Is your vision of the church the same as God’s? One reason why racial injustice still exists in the church today is that many Christians do not share Jesus’ vision for His church. Building on last week’s podcast theme, today’s episode features a deeper exploration of the church as described in Ephesians 3:1-13. We must be gripped by God’s design for the church to be one body that spans race, culture, gender, and class. It’s only this kind of church that has the power to display the wisdom of God and declare to powers and principalities that Jesus is Lord.
Our first nine years at New Life (1987-1996) were a painful, difficult, and often unsuccessful attempt, to bridge racial, cultural, economic, and gender barriers. We did not “break through” our massive differences until God’s answer to our cry through what we call today Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS). EHS transformed our approach and language around reconciliation, giving us a more fully orbed theology, a new language, new tools, and a beneath the surface spirituality that deeply transformed us. EHS enabled us to build an authentic community with African Americans, West Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Whites, Peruvians, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Poles, Jews, Palestinians, and Russians (to name a few). The result has been the miracle that New Life is today — a vibrant community of 1500+ people from over 73 nations that serves as a sign and wonder to the power of the gospel. The principles for how this has happened are outlined. Read more.
I have spent 26 years planting New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, NYC. That is over a quarter of a century ago. That was my assigned task from God (1 Cor. 3:5-11). It has been a great journey. On Sunday I will hand over the “watering of these seeds” to Rich Villodas, my 34 year-old successor. (I will then take my new role as Teaching Pastor/Pastor-at-Large in NLF). For months I pondered the final sermon I would offer to the NLF family. What is the essence of the seeds I have planted? What are the seeds I pray they cherish, water, and grasp more deeply in the years to come? I distilled the answer to four seeds:1. Being precedes doing2. God is hidden in the marginalized3. Race matters4. God’s ways are little and slow. Take a look. You can also download the mp3 also from the NLF website. 26 Years of Lessons at NLF from New Life Fellowship on Vimeo.
We want deep churches where people are transformed. We also want wide churches that grow rapidly in numbers. The problem is that these two values are often incompatible. Think about it. Let’s say you are committed to bridging racial barriers in the church. That requires you slow down enough to listen to people’s stories, to ponder the complexity of structural and personal racism, to wrestle with issues of power and privilege, to read history and perspectives different than your own. Let’s take sexuality, singleness, and marriage. You can offer a class for 300 people at a time, touching broad theological issues at the 10,000-foot level. The problem, however, is that the issues are highly complex and nuanced. Each person and marriage has personal questions and struggles that require one-on-one conversations. The very preparation for this kind of formation slows you down. Think about the breadth of what is involved in a person’s formation in. Read more.
It is always a rich privilege to step outside one’s context and world. This trip was no exception. The following are a few additional learnings I noted on the way home yesterday: 1. God is moving all over the world. God reminded me of this text often during this trip – “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you” (Colossians 1:6). 2. The impact of China. With 1.3 billion people and a church about 100 million strong, the economic, spiritual, cultural, and political influence of China is staggering. Few of us in the USA or the West, I think, appreciate this reality. 3. South Africa. One church we visited had about 400 white South Africans. Perth, Australia has over 100,000 more. Why? Violence and racial tensions. Having spent a most of my adult life wrestling with racial tensions here in the USA,. Read more.
A co-laborer at New Life recently encouraged me to watch The Central Park Five. It is the story of five teenagers – four blacks and one Hispanic, ages 14 to 16, who were arrested and charged with raping and beating, nearly to death, a 28 year old, white woman after dark in Central Park. The boys were portrayed as “beasts,” and “wild animals” with no remorse for their actions. Donald Trump placed full-page ads calling for the return of the death penalty. They spent the next 7-13 years of their lives in prison. Their lives and families were ruined. The problem: They were innocent. The murderer who committed the crime finally admitted it in 2002. This documentary is important to watch for many reasons. Here are my top three: 1. Social class and racial divisions remain a deep reality. The Central Park Five gives us an amazing portrayal of the injustice that befalls so. Read more.