The Social Dimension of the Power of God

power“What will people think

When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak

What will people do when they find that it’s true

I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak

There ain’t no disguising the truth.” – Jesus Freak, DC Talk

If there is anything Christian song that characterized my experience as a young person, it would have to be DC Talk’s Jesus Freak. Released in 1995, it defined what it meant to live a life completely sold out to God. Living a life on fire, as we so affectionately called it, was a big deal for youth like me who grew up in a Pentecostal context such as the Assemblies of God. In the era of the Brownsville Revival and the Toronto Blessing, being consumed with anything else simply wasn’t an option if you were truly a Christian.

We competed for God’s blessings, well rather, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The true marker of our commitment to God was whether or not we could speak in tongues. The second was whether we would get slain in the Spirit or at least, have a prophesy directed our way when the evangelist laid their hands on our head. And because I experienced both of these things, I was confident that I was a truly living a life that was pleasing to God.

We were mainly concerned with the visible works of the Holy Spirit. Sure, we cherished the fruits of the Spirit – things like love, joy, peace, and patience – but there were very little sermons preached about how we live in comparison to ensuring that we were full of the Spirit. We prayed for it. We fasted for it. We did all nighters and See You at the Pole rallies to prove just how sold out to God we were. We toiled and tarried at the altar, sometimes for hours, convinced that if we did our part, God would show up and pour out His Spirit in the same way He did in the early church, at least in the same way He did in the Azuza Street Revival. And we judged other Christians who were not pursuing God in the same manner, attaching value statements to believers, and churches, who were not experiencing powerful demonstrations of the Spirit.

And as God filled us with the power of the Holy Spirit, we hoarded the anointing and spent it on ourselves. We did not care, or cared very little, about how the same Spirit might turn the world upside down. Unlike the early church, fullness of the Spirit to us meant more manifestations evidenced in increased church attendance, new conversions, and acts of speaking in tongues. My, how we prioritized speaking in tongues. But we did not think about how the Holy Spirit might use us to dismantle the systems of injustice that were holding people captive to oppression and pain.

See the rest of this post over at Pentecostals and Charismatics for Justice >

The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Your Kingdom Come and Will Be Done (Part 4)

Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. So far, we have explored the statements of God as ‘Our Father‘ and “Holy” which can help us form a social justice theology. This week, we will look at the declaration of God’s Kingdom and the petition for His will in the same vein.

In the days of John the Baptist’s ministry, John went about preaching and admonishing those who were within earshot of his words to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand. John understood that in the coming of Jesus, the way that the world worked was fundamentally changing. The sovereign rule and reign of God was once again being established in the way that it was in the beginning.  medium_4385681932

In the early days of his ministry, Jesus told his followers to repent in light of the present kingdom. And then he went about exercising the rule of this kingdom – healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. He begins to right the wrongs of the world, ultimately challenging the stronghold that sin has had upon all of creation. But then he asks for his disciples, and us, to pray for His kingdom of come. He is signifying that the fullness of God’s kingdom has not yet been realized. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God in His first coming, He will complete it in His Second. In between these two realities, Jesus invites us to be a part of the larger work of God in bringing it to pass.

God chooses to use completely inept human beings to carry out His will. He chooses to use people like us, who often get confused about whose kingdom we are building, to actively pursue and usher in His kingdom. He invites us to play a role in that kingdom, not a role where we dominate and rule over others, and not a role where we bully others into believing and thinking that way that we do. Says Soong-Chan Rah in his book, Many Colors: “We are called to pursue God’s kingdom together in partnership and not under the duress of paternalism.”*

As theologian N.T. Wright suggests, God is asking us to begin to imagine what this kingdom might look like and celebrate that redemption, that healing and transformation in the present and anticipate God’s final intention.** Presently, war, famine, genocide, rape, trafficking racism, acts of rage, destruction, sickness, and death, exist in every society throughout the world. As humans, we simply have never experienced life without these realities. We don’t know what it is to live in peace, to live free of pain, to live without fear of someone doing us in simply because of the color of our skin, who we associate with or our political agenda. But imagine living in a world, where none of these things are possibilities.

Imagine a world where we will never feel the need to arm ourselves, and therefore, are more than willing to relinquish any gun rights that we ever thought we had claim to. Imagine a place where children go to school and come back home in the evening, a world where women and girls are not treated like commodities to be bought and sold, but are respected, loved, and cherished. Imagine a world, where there is no competition, no need to fight over resources because there is plenty to go around and no one is hoarding, a place where people let go of offenses, and at the same time, people are not offending. These things seem so out of reach and are so unlike our present circumstances that we face on a daily basis. They seem like some utopic vision, not rooted in reality. But the fact of the matter is, this is God’s reality. This is what He is bringing the world into. This is what His kingdom will look like. This is what we are praying for and inviting others to be a part of as they begin to see through us glimpses of this reality being realized.  medium_352470821

Which really fits nicely with the next piece of this prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.But what is God’s will? It is certainly not this. It is not imperialism and empire building under the guise of Christianity. It is not bigotry, not revenge, not greed, not even tolerance and cultural relativism in the name of political correctness. This has never been God’s will. We are a far cry from it. Far! Do we not remember that there was a garden and in that garden an act of unfaith and rebellion took place that changed the entire narrative of human history from that moment on?

Prior to this act, we enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. We were naked and vulnerable before God and before each other and were not ashamed because we had nothing to hide. Everything about God’s creation, including us, was right and pure. This was God’s will. God desired that we live in this holy relationship with Him, each other and even the environment around us. And then the unthinkable happened. We decided to disobey God. We became full of pride and felt that we could no longer trust what God had to say, and so we did our own thing. Ever since then, we’ve been walking backwards, trying to get back to that original point before we acted out of unfaith. And we’ve failed miserably. But God, in spite of our arrogance and quite frankly, ignorance, is in the redeeming business and is in the process of bringing all of creation back to where we need to be in God and with each other. This is God’s will. This is what we are praying for, that his perfect will be accomplished in the earth.

God’s will is bigger than our little lives. So often we pray these prayers that are so focused on us, and our needs, and we miss what God is doing in the world. We’ve been taught to ask God what His will is for our lives, and on the surface that sounds really good, godly in fact. But I believe we are missing something big. Here we are asking God to reveal His will for us, meanwhile, our world is being torn a part by injustice. Is God really that into us, our individual needs and circumstances? Does He really design His will around our individual passions and gifts? Or are we just that narcisstic?

Or perhaps we are apathetic to the needs of those around us. Unless we feel our Christian liberties (or American liberties) are being violated or we think we are being persecuted in some way, we are mute and turn a deaf ear to the suffering around us. Why? I point at the inept and sometimes altogether bad theology that has forced its way into church history. This has led to a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God, the will of God, and our role in bringing both to pass. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Steve Kang and Gary Parrett, in their book A Many Colored Kingdom, explains it this way:

ManyColoredQuote

While what Conde-Frazier and her colleagues describe has been characteristic of church history, God is able to redeem this colored past and bring about a new reality through us. In spite of our flaws, He continues to invite us to take part in proclaiming His eternal kingdom. He invites us to imagine and to proclaim:

  • Peace between Israelis and Palestinians including the sharing of resources and land
  • An end to the Syria conflict including a stable government
  • The complete eradication of racial injustice
  • The toppling of the sex trafficking trade
  • The salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus as their personal savior
  • The end to crony capitalization and other economic structures that disinvest communities
  • The reconciliation of peoples who have once been divided
  • A people of God who are prophetic and in tune to what the Spirit of God is doing in our churches, community and world

In a society and world that is so dysfunctional, God’s reality will always seem unattainable and unrealistic. Fortunately for us, He has called us to be in this world, but not of this world. If we are of this world, we will get lost in the rules and customs of the ruling elite. We allow their stipulations to dictate our actions and their fears to keep us from hoping, dreaming, and imagining something different. But being a people not of this world, we are constantly proclaiming the reality, the fullness of the Kingdom of God unafraid of the consequences that sometimes come with speaking truth to power. And it all starts with one little prayer – Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Come back next week for part V of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it.

References:
*Soong-Chan Rah. Many Colors (Chicago: Moody Publishers) p. 121
**N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope (HarperOne) p. 201

Photo credit: (1)https://www.flickr.com/photos/reallynuts/4385681932/
(2)https://www.flickr.com/photos/difusa/352470821

The Lord’s Prayer: a Social Justice Theology

medium_2412096496On Easter Sunday, a little over 22 years ago, I came to know the Lord at my grandmother’s church – Evangel Assembly of God in Milwaukee, WI. Since then, I have spent the better part of my life attending Assembly of God churches, schools, conventions, and summer camps, and am even licensed by the denomination – all this being said that I know the AG’s history, beginnings, theology and teachings inside and out. While there are many parts of this spiritual heritage that I am proud of – acknowledgment of the gifts and physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit, openness and exuberance in worship, and emphasis on evangelism and discipleship – I am concerned that we largely lack a biblical response to the social justice issues in our day. In the face of racial injustice, poverty, hunger, genocide, rape and so many other maladies, the Assemblies of God is quite silent. But we are not the only ones are mute on these pertinent issues – many denominations and congregations across America also lack a robust social justice theology and thereby fail to address the many ills that our pervasive in our society.

I could offer a thousand theories as to why many denominations and congregations  across America, and perhaps around the world as well, haven’t taken the time to formulate a theology of justice. While I will not take the time to unpack all of these theories, one that I want to point out is our tendency to assign greater importance to the spiritual world while neglecting the material. This dualistic approach, which stems heavily from Plato’s influence on the West and consequently the Church, leads us to believe that everything that is spiritual in nature is good and conversely, see all that is material in nature as evil, or at least not important.

As a result, we’ve been conditioned to believe that spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, fasting, and Bible reading are the most important aspects in a life of a believer. And we likewise believe that gifts of the spirit such as speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and discernment, are the only evidence that the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives. But what we don’t realize is that the words that we declare with out mouths and the actions that we do with our hands and feet our equally important. We don’t often see the connection between the system of belief that we teach and how we actually live.

I have had a hard time with this disconnection for a long time. I grew up well acquainted with the Azuza Street movement of the early 1900s, when the Holy Spirit poured Himself out on a group of believers in California. Led by a black man, William Seymour, these people experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. But they were also united across racial, gender, and class lines, something that was quite exceptional in a society that was completely divided along these lines.

But the spirit of unity that was an early characteristic of this movement did not last long. Upon visiting the movement, Seymour’s psuedo-mentor, Charles Parham denounced the work of the Spirit in the revival because blacks and whites worshipped and fellowshipped together. Parham was not the only one who had his grievances about the movement as many white Pentecostals harbored similar sentiments and spoke out against Seymour. After the revival ended in 1909, the racism that had come to define America also began to define the Pentecostal movement, hindering the work of reconciliation that the Holy Spirit initiated. White people failed to understand the connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the way that they treated their black brothers and sisters.

This disconnection between the spiritual and the material has also deeply influenced our negligence in adequately respond to other injustices in our society and subsequently from forming a theology of social justice. If we believe that inward expression and orientation is the only thing that matters, we will have little regard for how our brothers and sisters in our country and around the world are treated. If we believe that what we believe is of most importance to God, we will not see the need to do justice for those who are trapped in the criminal justice system, the thousands of refugee children who are stuck at our nation’s borders, those without food, clothing or shelter, or those who are sexually trafficked on a daily basis. And that’s just within the United States – I have not begun to touch on the things going outside of our borders.

Fortunately for us, Jesus provides us with a different model for seeing and doing things – just as He always does! He teaches us to connect the spiritual with the material and imagine a different reality in doing so. In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 5 – 7 of the New Testament, Jesus gives His disciples some pretty clear instructions on how to pray. But this prayer is extremely radical because it suggests that those who pray it will live radically different. Jesus assumes that those who pray this prayer, which emphasizes God’s justice and peace on earth, will in fact reorient themselves in light of the very things they are praying.

Over the next several weeks, I am going to unpack the parts of this prayer which I believe serve as a model for crafting a theology on social justice while also continuing to explain the importance in doing so. Please join me in this quest, offer feedback, and look for updates every week.

Here are the links to subsequent weeks which will be added to this post as the series progresses: 

The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Our Father (Part 2) – “If we can understand that God isn’t just for us, but is holding it down for billions of other people across the globe, we will start to do life differently. All of a sudden, we stop seeing life in terms of ‘me’ but ‘we.’ That alone will transform our behavior and how we act towards one another.” 

 

Help Needed! Looking for a Few Reviews

journeyLast month, I released my second book – Embracing a Holistic Faith: Essays on Biblical Justice. This book was a long time coming, and reflects my growing understanding of the intersection of faith and justice over the last several years. It includes popular essays from this blog like Returning to the Hood, Make Disciples of All Nations (and Then the Nations Came to Us), and the Church’s Role in a New Racial Justice Movement. And so if you like these, and everything else you read on this blog, I can GUARANTEE that you will love the book. Plus, it also includes a nice study guide at the end of each chapter. Sweetness!

I am now looking for some people who have a little time on their hands or just like to read to review my book. You can either post your review on Amazon, on your own blog, or on social media – whichever works for you. In exchange, you will get an electronic copy of my book – FOR FREE.

Leave your email in the comment box below if you are interested!

Many thanks 🙂

New Book: Embracing a Holistic Faith (Finally)

journeyIt has been exactly five years since the release of my first book, Dancing on Hot Coals. And while I have been writing like crazy since then, sometimes it takes a while to put everything together especially when you throw marriage and kids into the mix. But that is perfectly okay with me, my family has made my writing much stronger.

In that vein, I am pleased to announce that my second book, Embracing a Holistic Faith – Essays on Biblical Justice, will be out this March. So very excited!

Take a look at the first chapter right now and if you like, tweet me @ebonyjohanna using hashtag #holisticfaith

Oh, and bonus: there is a study guide that goes with the book found at the end of each chapter. This makes it perfect for individual or group Bible studies.

The Power of Story

know-your-storySeveral years ago, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. It is a fiction novel that weaves the lives of a dysfunctional missionary family with the people of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. As the novel tells the tales of this family, it also exposes the dirt in two governments – namely Zaire’s and America’s, America who sponsored a coup to overthrow Zaire’s newly democratically elected president Patrice Lumumba. But this is not the focal point of the story, rather it is a snippet on a larger timeline that is Zaire’s culture and history.

For some reason, after reading the book, I flipped to the back to look at the bibliography. As I strolled through the references that Kingsolver used to research and write her book, I noticed something quite peculiar – there didn’t seem to be one African source among them. No, wait! I looked through the list again and noticed Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” In truth, I did recognize his writing toward the end of Kingsolver’s piece and thought that it almost didn’t fit. And in all honesty it shouldn’t have. Achebe’s work was about Nigeria and more specifically touched on the culture of the Ibo people. Kingsolver’s novel was about Zaire – what was the connection between the two? It seemed like Achebe’s piece was an add on or an afterthought, then only to prove to Kingsolver’s readers and perhaps herself, that Africans played a role in telling their story.

Fast forward almost two years to the present day. I recently ran across an article that heavily criticized Tim Wise and the white privilege he uses to elevate issues around race in this society, ironically the same privilege which he also uses to criticize the very people he works to defend. Though I respect Wise’s work, I must admit that when I first learned about him I was a little skeptical. I wondered why his story about racism and all its related vices was the one being told. Why was his story the expert story based on communities of color very lived experiences? I wondered where were the black voices, the Latino voices, the immigrant voices speaking on behalf of their own issues instead of someone speaking for us.

The good news is that those voices are there. In fact, there are plenty of them. The bad news is that often get drowned out by the Wise’s and Kingsolvers of this world who pimp our story for their personal gain. This happens in the media all of the time. How many times do we hear about some destitute man living in poverty in India, or a single woman with two kids with no job living on the streets in New York City, or a pot-bellied kid in Haiti, or stories of the homeless, the hungry, the dying among us? Sure, these stories bring awareness to the very problems that plague us all, and that is so important. Without this awareness raising, many people would not know about these realities. However, more than this, these stories bring revenue, fortune, and fame to the ones that tell them and do very little to change the lives of those they are making money off of.

A few years before I read Kingsolver, I ran across an article in the New York Times that told the story of a woman dying with AIDS in Africa (the name of the actual country escapes me now). The news article shared that antiretrovirals were all that this woman needed to live but that due to poverty she did not have access to this life saving drug. As sad as I found this story, I wondered if the reporter, the New York Times, or whoever fed them the story about her, did anything to help change her situation. Did they provide her the drugs, give her the money, or help her get connected to some medical NGO who could help her out? While the story is a worthy story that needs to be told, if they did nothing to alleviate her pain their inaction proves to be a greater injustice than the AIDS she was dying from.

A lot of people are getting rich at our expense! Moreover, this manner of storytelling seems to perpetuate the injustices that we face even more, because others become the de facto experts of our lives, our realities, and our experience. Which means they also become the so-called experts on the solutions that will save us but they are not. We are. This is why we must control our own story. We must tell our own story, and tell it often to anyone who is willing to let us bear our souls, our hearts, our truths, our realities. In telling in our own way and on our own terms, we prove that we have more power than people, including ourselves, give us credit for.  Power changes things. And that is what counts.

 

Life Doesn’t Get Much Simpler than This

Here is a sure-fire, three step solution to simplify your busy, complicated life.

Ready. Ok. Believe me you will be amazed!

Step 1: Act justly.

Step 2: Love mercy.

Step 3: Walk humbly with your God.

That’s it! I told you it was pretty simple. Everything that God requires of us, He has laid out in Scripture. So you know what this means? Everything else that we find ourselves preoccupied with, though sometimes good, in the grand scheme of things matters very little.

I will be back over the next few days to unpack what these steps mean. In the meantime, sleep well tonight knowing that all God really asks of you is to love Him and love others wholeheartily.

Easy as pie!

Make sure to subscribe to my blog to find out more about these three very easy steps. Oh, and read Micah 6.8.