A Prophet’s Crowning Word

Book Review:  Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win
by John M. Perkins

Coming at the end of his life in the midst of another tumultuous age in America, John M. Perkins’ Dream With Me points whites and blacks alike to a better way forward. An American prophet has spoken – maybe his last written words; his people need to listen.

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Book in a Nutshell: Part biography, part memoir, part theology, and part instruction, Dream With Me conveys renowned civil rights activist, Christian thinker, and preacher John Perkins’ “climactic message”: justice and love. The 86 year-old walks the reader through the major points of his life from his humble start as a third-grade drop out to opening his first medical center in Mississippi in the 1970’s, to providing counsel to presidents, governors, and international leaders on racial issues, to handing over his ministry and teaching efforts to a new generation of leaders. Throughout the journey, Perkins shares the lessons he’s learned and applies the biblical principles that have shaped his life and ministry. He offers this wisdom on the American questions of race and class and how the church should take lead in addressing these issues.

Reaction: I have never met the man, but I love John Perkins. I am thankful for his life of faithfulness and sacrifice. I am thankful for his wisdom and his willingness to tell his story. I am thankful for his boldness and his compassion. I am thankful for his firm convictions and his gentle humility.

John Perkins lived in Mississippi through the 1930’s, 40’s, 60’s and 70’s. Bluntly, John Perkins has seen things. He has lost family members to injustice and has personally endured brutality and torture. Throughout it all, he has maintained a humble spirit and a deep love for Christ and his church. A man who has been married for over 65 years and served in ministry for over 56 years of Christian ministry, John Perkins speaks with authority and power that pierces the heart and soul.

Last month, I read Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson. In that book, Dyson preaches to White America in hopes of confronting the sins of racism and injustice. As I mentioned in my review, Dyson presents plenty of important realities and opinions that whites need to hear; however, Dyson’s tone and approach in his delivery stands at risk of ensuring his sermon falls on a deaf congregation.

Perkins’ own “sermon” on the same issues only reinforced this response to Dyson. Like anyone else who attempts to address hot-button issues like race and class, Perkins says things that will make you squirm and make you think. But at every point, Perkins addresses his readers with charity, grace, and humility. His convictions are no weaker than those of Dyson; but the communication of his message shows its superiority in its objective, even-handed, rich, loving tone throughout the book. For example, whereas Dyson refused to acknowledge any need on the black reader’s part, and celebrated his own ability to offend, Perkins writes winsomely yet unafraid to speak directly and biblically to whites and blacks. With courage, he holds to his own convictions when they sway from political or even denominational lines. Dyson might speak truth. Perkins speaks the truth in love.

Both writers noted in their works that one of the biggest issues we face is the reality that blacks and whites often speak past one another. In light of this mutual recognition, if there is a sermon that White America needs to hear, it is the work of John Perkins; for John Perkins preaches his message like a pastor. He preaches like a shepherd who truly cares about his flock.

As I alluded, whether you are white or black, Republican or Democrat, Christian or other, Perkins will force you away from your place of comfort. Perkins, in essence, puts you in position to enter “the last fight”. As you read his work, Perkins tests your own ability to love. For one of the greatest demonstrations of love is the ability to listen. You may shake your head in disagreement at times. You may be directly challenged on some of your long-held assumptions and convictions. But if you will take Perkins’ central message to heart, you will show love when you listen.

I believe Perkins’ writing gives us one of the most important messages we have been given in many years. At a time of vitriol, distrust, anger, prejudice, and rage, America is blessed to have been given this word. The way we are acting today, we do not deserve a message like this. But John Perkins demonstrates his love for the church and for this country in the way he calls us to love God and love one another. My hope is that the church and this country will respond to Dream With Me with a reciprocal love and that justice will truly flood our days.

Quote: Neither clenched fists nor helping hands alone will bring about the complete transformation God wants… We are called to love.

Ranking: 5 of 5 stars

This one belongs on the top shelf! Dream With Me is already among my all-time favorite reads. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You can buy Dream With Me here. 

 

 

You CAN Pray [Part 2]

Prayer and the Trinity

For You CAN Pray [Part 1], click here. 

Ephesians 2:18 – For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

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Disconnect.

To sever, interrupt, or detach the relationship between two things.

Disconnect might happen when you are on the phone and you walk in a room with no service. It might happen as you check email at home when the power goes out and you’re WIFI goes down.

Disconnect can be pretty dangerous too.

It can happen when your pickup truck is pulling a trailer full of boxes as you move your student into her new dorm room. Disconnect can prevent communication between pilots and air-traffic control towers.

Disconnect can show up in your spiritual life as well.

If you profess to be a Christian but claim an inability to pray or a fear to pray aloud, you may have become the victim of Disconnect.

Whether intentional or unintentional, this fear or inability reveals that you have disconnected your prayer life with the foundational Christian belief in the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is one God who exists in three persons, equal in essence and being but distinct in function.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There is mystery here, but the doctrine of the Trinity is not a mere philosophical exercise. It is not merely a teaching to study and ponder.

The doctrine of the Trinity has real, gritty, concrete, flesh and bone arms and legs. It impacts your everyday life.

It impacts how we live in relationships with one another. It impacts how we read the Bible.

And the Trinity directly connects to how you pray.

Sam Allberry writes, “Christian prayer is Trinitarian.”

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Trinity by Jeronimo Cosida, circa 1570

The beauty of this truth is that when you start to understand how the Trinity connects to prayer, you will be more confident when you pray and more excited to pray.

Scripture shows us to pray…

TO THE FATHER

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. When we turn to Jesus’ pattern for prayer, we start with the address, “Our Father”.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:18 that we have access “to the Father.”

The norm in Scripture is prayer to God the Father.

A common question emerges: Does that mean we should not pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

Praying to Jesus – There are a few examples in the Bible of praying to Jesus. Before his death, Stephen prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Ac 7:59). The very end of the Bible gives us a prayer to Jesus, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

Clearly it cannot be wrong to pray to Jesus. BUT… Jesus himself told us, “Pray like this… Our Father“. We actually honor Jesus more when we follow his example and pattern and pray to God the Father.

Praying to the Spirit – Unlike the Son, there are no examples of praying to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. This does make some sense. The Holy Spirit characteristically hangs in the background; his main role is to put the spotlight on Jesus.

It must be said that the Holy Spirit is God so it would not be a sin to pray to Him, but we need to recognize that this should not be the general form of our prayers if we are going to pray like the prayers we find in Scripture.

Praying to God the Father is the norm.

Family Time

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One of the reasons for primarily praying to the Father is that it reminds us who we are in relationship to God. He is our Father. We are his children. This isn’t a meeting with your boss or an over-busy, easily frustrated dictator. Praying to the Father, we remind ourselves that prayer is family time.

Family time should be intimate – not intimidating.

Consciously recognizing God as your Father when you begin to pray should give you a boost of encouragement! Right away, we start off with a reminder of God’s love and grace. Look, you can do this!

Next we pray….

THROUGH THE SON

Here’s an important question to consider: What does IN JESUS’ NAME mean?

Once, you’ve answered that, here’s a second question: If you’re not really sure what it means, why do you say it?

Even though it does mean something quite important, we should never try to fill up space in our prayer time with things that mean nothing to us. Jesus said, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases,” (Mt 6:7). If IN JESUS’ NAME is an empty phrase to you, don’t keep saying it mindlessly. Fill it up with meaning first, and then say it.

When you go to a wedding, an usher usually greets you at the door and asks a simple question. “Bride or Groom?”

You respond by telling the usher who it is that you know. Hypothetically, this ensures that everyone gets into the wedding is someone with a relationship with the wedding party. Hypothetically, if you do not know anyone, you do not get into the ceremony.

 IN JESUS’ NAME means access. 

For through him we both have access… to the Father.

We can pray to the Father only when Jesus grants us access to him. He gets us in the door. Hebrews 9:24 tells that “Christ has entered… into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

Another way to say this is Jesus is our mediator. A mediator is someone who stands in the gap. Left to our own, we have an unbridgeable gap between us and God. Jesus’ work on the cross makes the unbridgeable bridgeable.

Our prayers reach God because Jesus stands in the gap.

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Some people think IN JESUS’ NAME is Christian magic. If you pray (it is thought) and forget to say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say no. But if you say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say yes. Plus you can even say it and wave your arm like a wand and beat demons, cure cancer, or make your bank account bigger… But only if you say IN JESUS’ NAME.

But IN JESUS’ NAME is simply a regular reminder to ourselves and an admission before God that we believe in the Gospel.

It is a declaration that you understand you have done nothing to make God your Father, that you have done nothing to gain access in prayer, and that you can only make these prayers because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

So IN JESUS NAME is a Christian distinctive. If you do not believe this about Jesus, IN JESUS NAME doesn’t mean anything. It is just three extra words.

IN JESUS’ NAME is a declaration of hope.

All the promises of God find their Yes in him.
That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
2 Corinthians 1:20

I hope you see how filling up IN JESUS’ NAME with this gospel meaning should only increase your confidence in prayer.

You don’t have to warm yourself up. You don’t have to have it all together. When you pray through Jesus, you recognize you never have it all together and that every word of prayer is a word given by grace.

IN JESUS NAME reminds you, you can pray.

Last, we pray…

BY THE HOLY SPIRIT

This might be the best part. All of our fears and insecurities in prayer should melt when we understand the Spirit’s work in prayer.

The Holy Spirit’s role in prayer should make the disconnect connect.

In Romans 8:15, Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba Father!

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he said to pray like this, “Our Father.”

Paul shows us that the Spirit moves us so that we do pray that way.

God the Spirit propels us to pray to God the Father in the very way God the Son taught us.

There’s more good news in verse 16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Do you ever feel too messed up to pray?

If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you. His job is to remind you who you are. You tell yourself you’re too messed up to pray, but the Spirit inside whispers, “No you are not! You’re a child of God. Say it with me… Father.

Sometimes that does not seem enough.

We give in and start to pray even though we feel too gross, too weak, too simple. But then, we have no clue what to say.

(Ignoring the fact that you can always hop on the ACTS train) Paul has even more good news for your prayer life pessimism in verse 26.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercede for us with groaning too deep for words…. the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Don’t know what to pray? Not a problem.

God the Holy Spirit not only reminds you and encourages you as a child of God. He prays with you and for you.

So as you mumble, stumble, and fumble your way through prayer, God himself is prays. And notice what Paul says at the end. He prays “according to the will of God.”

Remember, Jesus teaches us to pray your will be done.

Now, the God the Spirit prays for us to God the Father in the way God the Son taught us.

THIS is why you cannot disconnect the Trinity from your prayer life.

 

God the Spirt prays for you

to God your Father

accessed through the work of God the Son.

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CONNECT YOUR PRAYER

Disconnecting your prayer life from your belief in the Trinity puts you in dangerous territory.

When you say you cannot pray or that you do not know what to pray, then you are also saying that God the Spirit does not live inside you or that he refuses to do his job.

You are saying that you do not have the same access to the Father. This means Jesus’ work on the cross failed to do the job.

Connect the dots. You don’t believe these things, do you?

Christian prayer is Trinitarian.

The Trinity fuels Christian prayer.

So the next time you are called to pray in a small group or you hit a wall and do not know what to say next, remember who God is and remember who you are.

Pray to your Father.
Pray through the access you have in the Son.
Pray by the power of the praying Spirit inside of you.

You can pray!

You CAN Pray [Part 1]

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If you ever want to terrify someone, ask them to pray.

Sometimes someone will come up to me since I am a pastor, drag me across a room, introduce me to someone, and say something like, “This is Mark. Mark has this problem. Can you pray for them?”

I look at Mark’s friend, smile, and say, “I could. But, no. You can pray for Mark. I’ll pray with you both.”

Mark’s friend expected a pat-on-the back; instead he is simultaneously wrestling regret, fear, and the sudden urge to run.

Sometimes I will be in a small group and everyone is having a great time since the conversation hasn’t gotten too personal or practical yet. Everyone loves theory in a small group. Theory is safe. But some brave soul breaks the unspoken rule and says something real – a real issue that needs real prayer. I look at the circle of friends sitting around our honest friend and ask, “Will someone pray for our sister, Katerina?”

Katerina suddenly finds herself in a circle of frozen, deaf zombies that failed to understand any words that left my mouth.

You can play this game too if you want. It is kind of fun.

Ever share a need with a friend and they look at you like they are only half-listening? They nod and murmur something like, “Sure. I’ll be praying for you.” Next time that happens, you can drop this bomb on them.

“Great. Would you mind praying for me right now?”

Be prepared to get any number of looks, excuses, and weird body contortions.

In each of these situations, if you press these friends about their hesitancy, you will hear all sorts of reasons for this prayer phobia.

But the most common response I hear is this: I don’t know how to pray.

People who have been in church for thirty years will tell you this. People who went to 36 weeks of Vacation Bible School as children. People who serve on ministry committees. People who haven’t missed a Sunday morning service since Ronald Reagan was in office. People who meticulously share their own personal prayer requests with anyone who will listen.

Somehow, when you ask them to pray, almost no one knows how.

The Lord’s Pattern

This shouldn’t be the case. On a broad level, God gave pastors to equip the saints, to enable them to do the work, to empower them to obey God’s will for their lives. Surely this includes the expectation that the people will be equipped to pray.

At another level, God knew we would struggle here and included a manual for us in the Bible. One of Jesus’ twelve disciples specifically asks Jesus how to pray.

Jesus shares with his disciple what we call The Lord’s Prayer.

As Tim Keller says in his must-read book regarding prayer,  our relationship to The Lord’s Prayer is like living next to a railroad.

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At the time I went to school, The University of Memphis main campus was split by a set of train tracks. This caused all kinds of headaches when you parked on the south side and had class on the north side or when you lived on one side and wanted to work out at the gym on the other.

At the beginning of my senior year, I moved into an apartment that sat right next to the track. When my roommate and I first moved in to the apartment, sleep was near impossible. Every time a train rolled through campus and blared its horn at a pedestrian or a car trying to beat the train to the intersection, my windows and bed frame would shake.

But an amazing thing happened.

By Fall Break, I never heard the train.

I had heard the train so much, I stopped hearing it at all.

As Keller writes, we do the same thing with The Lord’s Prayer.

We recite it at church, at weddings, at funerals, and at pregame huddles. We say it so much we no longer hear the words we say. It means nothing to us now.

We have taken Jesus’ teaching prompt and turned it into a mindless pool of words.

We have taken his grace to help us pray and built it into an obstacle of communion.

The Lord’s Prayer is not a dictated ritual to be thoughtlessly repeated verbatim ad nauseam. Jesus meant for it to be used as a guide to influence our own personal talks with God.

It is not so much The Lord’s Prayer as much as it is The Lord’s Pattern.

Adapting the Pattern

When you examine his pattern for prayer, you can boil it down to a few essential elements. There are numerous prayer tools that have been created to help you pray in light of the Lord’s Prayer. One of the most popular is the ACTS method of prayer.

When you pray, think ACTS.

 ADORATION – Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…

Jesus’ pattern helps us see we should start our prayers by honoring God for who He is. Our prayers should start with a vertical dimension.

Practically, you can pray about one of God’s names (King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Jehovah, etc). You can pray about one God’s attributes (God, you are holy… loving… wise). You can pray about one of his works (God you created all things… revealed yourself through the Bible… saved me by your grace).

God cannot be exhausted. So when you start your prayer by praying about God, you start off with an endless supply of material.

CONFESSION – Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors

Confession simply means to agree with God about your sin. You do not need a priest. You do not need to do a good deed to even up the score of your heart. You simply need to recognize where you have fallen short.

Practically, you should confess specifically. Resist the urge to brush your prayers with broad strokes. Instead of confessing your anger, confess the ugly words you spit at your spouse. Instead of confessing your pride, confess your condescending thoughts towards your coworker. Get specific.

THANKSGIVING – This aspect of prayer is not found in The Lord’s Prayer, but Scripture tells us many times to show thanks. For example, Philippians 4:6 says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer… with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Usually when we pray, we immediately jump to what we need. The ACTS method helpfully reverses that urge. Pastor H.B. Charles, Jr. says, “Before you ask God for something you need, thank Him for what He has already done.”

Practically, continue to be specific with your thanksgiving. A good rule of thumb to get started is for every one thing you ask of God, offer thanks for one thing He has done.

SUPPLICATION – Give us this day our daily bread… Your will be done… 

We probably need the least amount of help here. Supplication is a fancy way of saying request or petition. If we are good at anything in prayer, we are good at supplication. The Lord’s Pattern gives us two important reminders. First we ask for daily needs. Like the Manna in the wilderness, God wants to give us just enough for today so that we return to Him again with our needs tomorrow. Second, we should recognize that all of our needs are subject to His will and not our own.

Practically, think necessity not extravagance. As you bring your requests to God, explicitly recognize God has the right to answer as He pleases. Voice your willingness to submit to His call on your requests.

 

As with the pattern given to us by Jesus himself, the ACTS method is simply a guide. It is meant to help us pray; it should never constrain us as we seek to meet with God.

If you struggle with knowing how to pray, use a tool like this to get more comfortable. Certainly, reading works on prayer like the one from Keller or studies on the Sermon on the Mount like this one by Daniel Doriani will surely help us grow as prayers.

But the best way to grow in prayer is by actually praying.

Your prayer life is not solely an individual matter. Your friends, family, and church need you. The next time someone asks you to pray for them or to pray out loud in a small group, you have an opportunity. Do not be content with sheepishly backing away from it by saying you do not know how. Jesus has shown us how; He’s given us a pattern. ACTS or no ACTS, be bold and pray.

In an upcoming post, we will look at how the doctrine of the Trinity empowers us to pray. God Himself enables us to pray to Him.

For now, listen to the train rolling past. Hear it once again. It was sent down the track to remind you. You can pray.

Click here for You CAN Pray [Part 2]

America Deserves “Alternative Facts”

[Note: In no way is this post intended to defend or endorse any political figure nor is it written in support of either the Republican or Democratic Party. May this be an equal-opportunity blog of offense.]

Alternative Facts.

Without doubt, this is a catchy way to start a presidential term that is sure to be filled with divisive arguments that only make the liberal more liberal and the conservative more conservative.

What else will the next 3 years and 11 months bring us?

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Truth D – The 2017 Presidential Inauguration produced a laughingly, underwhelming number of attendees – especially when contrasted with the record-size crowds of the 2009 Inauguration.

Truth R – The liberal media skewed the actual attendance of the 2017 Inauguration by only showing pictures of the crowd at a low point. Actual attendance numbers for the event are huuuuge.

These, America, are your alternative facts.

Cue the media firestorm and social media warfare.

 

You might respond to this episode with disgust, fury and ridicule.

You might respond to it with defensiveness, frustration, and pride.

Left or right, liberal or conservative, black or white, male or female, America…

You get what you deserve.

 

The outrage, the disbelief, the excitement over Alternative Facts betrays our hypocrisy.

America, after all, has prided itself on being enlightened enough to recognize the need for Alternative Facts when it comes to religion.

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism.

Now, we all know these are different, it is argued, but deep down, they’re just different ways of getting to the same finish line. All of these are worthy systems of belief, it is contended, that mean the same thing. As long as you genuinely believe it to be true and you do not tell anyone they are wrong, it is proclaimed, you can believe whatever you want.

These are just Alternative Facts.

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But ask just one question to these groups, and you will be confronted by a reality that should produce the same firestorm and fury as our President’s take on the attendance of his inauguration.

Who is Jesus?

Christians believe Jesus is the promised Messiah,  the Son of God, who as fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for the sake of our sins, physically raised from the dead three days later, and sits in Heaven now waiting to return to establish His eternal kingdom.

Jews believe the promised Messiah, the Son of God, has not arrived yet. God has not fulfilled his promised to Abraham and David, but he will one day.

Muslims believe Jesus was a good prophet in a long line of good prophets. He is not God as there is only one God.

Buddhists believe Jesus was a good man who reached complete enlightenment and achieved non-existence.

Hindus believe Jesus to be one god among 300 million.

Atheists believe none of this. At best Jesus is a good man with some helpful thoughts on peace and love. At worst he is a con-artist who has engendered worthless wars and hindered the advancement of humanity.

 

This is only in answer to one question. We do not need to move to the next one.

But in the spirit of tolerance and unity, we champion the idea that these systems say the same thing!

We do not just believe these to all to be different sides to the same greater truth. We vehemently oppose anyone who would claim an exclusive interpretation of truth.

Forget that Christians say Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and Jews say He’s an imposter.

Forget that Muslims defend monotheism while Hindus embrace millions of gods.

Forget that Buddhists strive for non-existence in Nirvana and Christians place their ultimate hope in physical resurrection.

Forget that these systems express mutually exclusive claims.

We have Alternative Facts.

 

This week, the president of our country uses a parallel thought-process to give some political spin on his big day, and our tolerant, unity-loving, post-modern society loses its collective mind.

Those who are angry and disgusted that our leader would stoop so low as to present a falsehood as a truth need only look in their societal mirror. We do this everyday, and we label those who reject it as closed-minded bigots.

You are right to be angry. Truth is truth. Falsehoods are falsehoods. They cannot coexist.

Those who are defensive and proud of the president ought to observe caution. If you claim to be a Christian, you cannot endorse or defend Alternative Facts. Your first allegiance is not to an oval office but to a King who claimed to be The Fact (John 14:6).

Truth is truth. Falsehoods are falsehoods. They cannot coexist.

Left or right. It is time to stop the charade.

We get what we deserve.

This week has sown alternative facts for America because alternative facts are what our America has long reaped.

 

White America in a Black Church

The preacher gives it all he’s got, but the congregation looks half-empty and half-asleep.

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Book Review: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Book in a Nutshell: Writing according to the form of a worship service in lieu of the traditional chapter approach, Dyson compels his congregation to consider the volatile issue of race in America. Dyson pulls no punches as he addresses both the long history of racism in our country as well as modern-day manifestations including police brutality, appropriation, the N-word, and the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump.

Reaction: [Note: Since Dyson wrote this as a preacher and the book comes to the reader as a worship service, I respond here as a pastor in the same way I reflect and assess sermons and worship services in the church.]

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Rev. Michael E. Dyson

As a preacher, Dyson cannot be chided for lacking clarity and conviction; by the end of the book, he leaves no room for questions on where he stands or how he expects the reader to respond.

Dyson’s main exposition, which includes three sections directed toward white America and three sections depicting the black experience in America, stands out from the rest of the book. Here, the preacher calls out sin, reveals some of the buried heart-level issues, and shares hard-to-hear truths. The explanation of the stages of white guilt which includes a most helpful look at appropriation and his defense of hot-button topics like affirmative action show Dyson at his best even when church members might disagree.

But like any good preacher, Dyson does not just inform. He expertly uses haunting illustrations from his personal life and closes his address with concrete applications for his white congregation. This section of action steps one can take to begin to bridge the racial gap might have been the most helpful aspect of the entire worship service.

When thinking about a worship service, many since the time of the Reformation operate under this principle: Nothing should distract from the sermon.  The sermon is the part of the sermon where the people of God hear the word of God. Everything else should augment this experience. This is where Tears We Cannot Stop gets in its own way: not in the sermon but in the extras.

In his Call to Worship, Dyson reveals, “It will make you squirm in your seat with discomfort, before, hopefully pointing a way to relief.” He achieves this if nothing else. Before the choir is done singing, many in his congregation will be tempted to squirm their way home as the Hymns of Praise depict police brutality through the lyrics of contemporary R&B songs and hip-hop tracks. In the midst of the corporate singing, Dyson dissects an etymology of the F-word that adds little to his message. Before Scripture is even read and the opening prayer is said, the preacher runs the risk of losing half his audience.

The closing of the worship service hinders the impact of the sermon as well. As any preacher will tell you, there’s not much worse than putting everything you have into a sermon and watching the person giving the Benediction undo your entire sermon. Having already addressed the issue with precision and power, Dyson revisits the election of Donald Trump in The Prelude to Service which precedes only the closing prayer. As shown in the prior quote, the preacher’s stated goal was to end on a high note. The sermon and benediction succeeds in doing just that and the passing of the offering plate only solidifies this higher tone, but the president-elect characteristically drags the service into the sewers.

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Instead of a high note, the service fails to avoid the presidential black hole of race relations.

As both issues of police brutality and the presidency are covered in detail during the sermon, Dyson’s order of service would have supplemented his main address more faithfully if he had opened and closed his service in a different fashion.

Dyson’s sermon needs to be preached, but it also needs to be heard. While commending the ministry of Martin Luther King for being able to communicate to a white audience in a way they could receive, Dyson faces an uphill battle to do the same. His own recognition that white congregants have no problem getting up and walking out of a service might come back to haunt the preacher as the gut-punching, guilt-producing work of Dyson comes packaged blunt, explicit, and often combative.

The preacher gives it everything he’s got. The message needs to be proclaimed. But by the end of the service, the people still need to be in the room and they need to be awake. The question this book leaves unanswered, is will they?

Quote: There is a paradox that many of you refuse to see: to get to a point where race won’t make a difference, we have to wrestle, first, with the difference that race makes.

Ranking: 3 out of 5 stars

Your Kids Are Not Your Kids

When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.
Exodus 2:10

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Your kids are not your kids.

One of the lessons I learned alongside the parents in our student ministry when we read Alex Cheiak’s Preparing Your Teen for College is that to be a parent is to be a steward.

Steward isn’t a word we use in everyday life.

Chediak defines steward this way:

someone entrusted with another’s wealth or property and charged with the responsibility of managing it in the owner’s best interest.

According to the Bible, all parents are stewards.

We have been entrusted.

They belong to another.

We have been charged with the responsibility.

 

But at any point, God has the right to call us to give them back to him. After all, they belong to him.

In a way that can sneak up on you, it shows up throughout Scripture.

Abraham is told to send off Ishmael and his mom.

Then he is told to kill Isaac, the son of promise.

Jacob and Rachel didn’t even know it, but God sends their favorite boy Joseph to Egypt.

The angel of the Lord tells Samson’s parents he must take the Nazarite vow.

Hannah gives Samuel to God to live in the temple forever.

Elizabeth’s son John becomes a hermit who survives on locusts and wild honey.

And a woman named Mary watches her son hang from a Roman cross before the sky goes black.

Abraham and Sarah. Jacob and Rachel. Zorah and Manoah. Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary.

Moms and dads throughout Scripture had to learn.

Your kids are not your kids.

 

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This truth snuck up on me in the midst of the numbingly familiar story of Moses. Whether by Charlton Heston or an animated feature on Netflix, you’ve surely seen this story played out plenty of times.

But did you know? Moses’ mom had to learn this lesson twice.

First, she places him in that basket and pushes him off into the Nile. We are scared to let our kids cross the street or hang out at the mall, yet this woman sends her son to the crocodiles and hippos.

And you know the story. Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and raises him as a prince of Egypt.

Except that’s not how it ends for Moses’ mom.

Pharaoh’s daughter cannot nurse, and Egypt is all out of baby formula. Fortunately for her, Miriam, the baby’s older sister, is watching the whole thing. With quick wits, Miriam suggests to the princess that she find a woman who can nurse the boy.

That’s how Moses gets to go back home, and he gets to stay. In Ancient Egypt, young children nursed until they were about four years old.

Moses belongs to Pharaoh’s daughter now. By God’s grace, Moses’ mom gets to be his nurse and caregiver.

Then, she gets to learn the lesson all over again.

Your kids are not your kids.

After four years of feeding and caring for her biological son, Moses’ mom gives him away once more.

She wakes up one morning and realizes Moses has been eating solid food for a week. This game is not going to last forever. Someone is going to notice.

So she gets Moses dressed. She tries to nurse him one last time. Maybe he will latch and she can postpone this another day. She throws all of Moses’ things into the same basket she pushed into the Nile, and she leads him out of her house for the last time. She enters the gates to the royal palace. She kneels to hug the boy who is trying to pry loose and run and play. She says the few words of Egyptian she knows to the princess. She stands and watches as the princess and her boy walk into the palace. The palace doors close.

Her four year old boy is gone.

But that’s the thing.

He’s not her four year old boy.

He belongs to God.

 

Moses’ mom has been a steward given an extra season of responsibility, but that time has passed. Now, her responsibility is to let her boy go and to trust God’s plan.

This is what it means to be a parent.

You have been entrusted with a child that belongs to another. You have been charged with the responsibility of caring and leading the child.

But at the end of the day, you are still only a steward.

Are you ready to send your graduating student to college?

Are you ready to watch your adult child move across the country to pursue a career?

Are you ready to kick your non-growing-up 35 year-old jobless son out of the basement?

Are you prepared now or preparing for the day when God will do as he pleases and calls your kids out for his purpose and glory?

Because that’s the thing.

Your kids are not your kids.

 

 

 

 

 

Numb to Good News

A Poem and Reflection on Feeling Nothing

And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them.
Genesis 45:26b

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Your boy lived here.

Running around the house

Arguing back and forth with his brothers

Wearing that polychrome tunic you made just for him.

This boy dreamed.

 

You wake to word that your boy is gone.

Running around the house

Searching among his brothers

Dreaming, surely you must be dreaming

No. Your boy. Your boy.

Your boy is dead.

 

His brothers arrive with that polychrome tunic.

No, not polychrome.

Crimson. Only crimson.

One color and only one smell.

Your boy’s blood.

 

Years and years pass.

Eleven other sons refuse time its rest.

Running around the house.

Arguing back and forth with one another.

No boys look you in your eye.

 

The earth dry as your soul.

Cracked dirt and empty fields,

the other side of the mirror

to your bitter scars and stripped faith.

You send your boys to Egypt,

the enemy will feed you now.

 

Miles away a caravan treks the wasteland

The sounds do not fade

The procession pivots on the path to your home.

Your sons ride wagons not mules.

Your sons carry treasure not seed.

Your sons bring news you do not believe.

 

Dad…

Joseph is still alive

He is ruler over all the land of Egypt.

No memories invade your mind.

No relief penetrates your soul.

You feel nothing.

You believe nothing.

 

Your boy is dead.

 


 

REFLECTION

In Genesis 45, Jacob receives the greatest news he could imagine. His son is alive!

Notice what the text says. “His heart was numb, for he did not believe them.”

It does not say that Jacob refused to believe because he was numb.

Jacob was numb because he did not believe.

 

This happens to us all the time. Many of us receive the greatest news one could imagine. The Son is alive!

Like Joseph, Jesus’ brothers sold him and left him for dead.

Unlike Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth actually died. But the grave that held him for three days is empty. And we hear this news the same way Jacob did.

Numb.

We are not moved. We have heard it before. We do not see it change anything.

Nothing. We feel nothing.

 

We get it backwards. We do not feel anything and we make that the reason for why we do not believe. In our minds, our numbness is the ground for our unbelief.

But Jacob shows us otherwise. We do not believe. We reject the good news, and in turn, we become numb. In reality, our unbelief is the ground for our numbness.

Do you feel numb? Do you lack passion? Are you missing excitement and conviction?

Quit trying to change how you feel. Change how you believe.

The Son is alive.