I am sad to confess that the recent controversy regarding same-sex marriage has not been spoken up and out from me until it has arrived at my doorstep. I live in Montgomery, Alabama. I’ve watched the news and have seen this global phenomenon for some time. Waiting until societies controversy touch your house can almost be too late. Praise the Lord for His mercy and courage to be His flawed ambassador for Jesus in this generation. And He is saying through me, “Be reconciled to God”. You can charge this mishap to my God given personality of being laid back and chill. Being “chill” isn’t sinful, but not relaying and proclaiming His truth to the matters of life is. Living out, relaying, and proclaiming His truth to others is a part of making disciples. Subconsciously, I think if it doesn’t affect me directly, then it’s not really “that real”. But we all know that’s not true. Martin Luther King, Jr. made a statement along these lines (that I agree with), “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. I am learning in dealing with matters in our society that one must deal with all of societal matters. Why? Because the God of heaven and earth speaks to and requires obedience in all areas of life. The God of heaven speaks on a variety of topics in our societal controversies today: sexual promiscuity, abortion (murder), love, righteousness, race, humility, marriage, drunkenness (liquor or drugs), death, eternal life, eternal death, courage, wisdom, leadership, service, justice, homosexuality, adultery, money, fatherhood, motherhood, children’s obedience to parents, oppression, police brutality, obedience to authority, etc. Even though that is not a complete list, it behooves us to hear His voice on the matter. He is the One who made all things in the earth and beyond. It is wise to take heed to the maker of something as opposed to figuring (out on our own) what the function should be of things the maker made. My attempt in these upcoming blogs is to bring the words of God (Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit) to the conversation on same-sex desires and marriage.
The God of heaven labels same-sex desires as homosexuality.
Before going into this subject, we all have to come to this one simple conclusion…do we trust the Scriptures (properly interpreted) as God’s rule for all of life or we not trust the Scriptures as God’s rule for all of life? This is crucial because here lies the true conflict. Now, I’m not presenting myself as the wisest or smartest person who understands all matters. But by God’s grace, I understand some. And one, out of a whole bunch, I understand from the Scriptures is the subject relating to homosexuality. I confess that this is not my personal struggle. But the Lord has graced me with several friendships who have struggled (and still wrestle) with this particular area. And I don’t believe the lie that because I haven’t struggled with this particular issue then I have nothing to say to help. I can hear the logic, “How can you speak to me when you don’t have a clue what it means to be me?” If that line of logic is true, our Savior Jesus Christ would have been ignored by, “the worst of sinners” because He was a man without sin. And when I listen to my friends fight against same sex desires, it happens to be the same fight I face when I’m resisting adultery, being heterosexual, or any other sin for that matter.
According to the God of the Scriptures, homosexuality (desiring someone sexually of the same sex) is sin. Sin is missing God’s mark. And sense sin is defined as such, we are all guilty of missing His righteous standard. We all need God’s power to turn away from “our standard of what’s right” and submit to God’s righteous standard. All of God’s standards are written in His holy Script.
One of the things that troubles me is to see “confessing followers of Jesus” reinterpret God’s word to mean something different from what God meant to say. We don’t have the luxury of making the bible fit what we want it to say. Sadly, we are all guilty of making God’s word fit what we want it to say rather than submitting to His ways.
And when we begin to legalize laws that contradict God’s laws, they will be met with horrible consequences down the road (unless God intervenes). Does someone have the right to marry someone of the same sex? Of course. If the law of the land permits it, you have the freedom to choose to. But the truth is that the laws of the land doesn’t supersede the laws of the Land Owner! That will be a future blog. The God of heaven is revealed in the Scriptures as the King of all the nations (from the United States government to the Islamic Ruled countries) whether they submit to Him or not. And a lot of times, to me, it sure doesn’t look like the God of righteousness is ruling all the nations in the earth. But the Scriptures show God ruling and moving even in the middle of chaotic leadership in kingdoms and troublesome circumstances, for example – Moses, Esther, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednigo, David, Jesus, Paul. God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy is really coming and He asks all people everywhere to repent and turn to the One who was crushed on a cross for our sins, even the sin of same-sex desires. God will provide the power and strength by His Spirit to enable anyone to glorify Him in their bodies. That is…if we want Him.
But I pray that those who oppose this view from Scripture will come to this conclusion: I trust God’s word to be truthful and trustworthy in all totality or I don’t trust God’s word to be truthful and trustworthy in all totality. Of course, I want you to believe the former! If you trust God to be true, ask for His help to follow Him. If you don’t trust God to be true found in the Scriptures, then let’s deal there. But don’t make God’s Scriptures say things it doesn’t say, like, same-sex desires are good, natural, and normal.
Proverbs 16:25 There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. NLT
From the famous Hip Hop song in the 90’s, “Me, Myself, And I” by De La Soul, I am reminded of this true reality in our American culture. Although this song isn’t about being selfish, viewing the title, at first glance, communicates where I’m going. The “chorus” screams a desire inside of me that focuses on my own glory. I hate to even say that! But I believe it holds true everywhere in the world today. I’m sure many of you can identify with this because this is the theme we saw, heard, tasted, touched, and even breathed everyday when we were in our “yesteryears” (growing up days). American society breeds striving to be the best so that I can be seen, performing for others approval, etc. which at the end goal being…drumroll please…us! The conclusion of this fleeting pursuit focuses on…come on and say it with me…chorus…it’s just “Me, Myself, And I”. The focus on our efforts of blood, sweat, and tears is us centered.
But the “Me, Myself, And I” chorus is the total opposite in the economy of the unseen and the spiritual.
You see, in the Lord’s economy, the theme of life and all the world points to the glory, honor, praise, celebration, highlights, bragging, boasting, showing off, etc. of Jesus Christ. And when He commands all to “deny ourselves”, take up Jesus’ cross daily, and follow His way of living, we learn daily that all things are for Him, to Him, and through Him! Following Jesus means emptying and laying aside our fame, honor, and importance in the eyes of others (and ourselves I might add) and living for the fame, honor, glory, etc. of Another.
Man, why didn’t somebody tell me that playing sports growing up was not about trying to build my “resume of glory” but to reflect the glory of Jesus Christ? Why couldn’t I see my efforts and energy in learning in school was tied to bringing honor to Christ? What about how I look, dress, etc…all should be brought back to giving praise to the Lord for His creativity. Helping others to succeed in life is tied to reflecting the glory of Jesus Christ. Whether it’s tutoring or mentoring others, giving random gifts of kindness, or giving your time by stepping in when someone needs you to cover for them, all of these are meant to point to the One who in His very nature is good. You see, the definition of goodness is Jesus. The epitome of goodness is Jesus. He is kind. He is glorious! He is powerful! He is all knowing! He is all seeing! He is all wise! Doggone it…He is wisdom and knowledge…treasures of it!
May you ask yourself and see if you are living a life of the chorus, “Me, Myself, And I”, as the motivation in existing. No doubt our society encourages this self-seeking glory. Believe me, I’m looking at my life with you as well. In my 39 years young life, true living is found in living for the glory of another… Him, Him, And Him!
Romans 11:36 For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.
Are there moments where you struggle to live out what you “preach”? Of course! If we are honest, we all struggle to live out what we say.
Join the club!
That statement hits home with me because I serve as a pastor. And quite frankly, that statement posed some serious concerns for me serving as a pastor before becoming one. The reason why it was a problem for me and probably for you as well, is that we are surrounded with scandal after scandal of stories from the news, on the internet, or heated conversations in the barbershop, about pastors who are supposed to be telling us the right way to live and later find out they are practicing the same things. “I don’t want to be accused of living hypocritically. I don’t want anyone looking at me sideways and already assume, ‘off the top’ (from the beginning) that I have a hidden agenda to womanize or get rich, etc.”, are statements I’ve made in my heart before serving as a pastor. Then the Lord commanded a brotha (me) to feed His sheep (HA)!
One thing I am learning in this journey of shepherding people is the subtle drift of missing the application to myself after understanding the bible passages and coming up with creative ways to articulate God’s truth! This is so easy to do. What I am training myself to do, these days, is to come to God’s word with a heart and mind that says to Jesus, while getting an understanding of the text during preparation to preach, “What does this text mean to me Lord? What would You have me to do as a result of what Your word is saying?” During this self examination, I have the opportunity to allow Holy Spirit to fill me with the truth in my heart. Then I can actually live out what the Scriptures says. After the process of following Jesus personally, examples and creative ways to articulate the truth floods my mind. Now I can instruct others out of a heart of obedience to Christ!
The challenge to “humble down” before the Word Of God and follow Him is the everyday struggle, not just before preaching. I wrote about a similar struggle briefly in a previous blog here. Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord and His word first. That way, we can “preach” what we are living (by God’s enabling).
I Timothy 4:16 ESV Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
When I was growing up, I was heavily involved in extracurricular activities. Playing basketball and football required a discipline that demanded much repetition in the fundamentals. Without perfecting the basics of the fundamentals, your ability to excel to higher levels of playing are diminished. When you are familiar to the basics of how things work, you are put in a better position to respond and react positively in unfamiliar situations. Without the fundamentals, you become very limited as a player. When I think of doing ministry in the hood, I can’t help but think about the importance of being able to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of the Christian faith through repetitious disciplines of seeking the Lord in prayer, sharing the gospel with others regularly, being encouraged with other Christians, refraining from food (fasting) for more closeness to Jesus, memorizing, meditating, reading, hearing, and studying the Scriptures with glorifying Jesus being the ultimate purpose. When the fundamentals are familiar almost like second nature, then there comes a time when you will have to “play the game” in the moment.
Magic Johnson, the famous basketball Hall Of Fame inductee from the Los Angeles Lakers, is the perfect example of playing in the moment. He played so well in the moment that his team was nicknamed, around the country, “Showtime”. It was a masterpiece seeing the “Lake Show” or “Showtime” because Magic Johnson was the colorful orchestrator, like a band director, but on the basketball court. His behind the back, between the legs, electrifying passes would have your jaws drop from amazement. You never knew what he was going to do on a fast break to the basket. He never knew what he was going to do on a fast break! He just played in the moment. And the reason he was able to dazzle on the basketball court was because he knew the fundamentals of the game. When you know the fundamentals of something, you can begin to build on other creative ways of doing the same things. Doing discipleship in the hood is the same way.
When I was trained to follow Jesus (discipleship) on the college campus, I did a lot of fill-in-the-blank workbooks, comprehending Scriptures and writing out it’s meaning, inductive bible studies, etc. for growth and understanding. I could do it all day, everyday, for I was hungry for learning! But when you are in the hood, many of the people you are investing in don’t connect with the same style of learning. Many of the men in the hood are not avid or voracious readers. So, with all the fundamental training you may have, there has to be wisdom, (by asking the Lord for the best way), to discipline others through the Scriptures. This is what I call “Showtime”. All the analogies, subject matter, and examples you have personally learned must not be relied on too heavily. You must begin to look at who you are discipling and begin to figure out the best way they learn. Because someone doesn’t comprehend the way you do, doesn’t mean people in the hood aren’t smart! You must trust the Lord for creative ways to communicate His word in their understanding so that they can grasp it.
Can a brotha be honest with you? Doing “Showtime” can be scary because you can’t mimic “Showtime”. Doubt will fill your heart when you’re doing “Showtime”. This is where you need to trust the Lord that He is with you and He will give you what you need to say and do in the moments of helping others grow in Christ. He promises His presence when we train others in Christ (Matthew 28:20). I remember leading a Men’s Bible Study in a local barber shop in the hood a couple of years ago. I had no script of how to do it. I hung out in the barber shop trying to build a friendship with the owner of the shop through a mutual friend. I mentioned nothing spiritually deep until 3 weeks of hanging in the shop. “What do you think about having a bible study here in your shop”, I asked. To my surprised he responded emphatically, “We need something like that like yesterday (it’s about time)!” Then I said, “Well, since that’s the case let’s start on Tuesday”. “Okay”, he said. Without having any theme in my mind on what to study, I wanted to be open to the Lord in what He thought would be best to teach. So I asked the owner, “What do you think the bible study should be about?” His response shakes me up to this day, “Man, let the bible study be about something where men around here can have hope”. I had never given a bible study with a theme like that before. I had the fundamentals to find out how to do it. But I was going to jump out there and try it anyway. Every Tuesday night at 6pm I would highlight different people in the Scripture who faced difficult times and how God helped them. Some were situations where they were sinned against and some were from their own consequences of sin. I was used to the format of bible study being someone teaching and everyone listened. But I made the bible study a dialogue where it gave the men a chance to talk about what they were seeing and learning. I would throw out controlled questions that tied into the person’s trial we were dealing with in the Scripture. At the end of each lesson, I would play a Hip Hop song of people who grew up in a similar hood like them. Rappers like Thi’sl (Chronicles of an X Hustler) or Flame (Our World Fallen) were the main guys I would play then. And each song tied into the theme of the bible lesson for that week. As a result, men were flooding the barber shop every Tuesday Night at 6pm for many months! I’m talking about roughneck (tough) dudes with gold in their mouth, tattooed up, and dreads for days! Many drug dealers, thugs, and gangsters came in the shop listening, speaking up, and participating in the bible study! This study was just like Magic Johnson on a fast break with the Lakers…creating and trusting in the moment! As I look back, there is no way possible I could have ever scripted that amazing ministry. That special time allowed me to cut hair regularly with the owner of the barber, build relationships with many of the men in the community who still to this day have given me an open door to continue building relationships because of that study! But none of this would’ve happened if I would have stuck to a script in the way I was trained. That ministry lasted almost an entire year before the Lord shut it down (for various reasons).
There will be moments when helping people follow Jesus will be heavily informal with the men in the hood. For them to see (up close) how a Christian live can be mind-blowing, to many, but minor to you. Many are used to seeing grandma walking with the Lord. For me to be 38 years old, the Lord has used my life to be a blessing and encouragement to these men. Please trust that the Lord is speaking and doing all kinds of things to those you’re spending your time with. A lot of times I don’t realize it. There’s an old saying that says, “More is caught than taught”. You can take that saying to the bank in training others in following Jesus in the hood. Many in the hood have training in the negative aspects of life. Seeing the gospel lived in your life in front of them through helping them follow Jesus’ relationship is a profound thing. Just know as we’re growing in the fundamentals, there will come the time when it becomes “Showtime”.
One of my favorite animated movies is, “Kung Fu Panda”, because one of the themes of the movie deals with the identity question, “Who am I”. Po, the fat, smelly, untrained panda, was anointed as the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway over the rigorously trained, Fabulous Five. Their trainer was the best Kung Fu instructor in China, Master Shifu. Now Master Shifu has to train the untrained Po before the enemy comes to wreak havoc on the town. Po has a hard time believing that his anointing as the Dragon Warrior was correct because he continues to compare himself to the other trained kung fu masters and gripes over how he doesn’t measure up. Po almost gives up until Master Shifu shifts his training to what would work best for training Po (“Showtime ministry” will be explained on the next blog). Po eventually realizes that he is the dragon warrior by believing within himself. Just like Master Oogway had chosen and told Po he was the dragon warrior, Jesus chose and tells us through His word, that we are sons of the living God who have been made in His image and likeness. We have been created with enormous dignity and value.
For years I’ve struggled with identity issues…and still do from time to time. Looking back on my life, I was subconsciously despising myself. I felt inferior to my peers in serving with a college ministry because one, I wasn’t the life of the party like the older ministers were and two, many of the students flocked to them for leadership instead of me. I struggled with this even in high school as I watched the most popular guy on our basketball team get celebrated for his sexual prowess towards a beautiful girl we all knew. As he explained the details of his encounter, I began to examine the many who were elated with great praise of his accomplishments. I was a little ninth-grader looking to be “significant” in the eyes of others. And the conclusion I made from observing the ruckus was, “to get acceptance with those around you, one must live a life of promiscuity”. So I pursued that life to gain a “successful identity” in the eyes of others. No one told me the terrible pains that follow this type of pursuit for significance. And, many of us, including those in the hood, do those things in order to get an identity from the streets. The value of ourselves is wrapped up in what others think of us and not what God thinks of us.
When you are able to embrace this truth of knowing who you are in Christ, you will begin to move from feeling inferior to the hood culture (or any culture) to feeling affirmed in who God has made you to be…wonderfully and fearfully made in His image, from His hand. You will be able to be comfortable in any culture because the Lord has made you to be unique and special as well. You will be walking and serving in strength and giving strength to those in the hood in the arena of identity.
When it comes to discipleship in the hood, there is one important thing one must know and consider. You need to be yourself. In the hood, no one likes a pretender or someone who is trying too hard to fit in. In the hood, this is seen as weak…not being strong enough to be your own person. This is different from becoming all things to all people. The concept here is be yourself as you are trying to find common ground with those you are serving.
I remember looking for someone in the hood and couldn’t find him. But as I walked in the store looking for him, his friend was there…high as a kite (intoxicated with drugs). So I proceeded to share the gospel with him after asking him bluntly, “Man are you high, dog?” I shared with him how the Lord saved me and empowered me to stop drinking. I left the shop and the next day, word got out that I offended him. Being a sensitive-type guy, I went back to the gentleman and said, “Man, if I offended you by how I said what I said, I am sorry. Was there anything I said that rubbed you the wrong way?” To my surprise, his response taught me something valuable! “Man, you didn’t offend me dude. You cool with me. You was just blowin’ (discouraging) my high that’s all. Man, you keep doin’ you (be yourself) and you will be fine. You straight (okay) with me ”, was his response. Right there, in that moment, I understood that it was okay to be myself in any situation.
So what does being yourself look like? If you are naturally a quiet person, there is no need to get loud around people who are loud in communicating. If you normally speak “proper english”, there is no need to speak “slang”. The truth of the matter is our personalities have been shaped by God. We are quiet, loud, personal, funny, not so funny, observant, not so observant, go along with the flow, stickler to detail, aggressive, laid back people because the Lord has used circumstances and events in our lives to shape us into the people He has made us to be. And when we come into environments with people who act, think, or process differently than you, you can be confident (in the Lord) that who you are is cool (okay).
It is so important to be who God has made you to be in order to be effective in discipling men and women in the hood. But, in order to do this effectively, you must be able to know, “who you are”. It is very difficult to “do you” (be yourself) when you don’t know “who you are”. And when you don’t know who you are, those in the hood will not be interested in following you as you follow Christ.
In my opinion, discipleship ministry in the hood (or in any place) reminds me of the movie “Avatar”.
Jake, the main character of the movie, is an ex-marine learning the culture of the Na’vi people. For three months Jake learns the ways of the Na’vi people by “becoming like” them. How does Jake become like them? He “quantum leaps” into a “Na’vi suit” in order to connect, learn, and understand the indigenous Na’vi. When Jake lives in his Na’vi suit, he is submitting himself to the customs of the Na’vi culture.
This example is classic I Corinthians 9:23 where Paul says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some”. Paul says in verse 19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. Paul is describing the necessary groundwork it will take to reach people with the good news of the gospel.
Just like Jake learned, embraced, and even loved the Na’vi culture in the movie, we must do the same in discipling others in the hood. Without becoming all things to those in the hood, the hood will not follow or give attention to someone they don’t know or trust. None of us would or should follow someone we don’t know or trust.
Jake eventually earned their trust and led a war with the Na’vi people to victory against the enemy (humans) who were looking to take all of the Na’vi natural resources…the very people Jake was a part of helping at first. If you are following Christ in the hood, He can and will use you to model, show, and teach Christlikeness with them as you follow Christ.
Now, please don’t hear me saying you must love and embrace cultural things that are clearly sinful, which is spelled out in God’s word like fornication, intoxication, idolatry, murder, or adultery. But what I am saying is that one must see and appreciate the many parts of the culture that is good and righteous by practicing with them.
Another observation in the movie you will notice: Jake “sells out” (immerses himself) to the culture in a way that eventually won the Na’vi people. The Na’vi people knew from day one that Jake was different and foreign to their culture, though he “looked like them”. If you are not from the hood, you will stick out like a sore thumb! You will be an alien! Amazingly and thankfully, the clan’s spiritual leader ordered her daughter to initiate Jake into their society. Jake was given the rights to learn the Na’vi culture through one of it’s leaders.
It is wise for the leaders of the hood to give you the rite of passage into the culture. When the leaders of the culture give you permission to join them, what the culture is saying, is, that they trust you. In other words, the Lord has given you favor to be with them.
Now, if your “discipleship” is a ploy to take over the hood with an agenda to make money, exploit, or colonize them to become like your culture (Jake was okay with doing this at first), you will not be able to reach them or influence the culture for Christ’s sake. But if you are becoming a student of the hood, in order to be a blessing to the hood, discipleship can and will naturally flow and have major impact as you trust the Lord for wisdom.
“Go to the people, Live among them, Learn from them, Love them, Start with what they know, Build on what they have: But of the best leaders, When their task is done, The people will remark “We have done it ourselves.” -Chinese Proverb