Archive for the ‘theology’ Category

This post is dedicated to two Steves: Steven Hamilton and Steve Schenk. You can check out Steven Hamilton on his blog Verve and Verse writing about theology, church, and his future plans to start a faith community in Pittsburgh and you can check out Steve Schenk writing on his blog Damascus 9 about his adventures as a church pastor in Buffalo here.

In recent years I have become aware of the issue of race more so as the pastor of a multiethnic church and through my studies at Fuller and this has caused me to explore not only the social issue of race but where I stand in regards to race and ethnicity. It has caused me to ask serious and honest questions about what I believe in regards to God’s perspective and viewpoint on race, culture, and ethnicity. Questions like

“Should there be a multiethnic church this side of heaven and is this a mandate for every church?”

“As an African American who has been robbed of culture should I place myself in a congregation where my culture is not dominant or at least valued?”

“Is there a place for a Christian black nationalist/separatist or is this going against God’s purpose for his church?”

“How can I be true to my culture and ethnicity while at the same time being a blessing to the different people around me?”

Many of these questions have been answered and many of them have not. The one thing that has emerged is that I do not want to be boxed in by race. Race is a social construct created to justify oppression. By being categorized in this way and operating within that construct I only give power to false notions of who I am as a person. To put it simply:  I am more than my skin color and physical features and these do not determine who I am. I am a human being who is capable of doing and achieving many things and experiencing the range and variety of human emotions and feelings.

With that being said.


I refuse to be boxed in. categorized. labeled. Stuck in what others have thought of me and planned for me. I refuse to be prejudged and placed in a fabricated construction of someone else’s reality. I am more than my skin color. nose size. hair texture. I am more than my history and my background. I am that but so much more. I refuse to be barred from anything life has to offer. I refuse to be excluded from all of the experience of humanity. I refuse to let my identity be dictated by others who do not know me. I refuse to grab at the small amount of options that society has opened for me.

Instead I choose to be different. unique. African. American. Loving myself. Loving my culture. I choose to be someone who lives and loves the thought that black is beautiful. I choose to contribute and give these gifts to the rest of the world. I choose to have an identity that embraces these things and goes beyond them. I choose to love others who are different. unique. European. Korean. Mexican. Chinese. Argentinian. Human. These are my people. They are me. For we are all human. I choose to speak life giving and affirming words that transcend language. transcend accents. transcend culture. transcend hatred. I choose to follow in the tradition of Martin and Malcolm. Mother Teresa and Cesar Chaves. Jesus and Buddha. I choose to speak the truth that transcends race. I choose to a be race transcending prophet.


In a few days we will be leaving on a plane to Atlanta for a nine day retreat and then on to Pittsburgh,PA.  Yes it is official. .This means I will be out of the blogosphere for a while. That’s until we get settled. Once we touch down and get things in order then I will be back with new posts, contests, and new plans (can u guess them?) since I will be seeking to create a larger platform for the ideas in this blog.

In the meantime, here is a preview of upcoming blogposts. Pick your favorite and I will dedicate it to you. Just comment below and if you have a blog or twitter give me your url or twitter handle and you will get free publicity from yours truly. So here they are:

Racism: Pointing Out the Problem or Being a Solution

Life in the Pitt: Week One

The Book of Ramon Explained

Manifesto of a Race-Transcending Prophet

Black or African American: What’s the Difference?

The Case for Reparations

The Confessions of an Ex-Pastor: Ten things I learned as a pastor

So there u go. Think of it like dedications on the radio except no mushy love song. Just tell me which one is your favorite and if you have a website, blog, or twitter handle I will mention it in my post. If you don’t get into the top 7 don’t worry I will still mention you in later posts.


One of the big differences that I have seen between the black church and the white church involves preaching. It boils down to this: the stated goal of preaching is different therefore the delivery and content are different. The black preacher preaches in order to lift up. He knows he is talking to people who have been down and who face huge obstacles. The white preacher preaches in order to inform and educate. He knows he is talking to people who want to increase their knowledge.

This influences the delivery and the content of the preaching. The delivery of the black preacher is circular and high context. Most people think that black preaching is too emotional and not logical. This is due to not understanding the context of black culture that is sourced in Africa. It is not enough to have a logical argument. There is logic in black preaching but The black preacher knows that it takes more than logic to drive the argument home. This is done through stating the point. Talking about something related to the point and then stating the point again. Repeat and end with a climactic conclusion and you have a typical black sermon. It is very non linear. This is due to black culture being a high context culture. In a high context culture words are not the primary vehicles of communication. Facial expressions, music, hand gestures etc. are also taken into consideration when weighing whether a message will be received. So the black preacher states the point over and over again and this immerses her in the message and what God is saying and the congregation sees that this message must be important and begins to feedback with Amen! Preach preacher! It is the truth and it is conveyed in a non linear fashion.

On the other hand in the white church logic reigns supreme and linear forms of thought and speech hold sway. This is due to the legacy of the Enlightenment and even Greek culture. There must be a beginning and an end point and it must be clear how we got from the beginning to the end. This is due to a low context culture. In a low context culture the message is primarily in the words and the words only. It is enough to state what you want to say. Everything else that comes along with your message is frivolous and unnecessary. Emotion is shunned because it may interfere with the delivery of the truth. In the white church you will not hear feedback from the audience or Amens! from the choir. The true test of whether the message is heard is whether people actually get up and do it.

Most people usually critique black preaching or white preaching based on what it lacks. Growing up as a black pentecostal and then being part of a multiethnic church and a predominantly white movement I have had the privilege of seeing both styles in action. This has led to some soul searching in my own ministry on how to deliver God’s message. Doing both in different contexts I can honestly say that there is no better style but I wrestle with how both of these styles can be combined in order to be a greater benefit to the body of Christ.

  • What do you think? Do you prefer one over the other?
  • Could it ever happen? Has anyone seen it happen?
  • Can you give any examples of preaching that is a mixture of both styles?

One of my favorite lines in the Star Wars series is “I have a bad feeling about this”. Variations of this phrase can be found in each of the six Star Wars movies and it always cracks me up when I hear it. Ok now that I let my inner Star Wars geek out on to more important matters like…discerning God’s will.

As I reported earlier our family has been in the process of figuring out next steps and we have been guided from Philadelphia towards Pittsburgh. It is a long story but the change in plans was due to some godly counsel, wisdom from the word, circumstances, and the witness of the Spirit. My question now as I process what God is doing is the fact that I had a bad feeling about Philadelphia and a good feeling about Pittsburgh. Now I am from the school of thought that says do not trust your feelings but I also know that my feelings have been used by God to solidify decisions. What do I mean by this? This has happened twice in major moments of decision: leaving the church I grew up in
choosing to date my wife Yvette

Example #1: The time I left the church I grew up in to be a church planting intern was a tough time. I had not known any other brand of Christianity and was solidly rooted in that faith community. On top of that all of my maternal family was connected to the church and at the time my grandfather was the pastor. I processed the decision and logically it all added up but I still was not released to go forward with it until one day I was in a major prayer/fasting service and while praying I “felt” nothing. Just so you know this particular season of prayer/fasting was something that I had consistently prayed about for 30 days straight. I took this lack of feeling as a sign that God was leading me to be a church planting intern at VX church. That step led me to finding a wife, developing my gifts, and seeing God do some amazing things through a small multiethnic church fellowship.

Example #2: When I first started developing feelings for Yvette we had become really good friends over the years and more intensely for two months before I realized that I was definitely falling for her. At that point in my life I did not take “feelings” as the only indicator that I should pursue marriage with her because I knew that it took more than feelings to make a good marriage. So we waited and talked and discussed things. I gathered information on her and even interviewed her. In retrospect I was brutal and treated it more like a job interview than a relationship. Then at 3am in the morning after many hours of prayer I could not feel anything. I took this as God releasing me to date her. Here we are almost 7 years later and I am glad that I took that step.

In retrospect both of those examples were decisions that led to great blessing in my life and they were both associated with feelings or a lack thereof. Fast forward to 2011. I did not have a good feeling about moving until Yvette discussed it with me a couple of weeks ago and we figured out logically that Pittsburgh was a better place to relocate considering our immediate goals (rest, be near her family, change of scenery, better cost of living). On the other hand I also got an immediate surge of good feelings and emotions about it and I felt free to pursue it wholeheartedly. Ultimately as in the previous decisions it is loaded with uncertainty and mystery which is characteristic of every step of faith but I can’t help but think that emotions and feelings are not always bad in making decisions. I think the Star Wars characters were right in at least they were aware of their emotions and feelings during their crazy adventures and believe me..I am on one crazy adventure.

What do you think?

Are there any biblical examples of people moving on emotion?

Have you ever been led by your emotions and believed it was God?

Do you think that God chooses to speak to emotional people through their emotions?

I will begin this installment on the sixth principle of emotional health Embracing Grief and Loss with a confession: I have not been myself lately. I admit it. I’m coming apart and that’s a good thing. So much of my life has been invested in being the pastor of VX church that it seems unreal that we are closing. So unreal that I do not know how to be. And that speaks to me. It shows me how much being in this role has defined my life. I have defined myself by what I do. In the past few weeks I have gone from lethargic to hyperactive and back again. In fact the night before I had to preach on this topic I did not sleep at all. I couldn’t place my finger on it and blamed it on too much tea (that theory dissolved after I realized yerba mate has 1/3rd the caffeine of coffee). I have been forgetting things and remembering some things that have been long forgotten. On top of all this I have been trying on more new identities than a pampered rich girl tries on clothes in a Beverly Hills dressing room. To put it simply I have been grieving.

Grieving the fact that relationships will change. Grieving the fact that in a few Sunday morning I will have to choose where to go and what to do. Grieving the fact that I will be on the receiving side of a sermon side and not on the giving side. I am grieving the numerous inside jokes that have developed over the years. I am grieving over the fact that the world will not feel like it’s all on my shoulders and people won’t look to me to help solve their problems. Yes I will even grieve that.

Why? Because it is loss. It is change. In order to adjust to change we have to grieve over the reality that once was. People have been asking what is it like to make a decision to close a church. To be honest when we actually made the decision it was easy because I had prayed and thought about it for months. The hard part came after making the decision. Then my emotions caught up to me. That’s because any loss no matter how much it makes sense affects us in profound ways that we are unaware of. God gives us grieving time for the rest of our self to catch up with reality. I believe that’s why even though Sunday was coming…nothing big happened on the Saturday in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Jesus’ family and friends cried and mourned their loss. The crowds were gone. There was silence in the grave. Saturday was uneventful but profound. In order to really embrace Sunday it was necessary to sit in Saturday. And that’s what I’m doing right now as I search for a new way to be. And the best thing that I can come up with is…be a child of God.

The one thing that has been highlighted to me the most about our church closing is the 5th principle of emotionally healthy churches: Receiving the Gift of Limits.

I believe our whole society is in need of embracing this principle. We have been
saturated with the ideals of “bigger is better”. From supersized value meals to
huge expensive SUV’s we have been overwhelmed with the message that more is
always the right thing. We have been raised to believe like the US Army that we
can be an “Army of One” or have been serenaded by R. Kelly into believing that
we can fly. I have not been immune to this pervasive spirit of the age and only
now have come to a point in my life where I have begun to question, critique,
and ultimately reject it.

All of us as individuals have a God given capacity. This changes according to our life stage and situation and we must adjust to where God has placed us and the gifts and abilities that he has given us. It is up to us to discern our limitations and for me personally after seeing our church get evicted, over half of our leadership team operate in burn out mode, and experience numerous financial setbacks I had to face up to my limitations. For our church to continue would have meant that I dug in my heels and persevered for at least five more years. It would basically mean that we would have to start all over again. Not only was I not up to that task but the rest of our team was not up to that task. Many think the decision is not spiritual and we should have persevered but I think that to look at these things with a blind
eye and continue on is not only unspiritual but just plain stupid!

But receiving the gift of limits is not only for the times
of loss and defeat it is something that we must embrace throughout our
lives-especially in the times of success and abundance. These are the times
when we are most tempted to take on more than we can and to bite off more than
we can chew. This is the Achilles heel that I see for many in church
leadership. It all looks good on the outside but inside all of the duties and
responsibilities, the speaking engagements, and the limelight can be too much
and cause you to die on the inside.

I for one have realized that the senior pastor role has caused me to die on the inside. I have been in ministry for close to 10 years now and it finally hit me that I have spent most of that time feeling tied down with responsibility. When you are pastoring your main responsibility is to show up. When nobody else shows up you are supposed to show up. The problem is I have not always wanted to show up and it has worn me down. Sometimes I just want to take the weekend and go to Yosemite or go to a Les Nubians or Mos Def  concert. Sometimes I want to go to somebody else’s church. Sometimes I just want to divert my creativity to poetry and music. I have felt tied down for too long and I need some freedom. Some people do not need this much freedom and they have been blessed by God to stick with their congregation through thick and thin. This is not my gift. I actually like being around a variety of different people and speaking to different audiences. That’s why one of my future goals is to be a seminary or university teacher. You get a new batch every quarter or semester and they give you time to write and be creative.  It is just how I am wired and if I receive it as a gift it can probably lead to greater blessing than trying to fit the mold of others.

PhillyskylineRight now we are preparing to go to Philadelphia and just like the t-shirt I got
from some friends at a Vineyard conference a few years ago people are asking “Why
Philly?” When presented with the question I just tell people it is a place that
we really fell in love with and it has been on my mind since we last visited.
Is this enough to suggest moving there? I personally think that it does. Now there
are other reasons:

  • A great college town. Yvette is a college instructor. I am
  • Cheesesteaks. I haven’t been eating red meat since January but
    this would definitely sway me
  • A larger African American population. The Los
    Angeles area is only 8% African American while Philadelphia is 43.4%. I need this kind of
    emotional and cultural retreat as I have been working deep in cross cultural
    ministry for a long time
  • A change of scenery. I have lived in Southern
    California all my life. I think a change of scenery would be good
    for my soul. Seeing the seasons change sounds exciting.
  • A smaller less suburban environment. LA is a city of suburbs
    and I am tired of the sprawl. It is definitely not my speed.

Now these are natural reasons. But are there any supernatural ones? A better question is Do we need to have supernatural ones? Last night we talked to Mike Flynn. He is an associate pastor at a Vineyard out here and a great teacher and speaker regarding Holy Spirit ministry. He talked to me and Yvette about guidance. He says there are four things that are needed when a follower of Christ makes decisions:

  • Scripture. Right now we have no definite scripture that says
    go to Philadelphia.While we have nothing that says don’t go we do not have anything that explicitly says go. Anything that we have would be indirect like “Have faith in God” “Go to a land I will show you”. Nothing that really stands out in framing this decision from a Biblical perspective.
  • Peace. To have an inner peace and calm about the decision
    and not a feeling of apprehension. Mike said that this is found in our heart or
    right under our breastbone. While I don’t subscribe to the breastbone theory I
    do think that our decisions as Christians can be guided by a subjective peace.
  •  Wise, godly counsel. This is where I am at a loss. The only
    godly counsel that I personally have received regarding this decision has said “Gofor it” but more in the sense of “You know what you are doing and this is what you want so…Go for it.” I went to my former counselor and he said this is a good decision for us since it involves risk and will grow our faith.
  • Circumstances. This is where I am really at a loss. We keep
    looking for jobs and cannot find anything except there are an abundance of
    entry level jobs or service jobs that would not get us to a better place
    financially. There are not even a lot of ministry jobs which is the one field
    that I have experience and education in.

Now those are the four areas that need to be covered. I
really would like to make a good decision right now and not just plow through
this time because I need somewhere to go to escape. I also do not want to make
a decision based on the eeny meeny miny moe theory that JHenry talks about in
his blog. I want this decision to line up with what I believe and the overall
picture of my life and not just this one section of chaos.

That being said. If there is anyone who has anything to say
regarding our situation besides “Go for it!” Then please chime in. I am
searching for answers and am willing to eat crow if we are headed the wrong