenced the work of Francis Collins as a Christian scientist and the director of the National Institutes of Health. Just this past week Collins was awarded a $1.3M Templeton Prize with this description of his work: “In his scientific leadership, public speaking, and popular writing, including his bestselling 2006 book, The Language of God, Collins has demonstrated how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research. He endeavors to encourage religious communities to embrace the latest discoveries of genetics and the biomedical sciences as insights to enrich and enlarge their faith.


Acedia Evagrius Ponticus“The Noonday Demon in Our Distracted Age” – A few years back I read Kathleen Norris’s book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life based on a recommendation within another book I was reading. I confess I had no idea what “acedia” was but I really enjoyed the book and connected deeply with the thrust of the book. Then J. L. Aijian wrote this article based on the work of Evagrius Ponticus from the 4th century on the same topic and it caught my attention. He wrote: “The spirit of acedia drives the monk out of his cell, but the monk who possesses perseverance will ever cultivate stillness. A person afflicted with acedia proposes visiting the sick, but is fulfilling his own purpose. A monk given to acedia is quick to undertake a service, but considers his own satisfaction to be a precept.”


Wisconsin fall“Wisconsin: Images of the Badger State” – Every once in awhile it’s good to see the familiar through someone else’s eyes. While originally from the Mississippi River valley in Illinois, I have lived in Wisconsin since 2003. Here is a stunning and fun series of photos in The Atlantic from Wisconsin, offering a view into the unique culture and beautiful geography of a state I have come to love.


Music: Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come,” from Ain’t That Good News

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Significance of Jesus’ Ascension

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Edward Bolwell, ascension day, Acrylic Paint on MDF Board; 2017

Yesterday was Ascension Day, when celebrate the ascension of Jesus to the Father in heaven after His resurrection from death (Luke 24:49-51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:3-10). I believe the ascension is one of the most-neglected aspects of the life of Jesus with greater significance for our life with God as disciples of Jesus than we usually realize.

I wrote three posts in 2018 about the importance of the ascension for our faith because of Jesus’ reign as King, Jesus’ mediation eternally, and Jesus’ future return in glory, and would encourage you to join me in considering the significance of Jesus’ ascension.

Read them here: