Heretics, Critics, Politics, and Being Ticked

Today I’ve been thinking about Archbishop Oscar Romero. For one, we share first names. For two, his commitment to reconciliation, justice and love for all is astounding. Listen to the love found in his plea:

“And so, brothers and sisters, I repeat again what I have said here so often, addressing by radio those who perhaps have caused so many injustices and acts of violence, those who have brought tears to so many homes, those who have stained themselves with the blood of so many murders, those who have hands soiled with tortures, those who have calloused their consciences, who are unmoved to see under their boots a person abased, suffering, perhaps ready to die. To all of them I say: no matter your crimes. They are ugly and horrible, and you have abased the highest dignity of a human person, but God calls you and forgives you. And here perhaps arises the aversion of those who feel they are laborers from the first hour. How can I be in heaven with those criminals? Brothers and sisters, in heaven there are no criminals. The greatest criminal, once he has repented of his sins, is now a child of God.”

groupRomero believed in a Jesus who called His people to join God in making right what sin and death had made wrong in this world. He believed that the pursuit of biblical justice and the reconciliation of all people to God and one another, including the reconciliation and forgiveness of the oppressed and oppressor, was paramount to the gospel. He believed that all people were made in the image of God and should be treated as such.

As a priest who lived in El Salvador during the 1960s and 1970s he witnessed systemic oppression and violence. He decided he could no longer remain complicit by his inactivity and that the Church was called to model a different way of being in the world, which would inevitably disrupt the prevailing powers that surrounded the Church. He experienced opposition from all sides, even from within the Church. Knowing this position would cost him his life he once said, “As a Christian I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

On March 24, 1980, after speaking out against U.S. military support for the government of El Salvador, and calling for soldiers to disobey orders to fire on innocent civilians, Archbishop Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass at the small chapel of the cancer hospital where he lived. To this day no one is certain who was responsible for his assassination.

“Speak up, judging righteously, and defending the cause of the oppressed and needy,” says the wise man.¹

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus and His apostles tell us.²

“Be reconciled to God and one another, forgiving and welcoming one another as you have been forgiven and welcomed by God,” the Scriptures remind us.³

There must come a day when these words move from the printed pages of Scripture to the witness of God’s people actively present in society. We must do more than affirm these teachings in our gatherings or on social media. They must be embodied and embraced as a new of being in society that leads to a different way of doing life in society as a people in submission to the Lordship of Jesus.

So why Oscar Romero? Well, his life reminds me that this way of being and doing will not be received by all, including those who bear the name “Christian.” The truth is some Christians are more unknowingly culturally-minded than kingdom-minded. Many bearing the name “Christian” will vehemently deny that there’s anyone to “speak up” for and will label you with politically-charged categorical names. Many will deny that reconciliation is more important that cultural, historical or national commitments. Many will deny (implicitly rather than explicitly) that loving neighbor actually does mean treating them as they would be treated.

UnknownJesus once said (and the context of this statement is so important), “A prophet will not be accepted in his own hometown.”4  Don’t let Jesus’ words discourage you. I don’t believe they were meant to. I think they were offered as a statement of what is and what will be when we take His proclamation to heart and follow Him in making it our own. In a North American culture where civility is lacking and civic freedom is valued above all else, don’t be surprised when criticism and opposition comes from those closest to you. You will feel the pressure of opposition from one end of the church pew to the other. It is what it is. Jesus knows it. The disciples knew it. Oscar Romero knew it. You and I need to remember it.

In his most provocative sermon Jesus once asked, “Why do you call me Lord and do not do what I say?5 Most that come against the good news of justice, reconciliation and peace will not know how to answer. Let’s make sure you and I know how, and let’s do so humbly.

Like Oscar Romero, the disciples and our Lord, we cannot back-up, give up, shut up, or even buck-up with a reactionary, antagonistic ticked-off posture. We must choose to be faithful, surrender to the Spirit, and embody the gospel we proclaim, even toward those criticizing from the church pews. And we must remember that the blessed presence of Jesus and the joy that comes from standing with Him far outweighs the labels, allegations and criticisms arising from critics and politics dressed in the clothes of religion.

Press on, my friend.


1. Proverbs 31:9

2. Matt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8

3. Matt. 5:24; Rom. 5:10; 15:7; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Col. 1:20

4. Luke 4:24 (read the whole context beginning in Luke 4:16 and catch what Jesus does in 25-27).

5. Luke 6:46

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The Courts of Public Opinion and the School of Denial

Seven predominately African American church buildings burn down in two weeks. Three are known arson cases while the others are still under investigation. I could be wrong, but I am not sure it is possible to argue this as coincidental. Not today. Not while the subject of racism has finally been lifted from the ashes of denial.

Two Reigns

My worldview involves thinking about the world in light of two reigns (or you might say “kingdoms”).¹ One reign is what the apostle Paul referred to as the reign of sin and death. This is a systemic description of not just the human condition (it is more than human anthropology) but the socio-cultural condition (it speaks to socio-cultural anthropology). It is the sphere of human existence where violence and fear is both justified and exemplified, and where power is most often expressed through assertion capable of giving birth to injustice and oppression. It is the place where self-actualization is the trump card, and where I, or a society, is free to determine what is right, wrong, good and just. Sometimes these postures are dressed in the clothes of religion, sometimes not. Consequently, it becomes a society schooled in Denial and leads to an ongoing rebellion against God and His intentions for both humanity and the world, which have always been wholeness, compassion, righteousness and love. This is not to say that those living under this reign are bad people. Not at all. It is simply a part of my worldview that just is.

The other reign is what the apostle Paul calls the reign of grace. This too is a systemic description of both the human and socio-cultural condition. It is the sphere of our human existence where violence and fear is trumped by reconciliation and peace (shalom), and where power is expressed only through humble, self-giving love. It is the place where humility gives birth to generosity and hospitality. It is a place where faith is the light by which those living in this sphere both see and walk. But it is not a generic faith. It is a faith that rests singularly in a trust (not just a belief) that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and King, and that as Lord and King He alone determines what is right, wrong, good and just, because it is believed that He is what God looks like.² As the apostle John once said, Jesus is “the divine Logic (logos) of God made flesh,” and He—his way of being and doing life in the world, including his death and triumphant resurrection–is what God has to say to humanity. God had so much to say to the world He loves that He couldn’t say it all in a collection of pages, so He had to say it in the form of a Person, specifically in and through His own Incarnation.³

Those who live under the reign of grace are called to pursue humility and trust that there is no need to resort to the old ways of violence and fear. Their hope, identity, and security rests in a kingdom that will never be in trouble. Those living here have nothing to prove and can let go of the defensive postures the reign of sin and death encourages because they are learning what it means to love and be loved. They remain aware that they share responsibility in the brokenness prevalent in society and are committed to living in God’s presence where their way of being in the world makes His reign tangible in the midst of the reign of sin and death. Finally, because those living under the reign of grace are a reconciled and forgiven community they are commanded to do what it takes to become a reconciling and forgiving community. They should become a community that refuses to be schooled in Denial and readily admit that the reign of sin and death upholds systems of injustice, violence and fear. They do not bury their heads in the sand or separate themselves from the world. They enter into it, even into the suffering and violence, because this is what their Lord has done. This way of being and doing in the world becomes their way of bearing witness to their Lord’s reign of grace.

But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I don’t.

I’ve lived in both “reigns.” Though I’ve chosen to live the rest of my life in the reign of grace there are times I find myself living according to the old rules of the reign of sin and death. The events of the past few weeks remind me that I’m not the only one.

Buildings like a CVS burn down in cities during public outcries in the form of protest, and suddenly my Facebook newsfeed explodes with opinions laced with words like “thugs,” “lazy” and “entitled.” Most of these opinions were coming from people claiming to live in the reign of grace who are called to embrace the way of life the reign of grace demands. Yet, church buildings where our African American brothers and sisters meet are burning down and I see little to nothing in the court of public opinion called Facebook. No outcries have filled my newsfeed from any of the friends who were anything but short on opinions during the protests. I cannot say why with certainty, but I have an idea.

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The School of Denial

Denial has always had a few schools located in the reign of grace. It has employed many pastors, politicians and political pundits as it’s teachers. As fellow graduates of the School of Denial, these teachers are trained to offer rational, philosophical, sociological and theological explanations that are convincing and compelling. A false narrative of innocence is told in light of what we see, especially when it comes to the “isms” of society. Invitations to indifference and apathy are extended. A diploma of Denial is gladly received upon graduation in to a life of unrealized complicity to the reign from which we were rescued. It is here that,

the poor are politicized; racism is denied; religious certitude is paramount; the two-thirds world goes on mostly ignored; loving enemies is optional and situational; sexual preferences and orientations are threatening; freedom and hope is built upon nationalistic realities and promises that lead down various paths of entitlement.

The truth is I am an alum of the School of Denial. I have the diploma hanging on the wall of my heart. Occasionally I find myself returning for continuing education classes. But the longer I live in the reign of grace and allow the Sacred Text that bears witness to King Jesus confront my life, the more my denial turns to awareness and complicity to compassion.

The past few weeks remind me that I have a long way to go. I am still learning what it means to live in the reign of grace. The courts of public opinion reminds me that I am not alone.

May our Lord become our Teacher and may we become His faithful apprentices. May we follow Him to the peculiar and gracious way of life that is found in the reign of grace.


1. Romans 5:12-21 & C0lossians 1:13-14

2. Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9-10

3. John 1:1-4, 14-17; 21:25

 

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Our Partnering Churches: Welcome Grace Covenant Presbyterian!

Fred:

It is amazing to know how God is moving in 3e Restoration. We are excited to announce that Grace Covenant Presbyterian is becoming a partnering Church. What does that mean? They are getting equipped and empowered to walk in a relational and communal way (versus a programmatic way) by extending gracious hospitality to a friend/family in need living through homelessness toward holistic sufficiency. They join Williamsburg Christian Church, King of Glory, New Town United Methodist, Williamsburg United Methodist and Common Ground Church (in Fredericksburg VA) in taking the long and beautiful grace-filled journey of intentionally walking with and embracing men, women and families through homelessness in meaningful communal relationship. Friends living through homelessness are not outreach projects to be objectified. They are human beings to be embraced and included in the life of God’s people through gracious hospitality, despite the difficulty and peculiarity of their circumstances.

My favorite part about 3e Restoration Inc is that we are not a para-church organization doing the work for the churches. We are an “equipping” organization helping churches discover how they can do the work of embracing those society considers the last, least, left-out and lonely in the life of their community. We walk with the churches in the hope that one day we (3e Restoration Inc) will no longer be necessary. Homelessness is a peculiar circumstance that requires a particular and intentional relationship that necessitates a specific equipping. We are honored to join churches in this journey and in joining God in faithfully bearing witness to His in-breaking kingdom in dark and difficult places.

Thank you Grace Covenant for your willingness to join God in bringing restoration to the lives of many and in bringing peace, justice and gracious hospitality to Greater Williamsburg!

In God’s grace, just within our first year fourteen friends/families are no longer living through homelessness. Nine of these friends/families are walking through the 3e Restoration Process with a new community of relationships and new vision of life. With new churches committing to join this God-birthed movement, many more will find housing and healing, relationship and restoration!

Read below!

Originally posted on Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church:

3E Logo
​3E Restoration is offering a new round of training labs, equipping those interested in helping our neighbors in need.   3E’s strategy has a proven track record moving folks from homelessness to self sufficiency.unnamed
Grace Covenant is excited to be entering into partnership with 3E.  Our Deacons have committed to support this ministry financially, and we are committed to adopting a family to walk through the 3E Process.  To do that we need a team of volunteers – Servant Leader Coordinators and All In Friends.
3E’s Training Labs prepare those who want help.  This Summer the Training Labs will be held on two Saturdays in July – July 18 & July 25.  There is a $99 fee for the training, to help cover costs and assist in process development, which Grace Covenant will gladly cover.  Just let us know you are signing up.
For those interested but not yet…

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A Theology of Weekly Communal Worship: A Rehearsal for Life Lived in God’s Presence

Dec 2012
Last week someone asked me to describe our Sunday worship gatherings at Williamsburg Christian Church (we have two identical gatherings each Sunday). My answer was something like this: we are learning to believe that our larger Sunday worship gatherings are, in a sense, a rehearsal of how to live in the presence of God throughout the other six days of the week.

Here is what I mean.

Each Sunday we are called together, as one people, to hear God speak; after we are sent back into the world for His mission. Our communal worship both determines and reinforces our identity and mission through our liturgies of praise, ritual and symbol; this is why we believe that it is, in a sense, a rehearsal of what should happen in and through our lives Monday through Saturday. In our worship gatherings we seek to nurture a faith that leads us away from merely working for God to working with God; from merely gathering for God to gathering with God. Worship forms our imaginations with a ‘kingdom-shaped’ perspective. Our Sunday liturgy, what we do when we come together, seeks to model our way of life–the way of blessing, the culmination of the common life rooted in our true identity, and the preparation for mission.

In the music our hearts are provoked to call out to God in praise, thanksgiving, lament, and confession. We also “teach one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” as we declare God’s faithful love and holy presence in, among, and through us as citizens of His kingdom.¹

In our Confession & Proclamation we confess and proclaim the realties of our faith in Jesus as Lord and His in-breaking kingdom, as revealed to us through the Scriptures. If our hearts are open we can be formed by the confession and proclamation of these truths as we read Scripture aloud as one body, with one voice.²

In our time of Scripture & Silence we practice confession, repentance, and listening to God in prayer. Scripture is read aloud and a few minutes of silence follow. As our lives are filled with many “voices” seeking our attention and affection, this time of Scripture and Silence trains us to make room in our hurried hearts and anxious minds to hear and discern the Spirit’s voice. If God is present within and among us, and if we are willing to practice hospitality toward Him by making room for Him to speak, we believe He will do so as learn to be still and know that He is God.³

In the teaching, preaching, and public discussion of Scripture our imaginations are stirred to envision the world our trinitarian God is creating through Jesus our Lord, His intentions with it, and what it looks like to live as though Jesus is the Lord who is making all things new.4 Through the proclamation and discussion of Scripture we are reminded of our place within God’s work. Some Sundays we will preach. Some Sundays we will practice lectio devina. Some Sundays we will engage in open conversation. Some times we will do a mix of either. But each Sunday the Scriptures are engaged as God’s inspired witness of the Living Word that became flesh, King Jesus. This naturally leads us to His Table.

At the Table we share in the Bread and Wine as we practice remembrance, gratefulness, celebration and experience a renewed imagination. Some call this time “Communion,” some “Lord’s Supper,” and others, “Eucharist.” Eucharist is the weekly rehearsal of the gospel narrative that prepares us for mission: the practice of receiving the welcome of Christ.5  As we partake of the bread and wine with an attitude of faith and self-examination, we remember and proclaim the death of Christ, receive spiritual nourishment for our souls, and signifies our unity with Christ’s universal Church.  It is in this practice we acknowledge both our need and common belonging, which becomes our training for life in the world.  The same kind of welcome extended to us by Christ becomes the same kind of welcome we extend to others.6  If we understand the Eucharist this way, our personal tables become an extension of the Lord’s table.  Our lunch tables become extensions of the Lord’s table.  Our cubicles become extensions of the Lord’s table–because we remember that we are to be as welcoming to the person who cleans our trash as to the person who signs our paychecks.

In our Offering we share in the needs of one another, our city and world as we give to God and His mission.7 In our giving we are trained to be freed from the things we own. We are reminded that all is gift because all comes from God.8

Finally, we enjoy one another’s company. We reconnect with those we rarely see throughout the week and to those we see often. We are reminded that our immediate family in Christ is bigger than those with whom we spend a great deal of our time. As we gather we want to encourage one another to “hold fast to our confession” and “consider how to stir up one another in love and good works.”9 When our gathering is over we are sent out by receiving a Benediction–a blessing–to live as a people sent by God to bear witness to all we have seen and heard.10

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This is at least one way to describe our Sunday worship gathering. You might even say it forms for us a theology of weekly communal worship.

Of course, our Sunday gathering is not the only way we live as a church family. We embrace other shared practices. We are also a collective of missional communities that gather throughout the week in neighborhoods for the sake of deepening our love for God, one another, and those living in our neighborhoods as we seek to be present there as a blessing. But as we participate in the larger Sunday gathering, rather than sit back as spectators, our lives are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ and we are ready to once again participate in what He is doing in the world through His Church.

How does your church family or faith community gather? What is your church’s “theology” of worship? How does it equip the people of God for the work of ministry?


1. Ephesians 5:18-21

2. 1 Timothy 4:13; Hebrews 4:12-13

3. Psalm 46:10; Matthew 11:28-30; John 10:14-26; James 4:5-10

4. Matthew 4:17; Acts 28:30-31; 2 Timothy 4:1-4

5. Luke 22:14-23

6. Romans 15:71 Corinthians 11:17-26; Matthew 5:23-24; 2 Corinthians 13:5;

7. 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Galatians 5:13-14; 6:9-10

8. James 1:17; Deuteronomy 8:17-18

9. Hebrews 10:23-25

10. John 17:20-26Matthew 28:16-20; Ephesians 4:11-161 Corinthians 4:16Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:8

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Embracing Peter

Peter Baptism Pic

Peter has held out his hand to God’s people a few times before just to have them push it away. At least that is what it felt like when the last two churches asked Peter and his friends to leave and not return. Peter and his friends live with developmental disabilities. Some live with mental illness. It is not they find it difficult to connect relationally with others, it is that others find it difficult to connect relationally with them. What they need is a community of people to see that they are more than the sum total of their disabilities and illnesses. They too are people, dearly loved by God and made in His image. If there’s anything I’ve learned about God, everything He creates possesses a unique beauty and should be cherished and valued. Peter and his friends are of extraordinary intrinsic value and possess a unique beauty that when clearly seen, adds vibrant colors to the palette of life and community.

It was only a year ago when I received a call that the second church asked Peter and the rest of his friends to leave. I do not know why. I guess it hints at not being able to see beyond their disabilities and illness. Or maybe it is as I suggested before, a couple of assisted living homes housing men and women with developmental disabilities and mental illness make “doing church” difficult and uncomfortable. And as in Lisa’s story, the picture shows what they missed.

This wonderful young man in his thirty’s is a talented, thoughtful and kind man. He needed to know that he was wanted by God and His people. After a few months of experiencing this kind of love and embrace he decided he wanted to be a Christian. Now he is. I am honored to have him as my brother in this journey of following Jesus.

I’m grateful for a church that welcomes all with radical embrace. Now we must press on into the difficult work of trusting God to form us into His beloved community.

Oh, and Peter would want me to tell you that he is an artist and a rapper. He likes to draw pictures that express his love for Jesus. He is quite good at it. His favorite thing to do is write songs about a God who loves him. For real, Peter has skills. He hopes that one day we will hear his songs on the radio. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?

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The Pages of Past & Present

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My wife and I watched the movie Selma. It happened only fifty years ago. Fifty years. That generation still lives as grandfathers and grandmothers who raised sons and daughters who have become fathers and mothers of children today.

Only humility will help us see that the pages of past and present demonstrate what the Scriptures have long explained: the reign of sin and death runs deep in the soil where the roots of injustice grow. 

May we be humble. May God awaken our hearts and may He have mercy.

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Institutionalization or a Movement

  
One thing that seems to keep a church from living on mission with God and from forming missional impulses is a lack of shared imagination. When I say “shared imagination” I mean a shared way of envisioning what life and society can look like when Jesus is Lord of all. When shared imagination is lacking, the Church tightens her grip on what she comfortably knows, postures her heart toward self-survival, and remains stagnant. Stagnancy always leads to death. But when a different way of being and doing life in society is imagined and shared by a community of gospel-formed people, a movement stirs and new life is created over and over again.

Institutions preserve culture. Movements create it. The gospel of King Jesus intends to create a movement in His people that through them creates a different kind of culture, one that seeks to be actively present in society in redemptive and restorative ways. This kind of community is capable of bearing witness to the alternative world God proposes to us in the Scriptures through the work of King Jesus.

In spite of what the picture suggests I have great hope for the Church. The same Holy Spirit who has worked in imperfect people for 2000 years still works in imperfect people. And He still cultivates movements.

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