Mark Steyn was attempting to wake us all up about a year ago when he wrote;

Most Americans don’t yet grasp the scale of the Obama project. The naysayers complain, Oh, it’s another Jimmy Carter, or It’s the new New Deal, or It’s LBJ’s Great Society applied to health care. You should be so lucky. It’s all those multiplied a gazillionfold and nuclearized — or Europeanized, which is less dramatic but ultimately more lethal. (National Review 2009.03.23)

The personally invasive changes of Barak Obama’s administration have caused many to forecast a socialist overhaul in our executive and legislative branches. That may be true.

I think the most frustrating element of all this fervor is the feeling that those of us who know better were too busy pampering ourselves to notice that hurting people were seeking radical change. Morning after morning, we watched perky financial advisers on Fox and Friends tell us if we just cut back on five dollar caramel macchiatos from Starbuck’s we could make up for some of the hit we took on our 401K.The single mother of two, serving us at Starbuck’s needed real change. Please don’t assume I think she got meaningful assistance or sustainable reform from this regime. My only goal with this diversion is to re-frame your thinking enough to be objective about how we end up creating environments where destructive social and political change appears credible to the majority.

Let this next quote sink in for a minute or two,

The highest expression of love is the free surrender of what is truly our own, life, property, and rights. A much lower but perhaps more decisive expression of love is the surrender of any opportunity to exploit men. No social group or organization can claim to be clearly within the Kingdom of God which drains others for its own ease, and resists the effort to abate this fundamental evil.

This excerpt from A Theology for the Social Gospel by Walter Rauschenbusch could be quickly tied to the current administration’s political realities. Except for the fact that this particular book is considered the confession of the Social Gospel Movement and was written in 1922. Another quote from the book reflected upon a significant legislative change from the end on the nineteenth century. “This involves the redemption of society from private property in the natural resources of the earth, and from any condition in industry which makes monopoly profits possible.”

The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890. Teddy Roosevelt put teeth in the act when he took over the U.S. Presidency in 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. He launched a series of lawsuits against what were deemed offensive business combinations. Such giants as J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust  and James B. Duke’s tobacco trust were targets of the government’s attorneys. Is this bringing on an overwhelming sense of deja vu?

The Social Gospel Movement marked a dramatic shift in Christian philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century. Not unlike the political shift we are experiencing today. The North had won the civil war, freed slaves, and began reconstruction. The new “negros” were poor immigrants from Europe coming to America for a perceived opportunity of a success that seemed inconceivable in their homeland. The industrialized Northeast churned through this hopefuls and their children. There is certainly no argument regarding the abuses they endured. Many of the labor laws and regulations in place today remain as a result of the attempt to legislate a minimum standard of ethics in the workplace. The minimum wage has its roots in these reforms. Northern Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans, began to unite over these social injustices as well.

In this socially conscious environment a real Christian would not and could not tolerate this evil. Moreover any true Christian must make it their mission to end these heinous oppressions. To that end prominent Christians began to work through the political engine to accomplish social reform. Inevitably that resulted in some deterioration of the separation of Church and State; an acceptable concession at the time. The Scriptural basis for the movement is anchored in the Beatitudes.

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)

There are also obvious ties to deistic patriotism. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (U.S. Declaration of Independence).” The real philosophical shift here is from an emphasis on individual sin and personal evangelism to a battle over societal sin and cultural reform. One of the observations of the Social Gospel Movement was that other churches had become too Pauline, and they were not preaching enough Jesus, or discipling toward Christlikeness regarding social justice.

My interest in this topic was generated in the Church History class I’m taking to wrap up my undergraduate degree in a couple weeks. Then I will have time to share with you my personal wrestling with the question generated by the liberal protestants of the Social Gospel Movement. Is there such a thing as too much Paul and not enough Jesus? If anyone has created a “Too Tall Paul” in his ministry and approach to discipleship it is me. I regularly elevate and illuminate the Pauline epistles. I know the “Emerging/Emergent/Simple/Organic” church exists because of the “Country Club” congregations of the last fifty years. I believe the church has a role in social justice. Am I missing something? Is there such a thing as a “too Tall Paul?” Please sound off.

In WAY Over My Head

October 26, 2009

I know you’ve heard people say, “God will never give you more that you can handle.” Lately it seems the proclamation of this nugget will become an everyday occurrence. My current circumstances understandably promote this well meaning sentiment. A few weeks ago I was let go from my ministry position and the church will seek a new direction for their student program. The decision has been an emotional event for many and on many levels. I hope and pray that all involved will seek the Lord and do exactly as the Holy Spirit leads them. I don’t want to appear unmoved; I am very disappointed, and I will miss my brothers and sisters. However, the Lord has stirred a fresh wind for Riverside, and for me. God has given me something I can’t handle and I love Him for it.

I need to clear up something important. “God will never give you more than you can handle” is not in the Bible. The actual verse that draws out this misinterpretation is 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” There is a wealth of simple truth in this verse. First, Satan is not luring you into to some new craving over which Jesus doesn’t already have the victory. Most importantly, God is faithful to you personally. He assures a limit to Satan’s testing. And finally, He shows you the way out of the snare. There is a caveat. You must receive His Son Jesus Christ, for it is by His shed blood that you are set free.

It is quite clear in Scripture that God will give you more than you can handle. My favorite instance is found in John 14. Jesus is finally getting through to the apostles that He is going away and they are sure they cannot handle the earthly ministry. Jesus both challenged and encouraged them, saying, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Peter’s letter to exiled Christians contains this divine principle: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I believe setting your hope fully on grace is achieved by accepting the Lord’s challenge to engage in what He has planned for you. It will be an adventure where you are in WAY over your head; attempting things that will crash and burn if God doesn’t show up to carry you through it, and living your life with the absolute certainty that He will.

Now, go do what you are called to do. And smile this is the fun stuff!

Now What?

October 19, 2009

As I embark on this new adventure with God, I have decided to do something different, something ancient. I have sensed a calling from the Lord to step out of the boat.  I haven’t abandoned ship because of the storm or the rough seas. Like Peter, I heard Jesus say “come,” to experience Him in a new way. I have opted out of the institutional church; not in protest or bitterness, but spiritual necessity.

I am not alone; a faithful band of brothers and sisters asked me to walk with them. “Origins,” a simple church, was born. Our first worship gathering was last night. We broke bread together. Actually we had Taco Soup, but you get the idea. We sang and prayed together. Then we finished up with a discussion series on life lessons from Peter. You can engage in this discussion titled, “OK, We’re Out of the Boat! Now What?” at

It is exciting to look into the face of Christ and step out. Thank God, when I focus on the storm, He will immediately reach out, take my hand, and rescue me.

(see Matthew 14 for the first hand account of Peter’s experience)

An old Selmer tenor sax cuts the thick air along the river behind Cafe DuMonde with a melody from deep in the heart of Coleman Hawkins. The Canal Street Ferry blows a low tone as she returns from Algiers, and the big engines of the river boats fill out the bottom of the harmony that is the French Quarter. The rhythm is tapped out by the metal shoes of the carriage horses that escort visitors down Toulouse past Royal and Bourbon Street. The Quarter has a song unique in all the world.

The piercing cry of a baby, curled up hungry and alone, lofts above the roar of the bus that takes her young mother to work. The audible and enveloping drone of hopelessness moves through the Desire Street Projects. The rhythm cuts deep as the rapid report of a Glock 9mm drops another grandson to the blood stained ground of the 5-4. The Lower 9th Ward has a song unique in all the world.

New Orleans is a bitter sweet symphony where carefree and hopelessness awaits a tragic crescendo. Katrina, long anticipated, always feared, shattered this tension filled orchestration. Her deafening wail so out of tune. When her excruciating solo was over the band was gone and a global audience sat numb and confused. New Orleans had a silence unique in all the world.

The distinct tone that is New Orleans has resonated across the land. A season has passed and the chorus builds one voice at a time. The horns are muted, the baby’s cry faint, but the silence is broken. The leader of the band stands ready to arrange, to harmonize. The Great I am is our Conductor. While the Composer sits in a place of silence, He is the one who forms a collection of monotone elements into a masterpiece of meter and harmony.

New Orleans we must trust our song to the skillful hand of the Almighty Maestro.

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his Temple; praise him in his mighty heaven. Praise him for his strength; praise him for his greatness. Praise him with trumpet blasts; praise him with harps and lyres. Praise him with tambourines and dancing; praise him with stringed instruments and flutes. Praise him with loud cymbals; praise him with crashing cymbals. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. (Psalm 150)

I have been labeled, at best a troublemaker, at worst a heretic . . . again. But, to know me is to love me. I am a 45 year old undergrad at Leavell College on the Campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, a lover of grace, and one who has great disdain for the law. I want so much for all Jesus went through to mean something to the people around me. After all, if the law had been effective in perfecting the sinner, I am quite sure a loving God would not have asked such a thing of His one and only Son. Focus on the scourging and the crucifixion if you must, but I think the thing worth sweating great drops of blood over was the act of a sinless man bearing the weight of the world’s sin upon himself. The least I can do is accept this great thing, done for me when I didn’t deserve it. Man, my sins hadn’t even been carried out yet. The “paid in full” voucher had been sitting there waiting for me to pick it up. I didn’t get some kind of starter kit, I’m 100% forgiven! I’m a new creation!

That said, I was so bold as to suggest, in a doctrinal theology course, that after someone is saved it is possible to finish out your Christian walk without sinning. Wow! You would have thought I was suggesting a dance contest with Jello shots. Now, before you draw your label gun, consider this, in order to disagree you must believe two things; 1) that you are a NOT a new creation, and 2) that God’s not big enough to pull it off.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)

Now in my personal experience it is improbable, even inconceivable, but I believe the Holy Spirit that dwells in me can do it. That is what gives me abundant life. I can’t image what it is to live life anticipating your next transgression, so focused on inevitable failure that you miss the great adventure the Almighty Creator has planned just for you. Have I missed Christ’s message altogether? Have I become a heretic? . . . Or the renegade I long to be.

One of the most fulfilling elements of my life is my education. After four and a half years, (Katrina sabotaged my 3 year plan) I must be close to achieving my Bachelors in Christian Ministry. My “BaCMin” as it’s referred to around Leavell College. Leavell College is the undergraduate program on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I have learned biblical history and ancient languages. I have learned about Postmodernism and contemporary Christian counseling. I have greatly expanded my knowledge, understanding, and application of God’s Word and His promises. I have had the pleasure of studying under some of the best theological professors anywhere. I have been richly blessed.

(Here it comes) But! One of my favorite professors trampled on a primary pet peeve of mine. “We are all just sinners saved by grace”- spoken with that defeated drone so common to the ball and chain dragging Christians I know. They talk a lot about how hard the walk is, and frequently moan over the challenges we all have in this life. They drag the Holy Spirit around like a ball and chain, hoping their Heavenly Father will throw them a happy bone once in a while. Usually what they are looking for is a financial blessing for all the burdensome toil and hard earned tithe they have agonizingly laid at the altar. A common thread among these melancholy brothers and sisters is the tendency to measure God’s acceptance of them by their circumstances.

It’s no wonder some of God’s children fall into this joy smothering abyss, preachers preach it, bands sing about it, and twelve step programs rely on it. The simple truth is that our humanness is too fragile to sustain the hope of glory, which is Christ in you. When we finally acknowledge our great need for the Savior we must be reborn in order to obtain this divine capacity to love.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3 ESV)

The Bible is overflowing with teaching on grace and mercy and abundance. God’s Word also cautions us not to fall back on our own inadequate abilities. The Scriptures never model a life still lived as an improved sinner. Paul clarifies the antithesis of such belief.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

We may experience failures, of our own doing, in our walk with the Lord. Those stumbles don’t make us sinners. We have the Holy Spirit to pick us up, dust us off, and put us back on the path of a saint. Paul encourages us not to even keep track of our offenses.

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:3,4 ESV)

It is heartbreaking to see how many miss out on the abundant life (John 10:10) because of this common teaching.

I have been richly blessed to be called to the Lord’s ministry with the charge to represent a radical life changing relationship. Jesus is the kind of friend you just can’t wait to introduce to everyone you know. He laid down his life for a friend (John 15:3) and that friend is you. Jesus didn’t die so you could be a new and improved sinner, who drags the Holy Spirit around like a ball and chain. He died for the forgiveness of your sins and rose to give you abundant life.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 ESV)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13 ESV)