NDvsFSU

Longing for a Victory

Sports have an uncanny way of breaking your heart. I just finished watching the #5 ranked Notre Dame Irish go up against the #2 and defending champion Florida State Seminoles. The game came down to one last drive and though the Irish fought heroically, they lost 31-27.

Games like these force me to struggle with an emotional letdown. I keep telling myself, “It’s only a game. You shouldn’t feel so deflated.” But I think there must be something to this feeling of profound disappointment many of us feel when our favorite team loses the big game.

Longing for a Victory

I believe we are all longing for a final, climactic victory. We experience life like the big game. All that we’ve worked for comes down to one night. Our most ambitious dreams are in sight. Yet our most vicious and determined opponent stands in the way. While all the critics say we don’t stand a chance, their comments only feed our drive to win. At the end of the game all our hopes depend one play. One moment where we can prove everyone wrong, take hold of our destiny, and win the game. But we lose.

We want to revel in the thrill of victory. We want the satisfaction of knowing that all of our hard work and struggle have earned the highest reward. We want the recognition that although we may have made mistakes along the way, we still had the heart to emerge as champions.

Denied!

Yet all too often in life our team loses. We come within a hairsbreadth of achieving everything we desire only to come up short.

We don’t get the girl. We lose the job. We get the illness. We succumb to the addiction. We bury the loved one.The criminal gets acquitted. The child goes hungry. The people remain marginalized.

The truth is that we were made for victory. The Bible says that of all the creatures God made, we alone are described as being made “in His image”. And we alone were given dominion, or rule, over the entire earth (Genesis 1). We are meant to be the champions of creation in imitation of the Creator.

But we lost all of that when we sought victory apart from God. We forfeit our crowns when we tried to take His (Genesis 3). And yet we still bear the image of God. Although our ability to be victorious on this earth has been destroyed our desire for it has remained.

Life, of course, is much more serious than a football game. But the deep, almost spiritual effects of an important sports contest arouses in us the innate sense that we’re looking for a real victory. It awakens us to the reality that there’s another kind of life we were meant to live and another kind of world in which we were meant to live it, and this isn’t it. We long to fulfill our God-given purpose of ruling the earth, yet we are powerless to make it happen.

The Ultimate Victory

But God does not leave us in our defeat. Instead, He sends us a champion. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is the Victor for whom we’ve been waiting. He is the ultimate underdog who, when hanging on the cross, appeared to be defeated, but when He rose from the grave He defied all odds. He is the quarterback who, when the game is on the line and the opponent seems invincible, takes the ball and carries it in for the game-winning score.

We may not experience ultimate victory in this life. In fact, we certainly won’t experience the kind of final triumph that we want. But we can taste it right now. And we can be sure of it in the future when Jesus returns. Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection He emerged victorious over the most daunting opponents of all: sin, Satan, and death itself. Now through faith in Jesus we can be on the winning team, and we can experience the joy of gaining the biggest victory of all: eternal life in perfect peace with God.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.–1 John 5:4

skyline-1140x641

Doing Indigenous Reformed Theology

My passion has been to foster engagement between African Americans and Reformed theology. I know the term “reformed theology” may be unfamiliar to some, but it refers to the historic Protestant Reformation and the teachings that have arisen from it over the past five centuries.

I have discovered rich, substantive biblical material in the Reformed tradition. It has strengthened my spiritual maturity and devotion to God. Reformed theology as a branch of Christianity, however, is sorely lacking in racial and ethnic diversity. We have nearly limitless stores of insights to gain from hearing the perspectives of believers from different people groups. To do this most effectively, though, we cannot simply regurgitate the same ethnically homogenous formulations we already have (and I don’t mean that at all derogatorily). We must actually develop new methods for doing theology so that we can answer the questions and address the issues of different racial and ethnic groups in a biblical way.

A man named Carl Ellis, Jr. pointed me to the phrase “indigenous Reformed theology” as a way of expressing what needs to happen in the theological enterprise today. I wrote a post on it called “Doing Indigenous Reformed Theology” at my other website, the Reformed African American Network (raanetwork.org). The introduction to the post is below, and there’s a link to the rest of the post at the end.

Over 30 years ago Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. articulated his desire to see an indigenous Reformed movement in the African American community. Among other implications, this means doing theology appropriate to the challenges and questions African Americans face in this day. During the the 2014 Leadership Development and Resource (LDR) Weekend, I realized that were doing the indigenous Reformed theology of which Dr. Ellis speaks.

Indigenous Reformed theology among African Americans draws upon existing Reformed theological formulations, but it does not simply mimic them. While biblical truth is timeless, the applications of that truth are limitless. A truly Indigenous Reformed theology applies biblical truth to the unique social and cultural milieu of different communities, in this case, African Americans. You can read more about this topic here.

So what does this look like? If the LDR Weekend showcased examples of doing indigenous Reformed theology then what are those examples? 

Here’s a link to the remainder of the post. Doing Indigenous Reformed Theology

So what do you think so far? Any thoughts on addressing contemporary issues of racial and ethnic minorities from a biblical perspective and ideas on how to do that? Leave your comments below.

55th Annual Grammy Awards - Press Room

Lil’ Wayne, Lecrae, and Redemption

Two men.  Both Black. Both Grammy award-winning hip-hop artists.  Two completely different messages.  Within one week both Lil’ Wayne and Lecrae made headlines for their music, but for very different reasons.

Last week, Christian hip-hop artist, Lecrae, won a Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.  The prestige of music’s highest honor is noteworthy enough, but Lecrae’s achievement as a vocally Christian rapper is rare.

Lil’ Wayne’s Lyrics

In contrast, Lil’ Wayne, one of music’s most popular secular rappers, made news for lyrics that proved too controversial even for him.  Lil’ Wayne makes a featured appearance on the song “Karate Chop” by fellow hip-hop artist, Future.  The offending lyrics show up in the “remix” edition which was leaked a short time ago.  In the song Lil’ Wayne lyric refers to “rough sex and used an obscenity. He indicated he wanted to do as much damage as had been done to Till.

The part of the line that has caused so much controversy is the reference to Emmett Till.  In 1955, Till, just 14 years old, was brutally murdered in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a White woman.  The tragedy sent ripples across the nation as graphic images of the boy’s mutilated face (his mother had insisted on an open casket to display the brutality) were splashed across newspapers and magazines.  The two White men charged in the crime were both acquitted by an all-White jury.

Wayne’s lyric serves as painful reminder of the importance of Black History month.  Many will miss the offense of Wayne’s reference if they fail to understand the identity and significance of Emmet Till.  The maiming of Till’s memory, however, is just the start.

Read more at Urban Faith where this post originally appeared.

Lecrae Anomaly Cover Art

Faith-Filled Hip Hop Artist, Lecrae, Catches Jimmy Fallon’s Attention

I had taken a hiatus from Christian Hip Hop. I appreciated that guys were trying to use the genre in a positive way, but I just couldn’t get into it. The glitz of high production quality, ingenious (if depraved) lyrics, and the massive popularity of secular artists was too strong. I didn’t think that hip hop with a Christian message could compete in those areas. Then someone told me about Lecrae.

Early Career

The most important moment of Lecrae Moore’s life came at the age of 19 when he became a Christian. He immediately began spreading the good news about Jesus to friends and even detention center inmates. Already interested in hip hop music, he began using rhymes to tell about his Redeemer.

At the age of 25 he founded Reach Records and began producing solo albums as well as signing other artists. His first solo album was called “Real Talk” which was well received in Christian circles. He followed up that album with several more such as “After the Music Stops”, “Rebel”, “Rehab”, and “Rehab the Overdose”.

Moving to the Mainstream

Up until this time Lecrae had mostly been known in Christian circles, but he made a shift to the mainstream music scene in 2012. That year he released his first mixtape, “Church Clothes”, hosted by Don Cannon. His lyrics, while still faith-filled and positive, were less overtly Christian prompting criticism by some. But the mixtape proved immensely popular and was downloaded over 100,000 times in less than 48 hours. He followed up with the album “Gravity” and reached even higher levels of mainstream notoriety. With this album, Lecrae climbed to the pinnacle of success for any music artist. He garnered a Grammy for “Best Gospel Album”.

Yet Lecrae continues to break the laws of Christian music physics. He released his latest album, “Anomaly” on September 9, 2014. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, another first for Lecrae. While he is not a household name, the 34 year old lyricist sits in rare air as an accomplished music artist who has been outspoken about his Christianity while producing excellence in his craft.

“The Tonight Show” Starring Jimmy Fallon

As one sign of this recognition the popular late night host, Jimmy Fallon, will have Lecrae appear as a guest on The Tonight Show. Tune in on Thursday (9/18/2014) at 11:35/10:35pm CST to watch the interview and performances. But before you do that, listen to some of Lecrae’s music and see for yourself what it sounds like to be a hip hop artist who is making inroads into secular outlets while being unashamed about his Christian faith.

Single: “Nuthin'” on Soundcloud

Album: “Anomaly” on iTunes

Update: Here’s a segment from The Tonight Show on how Lecrae wrote the song “Nuthin”

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 2.04.04 PM

Sometimes Comedians Say It Better

Jon Stewart’s, The Daily Show, has 2.69 million followers on Twitter. After his segment about the situation in Ferguson, MO it’s easy to see why. I’m not a regular watcher of his show, and I certainly don’t agree with all that he has to say. But when he took on conservative news coverage and opinions about the situation in Ferguson his bold, humorous and perceptive insights had me hooked.

This post is not an endorsement of the swear words Mr. Stewart uses, nor do I intend to affirm any of his opinions or stances that he may espouse outside of this segment. I just felt like someone on television, a white male no less, actually articulated the feelings of some African Americans quite well. He blended humor, history, and cultural awareness to skewer conservative pundits and their interpretation of the death of unarmed African American teenager, Mike Brown, at the hands of white police officer, Darren Wilson.

Jon Stewart dives into the topic by asking this question…

Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?

And while many would respond to opinions opposite of their own with anger or convoluted arguments, Jon Stewart cuts to the heart of the response with humor.

Commentator: You know who talks about race? Racists.
Jon Stewart: Did you just “He-who-smelt-it-dealt-it” racism?!

And probably the most poignant line in the entire clip is this…

Here’s the problem with everything that’s going on in this conversation. This isn’t all about just one man killed in one town. It’s about how people of color, no matter their socioeconomic standing, face obstacles in this country with surprising grace.

But Jon Stewart summarizes his point well in this statement…

Race is there. And you’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how ____ exhausting it is to live it.

Although I’ve read dozens of posts (and written a few myself) about Ferguson and the resulting racial dialogue, at the end of the Jon Stewart’s segment, I was left thinking, “Sometimes comedians say it better.”

What do you think of Mr. Stewart’s segment on Ferguson?

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 8.32.30 PM

A Special Live Podcast on Ferguson

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri has consumed my attention for more than a week now, and I must confess I am weary. Emotional fatigue weighs on me, and I’ve even been physically affected by loss of sleep and the resulting sluggishness. In my role with the Reformed African American Network (RAAN), the African American Leadership Initiative (AALI), and as a Pastoral and Church Planting Apprentice at a multi-ethnic church I address topics of race and culture daily. While I am encouraged by the progress I’ve seen, the death of Mike Brown and the ensuing disruptions make me moan from my soul, “How long, O Lord?”

But today, for the first time since these events have unfolded I have felt a degree of hope. Pass the Mic, the official podcast of the RAANetwork, recorded a special, live broadcast on the topic of Mike Brown, Ferguson, and the Christian response. Finally, I was part of taking action, even if the action is as simple as having a conversation.

“Just more talk. Get up. Do something!”, some will say. I agree completely. Yet I do not underestimate the power of communication. In our age of social media and a constant news cycle we have a lot of talking but very little communication. Getting on the line with Tyler Burns and Michelle Higgins, two young African American Christians in the Reformed tradition was healing for me. Getting around others who understand the importance of the situation and could offer intelligent, biblical reflections helped me process the situation better. A conversation may only be a first step, but it is a step.

I encourage everyone to take the step of having meaningful conversations about Ferguson with other Christians. Gather your church small group, gather your classmates, gather your family and have a conversation. The goal isn’t to resolve the matter–it is far too complex for simplistic solutions. But many will find a greater measure of peace having voiced their frustration, confusion, and hopes about these circumstances. Gathering as the people of God to help each other understand how He is working in the world will lead us to deeper intimacy with our Creator and our neighbor.

Ultimately, this conversation was cathartic for me. Speaking with others has helped me solidify and balance my thoughts. It has given me a productive avenue to direct my feelings. And, most of all, it has led me to rely more on God to work all things for His purposes and for our good.

Some Memorable Quotes from the Discussion: 

Tyler: “My stance and my passion for this has never been predicated on Mike Brown’s total innocence. That’s never been the foundation for human dignity. He has dignity because he’s a human being.” 

Michelle: “Righteous anger actually covers every culture, every race, and all of time…If I am angry about injustice it doesn’t matter what color I am.” 

Tyler: [On the Christian response] “I’m always more encouraged than discouraged, and that’s a choice…It’s important that we extend a lot of grace to each other.”

Michelle: “The church response has been overwhelming with African Americans. With my white brothers and sisters, I have actually been quite impressed. Have I been impressed by full congregational mobilization? That’s a ‘no’.”

Video

Catch the video here. By the way, we had some slight connection issues that may be a bit annoying. We’ll clean it up and make the audio available later this week.

What actions or conversations have you had around Mike Brown, Ferguson, and the Christian response? Share your comments below!

Robin Williams

Robin Williams, Suicide, and Grace

Robin Williams’ abrupt death leaves a massive hole where a giant of an entertainer once stood. And even more poignantly, it reminds us that we aren’t as strong as we like to make people think. All suicides reveal the brokenness that seethes beneath each of our smiles threatening to gush forth in revealing and damaging ways. So why do some succumb and the rest of us keep surviving?

Robin Williams

My friend and licensed therapist, Branden, puts it this way…

Spending some time alone and quiet this morning the dawn began to break. Light was shed on my grief, giving it form and helping me recognize its substance. In a sort of ‘A-Ha’ moment it made sense. The reason Mr. Williams suicide struck me so acutely was simply this, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

Branden probes even deeper…

Honestly, this scares the hell out of me. The real reality is that I am completely powerless in this life to change myself or those things around me, yet I’m completely responsible to do so. This dilemma then leads me to need a power outside of myself to do for me what I cannot do. As I understand this power to be God, I am now completely dependent on God to give me what I need, even when I don’t see my need for it, and if he doesn’t, well then…I’m toast. I need someone I don’t really trust to consistently take care of me, whether I want it or not. The craziest thing is that He does. I cannot comprehend this mystery.

We aren’t stronger than Robin Williams. We don’t have it more “together” than he did. The truth is that “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Only God’s power, a power outside of ourselves and completely matchless, can keep us from the abyss of our own souls. And only God’s grace, His effusive love for His creation, compels Him to do so. Thanks be to God.

Read the rest of Branden’s post here.

What are your reactions to Robin Williams’ death?