Sacred vs. Secular

The term secular used to be thrown around quite frequently in Christian circles. It was usually intended to show a difference between Christian and non-Christian music (mostly), but also art, thought, etc. Simply stated sacred is for God, and secular is everything else. The intent of these terms was to encourage the believer to remain pure (holy) in their thinking and overall internal spiritual climate. The problem is that these terms caused an unhealthy differentiation, in that people to saw their church/spiritual life and all there others aspects of life separately. This is a massive problem!

Biblically, the concept of sacred and secular does exist, but not the way we in the 20th and 21st Century, process and communicate it. Sacred was all about the Holy, that which was for God’s use. The greater thought was that all things sacred would change everything else. God’s Holy presence would alter and adjust our lives where His sacredness would always be in our minds, hearts, and ultimately seen in our actions. Conversely, it was the goal that our secular thoughts, perspectives, and actions would be drawn to His sacredness, and we’d become more sacred. To say it another way, the sacred was always supposed to challenge and change the secular.

The problem is that people have kept the holy/sacred in its own segregated place, and when they enter work, school, restaurants, etc., they somehow feel like their relationship with God doesn’t enter. They can act spiritual in church, small groups, bible studies, and prayer meetings, but God’s sacredness mysteriously disappears by the time they enter into the rest of life. The result…hypocrisy! This was not and has never been the goal of God for His people.

The Bible says, “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill…” Matt 5:14-15 MSG

 “But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” 1 Peter 2:9-10 MSG

 It’s clear that our relationship with God is supposed to be taken to the world. It is echoed throughout the Bible. The 1 Peter 2:9-10 passage takes it one step further. By calling us sacred, we are to go into the secular to make a difference. The sacred and the secular were always meant to come together…but the how is just as important!

The reverse (secular impacting sacred) is not endorsed by sound Biblical teaching. It was never the goal of God that the secular would come in and define and defile the sacred. Since the moment God’s presence began to dwell amongst mankind, we were warned to remain untainted by sin and all of its secular-ness. We are warned to not allow this world’s culture and perspectives to change who we are and how we live.

 “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father.” 1 John 2:15 MSG

I believe a dividing line is being drawn. It is between those who use their sacred to impact the secular and those who abandon what is sacred because of their love for the secular. When we take our sacred and holy into the secular and sinful world, we make it better. When we let the secular and sinful taint our sacred and holy, we get worse. This is not a popular truth, but it is true nonetheless. We can never forget that there is a God who is infinitely Holy/Pure/Sacred who is welcoming us into his cleansing presence and he expects us to carry that same presence into the secular world.

A Hard Conversation on Race

My wife and I noticed our teenaged neighbor walking back and forth in front of our home for the better part of 3 weeks. We have two WIFI signals at our house, one that is open and one private. I quickly realized that he had discovered the open line and had more quickly grown accustomed to free access. He is new to our community and lives the next cul-de-sac down. He is a kind, well behaved, and respectful young man. The problem is he just so happens to be both male and black.

Problem, you ask? Yes, he has the barrier of being his gender and skin color while walking back and forth in front of the houses of people he doesn’t know. It’s a problem that I know all too well. I have the same hurdle and have suffered some of the consequences of this inescapable reality.

In the 3rd week of this routine, I told my wife that I needed to talk to him to keep his naivety from putting him in an unfortunate situation. He cost us $0 dollars in using our WIFI, but my concern was for him. You see we live in a pretty diverse subdivision. But, the one thing diverse faces creates, is diverse perceptions.

So, I had the conversation with him. “What did I do?”, he asked. I assured him that he had done nothing wrong. “I can’t use your WIFI signal?”, I told him that it was not a problem, but then I had to navigate through the awkward conversation about perceptions. I didn’t know how the new couple in the corner perceived this young black man pacing in front of their home. What did the older lady think? The hermit-like neighbor? The family with children? Did anyone see him as someone casing homes for future robberies or waiting for an opportunity to attack or rape someone?

I was concerned that someone would call the police out of nervousness. I was worried that an officer would see him, not as a sweet 16 year old but a menacing 20 something, like Tamir Rice. I was troubled with the idea that this nice kid would mouth off out of frustration and ultimately end up dead in the street, like Michael Brown. I was vexed by the idea that a “well-meaning” neighbor might confront him, and he would feel threatened and the need to fight back, like Trayvon Martin. What bothered me most is that the young Hispanic girl who lived next door to him could do the very same thing and no nefarious intentions would be attributed to her.

I hated having to have this conversation with this great young man whose only flaw that I could see was his naivety. I explained to him that I know what it’s like to be in his shoes and have others unfairly stereotyped me. I know what it’s like to be pulled over and questioned by law enforcement solely because of my skin color and maleness. I hate the fact that young black men have to have a different social education than other children. I hated that I had to be this young man’s teacher. But, what I would have hated most was loosing him to ignorance, violence, and potential racism all because he wanted free Internet.

I was talking to a white pastor friend recently. He lamented at the thought that he would have to share different things with an adopted black son than his white son. I found it incredibly insightful. The truth is, young black men too often are not treated the same or seen in the same light as others. I am not saying that everyone thinks this way. I am not saying that all African American males have the best intentions. But maybe, just maybe, we can admit that things are a bit unfair. Just a thought, that came out of my hard conversation on race.

7 Benefits Jesus’ Resurrection Provides Believers

I have been through more Easter day celebrations than I can count. It always puzzled me that the messages were always about the cross of Christ. Which is always relevant and good, but it seemed important to hear a message that centered on Jesus’ resurrection. The fact that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave means something, and that sermon was largely absent over the years. This past Easter I wanted to remedy that in our church so that is what I did. So, you have 7 things you receive as a result of the resurrection.

It was not until after the resurrection that the disciples are sent as Jesus’ witnesses into the entire world. He didn’t send them/us empty handed or ill equipped. We were sent with an arsenal that even the gates of hell couldn’t repel. This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simple scriptures that show a cause and effect relationship with the resurrection. There are more wonderful benefits found in the New Testament. I encourage you to discover them, but hopefully this will give you a good start.

1. Salvation

“…Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

2. Confidence of our Faith

 “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” 1 Cor 15:13-14 ESV

3. Resurrection Power

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…” Philippians 3:10 Also: Romans 1:1-6

4. Freedom from the Bondage of the Law

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7:4 ESV

 5. New Life

“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4 KJV

6. The Holy Spirit

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11 ESV Also: John 14:15-31 

7. The Hope of Heaven

“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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV Also: Ephesians 2:4-7

No Requiem for Rest

This last season of my life and ministry has been a major challenge. I outlined some of those struggles in the ‘When Life Sucks’ entry. As we could sense those struggles coming to an end, we along with the Vertical Church board saw it necessary for us to take some much needed time off. So, my wife and I set sail on a 7-day cruise on the largest ship on the seas.

Rest is one of those areas that pastors and spiritual leaders ignore with great frequency. They put their nose to the Kingdom grindstone and don’t stop until they drop dead far too soon with broken marriages and horribly wounded children in their wake. As if it’s God’s will that that we burn ourselves out dramatically. The martyrdom He has in mind for us is a daily death to self or even a more glorious beheading in His wonderful name. Not, by making His church an idol that we sacrifice ourselves to some twisted devotion. How can we reject rest when God Himself gave it to us as a gift.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 ESV

I know of no true pastor, elder, or church leader that would speak against the 10 Commandments, but far too many ignore the one above. My wife and I make sure we do our best to keep all 10 of them. I wonder how many spiritual leaders would lead better lives if they would just have a weekly Sabbath, just a thought.

Make no mistake about it I love the church. The church of Jesus Christ is the one institution He left us. I will also say proudly that I love Vertical Church ATL. I am honored to lead this small portion of His larger church. But, I pray for the courage to walk away should it threaten my marriage, my son, or my health. So, we have a rhythm to ensure that we care for ourselves effectively; it is once a week, a quarter, and once a year. We take a weekly Sabbath, a quarterly get away, and a yearly sabbatical. This keeps us in a healthy rhythm.

So, we found ourselves on a balcony overlooking the ocean, watching the sun dancing off the waves in rhythmic synchronization. The sky painted with felt tip in hues of blues, purples, oranges, and white. More often than not resisting the temptation to try to add a musical soundtrack to the symphony God created. The bass of the waves were playing against the treble of the wind and I found myself lost in thoughts of nothing and everything. I would look out and see other’s arms hanging over the side of the boat enjoying the same ensemble being played before us.

I found my wife retreating to similar moments of blissful ease. All of the stress, worry, busy work floated away. I couldn’t help but think, ‘We were made to do this’. Made to rest. Our bodies have a limit and God knew that when He designed us. We can wear ourselves out, shortening our life’s spans as if we are doing God a favor. WE WERE MADE TO REST! We expect pastors to kill themselves and then we curse them for dying.

Even though we have our healthy rhythms, we still needed to escape to ensure our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. If we didn’t have that, we would have burned out years ago. I want to be here for as long as possible. I have waited a long time to live in my calling, and I don’t want it to be over too quickly. I’m having too much fun. If I am going to have a quality life, a healthy family, and a ministry I am proud of, then rest will continue to be a part of our regime. There will be no end of intentional and strategic rest in our lives. 

3 Years of LOVE. and Counting

It is crazy to think that Vertical Church, Atlanta, is celebrating our 3-year anniversary. If you are new to my story, I along with my wife started a church in the statistically worse part of our city where a large collection college campuses exists (my wife and I graduated from these colleges). It was ridiculous to think that we would establish this local assembly in the midst of college students and the urban poor and that it would actually work. At the time, it felt like equal parts faith and stupidity. All we knew was that God was leading us, and that was enough.

I had spent years dreaming about planting a church in the West End/Vine City area of Atlanta.  I remember being in the community and noticing an old man struggling to get down the street. Looking at his face I felt like I could see all of the hardship and pain that he’d ever experience. I could not stop the tears from falling as I said aloud, “I am coming”.  Not that I, by myself am anything, but I fully believe that when I come, God is with me! I believe that was the moment I became the local pastor (even though it was years before we launched).

We started by serving in the community! That was the first public thing we’d done. It seemed appropriate. The community doesn’t necessarily need more churches in buildings, but more churches that will serve. Service is a verb, it’s what we do, not what we attend. Our area has been a “project” for so many including Christians, only to ultimately let them down.  If we were going to have impact, we would have to change how people saw church. So, we would be known for how we showed love to others. We started a movement called LOVE.

We have been consistently serving like we have lost our minds! It is because we look at what lengths Jesus went through to demonstrate his love. If we are going to follow his example, we should do the same. LOVE. is not a project. It is a movement! In 3-years we have done over 6,000 hours of service, we have distributed over 5,000 meals; we have given 4,000 books to a local school. Add to that, our work to fight sex trafficking, our back to school event (one of the largest in the city), our work with the homeless population, and our ongoing investments in church planting. We have been apart of community revitalization efforts – thinking, praying and giving voice. It’s clear to see we have been busy.  We have even invited other churches to join us in loving the overlooked, ignored, and forgotten.

We have become a vital part of the community. One local leader said, “I don’t know how we made before you arrived”. Another one said from the stage at one of our events, “Vertical Church loves us!” That is what LOVE. means! It doesn’t just mean something to us, but it means something to our community.

Yes, we have hit the 3-year mark. Most experts agree that it is a major milestone in the life of a church. It means that we are establish, that we have a much higher chance of making it over the long haul. We still have some challenges, like our finances. Even though we have a team that gives consistently, the amount they give is limited to their limited means. We will probably have to raise funds for the next 5 to 7 years. But, it is so worth it! I have found that it is easy for people to invest in our church because it’s easy to see our LOVE. in action.

It’s our Anniversary! I couldn’t be prouder as a pastor, and more honored to be a member of Vertical Church.

If you would like to join in the worthwhile work go to http://www.verticalatl.com/giving/