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Reconstructing Faith In Ephesians

Reconstructing Faith In Ephesians

I am in a season of deconstruction.”

It is likely that you have either read, heard, or said these words in recent months. The deconstructing of faith is a popular practice these days. But what is it exactly? For some it is an opportunity to live their authentic life free of all moral and religious authority. For others it is a sincere attempt to determine if their faith has been formed by the words of Christ or by cultural ideologies. Regardless of the motivation, it is clear that we are in serious need of reconstructing faith. 

Deconstructing Faith

With that said, it is important to ask ourselves what it is precisely that we are deconstructing. And perhaps even more importantly, why we want to deconstruct these beliefs and ideas in the first place. It is absolutely healthy and even wise to deconstruct a belief or set of beliefs, especially if those beliefs are toxic, heretical, harmful, and downright false. As long as the motivation and desire is to pursue, understand, and embrace truth, then there is a goodness to the work of reevaluating, revisiting, and even reconsidering what we believe and why we believe it. But if our aim is to deconstruct for the purposes of liberating ourselves to live free of any and all authorities, then we are clearly not interested in remaining yoked to Jesus.

Thabiti Anyabwile makes the distinction between deconstruction and demolition. It is absolutely possible and often necessary for someone to pursue the work of deconstructing their faith with the aim of reconstructing a true, unadulterated, and biblical faith. When the goal of deconstructing faith is to properly and purely pursue Jesus for who he truly is, then it can be a beautiful and sanctifying process. Deconstruction for the sake of demolition is an entirely different story. In order to discern the difference we need to be clear on the intended direction that our deconstruction is taking us. Listen to how Anyabwile puts it.

As I watch the conversation, it seems to me a crisis of confidence often travels with deconstruction. Some boast about this; they see their deconstruction as a commitment to ambiguity, not knowing, taking a journey being guided mainly by questions or doubts. I don’t think such boasting is healthy. As G. K. Chesterton once observed, “The purpose of having an open mind, like an open mouth, is to close it onto something solid.” But others who are deconstructing have a more specific destination in mind. They can identify the particular issue(s) that need re-examination in light of scripture, history, practice, etc. I’d suggest specificity actually helps with knowing whether you’re making spiritual progress toward anything healthy or toward anything at all. 

A Better and More Faithful Approach

During a time when many people are deconstructing their faith with the goal of deconverting from their faith, we need to implement a better and more faithful approach. We do not need to throw out the deconstruction baby with the deconversion bathwater. So what do we need in order to properly deconstruct and reconstruct our faith? We need a solid foundation to build from. And that foundation is the cornerstone of the Lord Jesus.

The apostle Paul penned these words to the church at Ephesus who were themselves being compelled and coerced to compromise their faith by capitulating to the pervasive pagan culture around them.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  Ephesians 2:19–20

Reconstructing Faith

It is this foundation that we need to return to and reconstruct our faith upon. This is precisely what we plan to do together in our sermon series Reconstructing Faith as we explore the foundations of the Christian faith through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Whether you have been following Jesus for years or you’re ready to call it quits, we want to begin reconstructing our faith together. 

The Spiritual Art of Navel-Gazing

The Spiritual Art of Navel-Gazing

Although it isn’t a common colloquial phrase in contemporary culture, navel-gazing is something we ought to consider bringing back as a practice of spiritual formation. That may sound rather odd to our modern ears, given that we commonly associate this phrase with self-absorption and self-centeredness. If someone is labeled as a navel-gazer they are considered to be guilty of being consumed with their own thoughts, preferences, desires, and concerns without any regard for others. Oddly enough, the original meaning of this phrase had the exact opposite idea in mind.

The ancient Greeks practiced the art of navel-gazing, which they called omphaloskepsis. And no, I did not just bang my hands on the keyboard to produce that word. It is an actual term in Greek that literally means navel examination. But it wasn’t about entertaining thoughts of one’s self. On the contrary, the practice of navel-gazing was a way to contemplate and reflect upon the divine. 

In his book Curiosities of Medical Experience, the 19th century British army surgeon John G. Millingen described the Greek practice of navel-gazing in this way. He said the Greeks “…fancied that they experienced celestial joys when gazing on their umbilical region, in converse with the deity.” It was believed that concentrated reflection on the navel would induce deep communion with the divine. Building upon this strange ancient practice, Kelly Kapic has this to say in his outstanding book You’re Only Human.

“The belly button” Kapic suggests, “has a profound theological importance. It is our body’s way of reminding us that we are not self-made people. We are not separate islands. We are not merely rugged individuals. Instead we are inevitably and necessarily bound together with others. It has been so from the beginning and will always be. Each of us is someone’s child whether we know their names or not. All of us owe our existence not simply to God but to other human creatures.”

If we just pause to consider this for a moment it actually makes a great deal of sense. What is our belly button? It is evidence of the fact that our lives are derivative. It is the anatomical reminder that our very existence is wholly tied to and predicated upon the existence of another. And that person’s existence is predicated upon the existence of another, and so on. This pattern of life should then naturally lead us to wonder and explore the source and beginning of all life, namely God.

When we properly practice the discipline of navel-gazing, it should forge within us a godly gratitude that recognizes all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do is given to us from God. Or to put it conversely, it should form a holy humility that admits there is no such thing as a purely self-made person. There are two places in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church that captures these truths perfectly. 

1 Corinthians 15:10

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 

Notice that Paul is not denying his agency and responsibility to work and fulfill his calling. However, he does so with a keen awareness that every ability, skill, and resource he possesses is ultimately traced back to the provisional hand of God. Similarly, he declares these words in chapter 4 regarding our need to refrain from arrogance and boasting.

1 Corinthians 4:7

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 

These words from Paul express a similar sentiment that is often repeated in the book of Deuteronomy by God to His covenant people.

Deuteronomy 8:17–18

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 

This is a timely word for us because we live in and contribute to a culture that celebrates things like independence, individualism, and ambition. Those aren’t inherently poisonous things, but when they become paramount values they can end up eclipsing God’s gracious provision in our lives. When this happens it can lead us to conclude it is our power and the might of our hands that have produced all of our successes.

Referring back to the work of Kapic, he not only warns us of this, but also shows us how futile it is to fully know ourselves and seek the good life with such an independent and individualistic mindset.

“Any attempt to live as my own center shows that I need others to understand myself and I need them even more to be a healthy and thriving human creature. This is how God made us. Because we have our being in relation and not apart from it, knowing one’s self rightly can only occur in the context of being known, of being in relationships, of being loved. The self alone, the isolated ego, is a contradiction in terms. Pursuing that contradiction leads not to life giving knowledge but to suffocating loneliness and unending self doubt.” 

When we slow down enough to consider the sermon that God is preaching to us through our belly buttons (which is admittedly the strangest sentence I have ever written) it should cause us to see and savor the beauty of His design for our lives. Not just in the way we are deeply connected to God, but also to one another. 

Again, Kapic has a helpful word for us on this matter.

“Once we start to ponder it, we realize that our whole lives, from our food to our shelter, from our health to our incomes, all of it involves the interdependence of human beings. Why? Because we are finite creatures. And the gift of these relationships with God, others, and even the earth is meant to provide the matrix for self understanding, giving our lives meaning and purpose no matter what our socioeconomic status. Ironically only when I stop thinking of myself as chiefly an isolated center of consciousness and begin to consider my identity in terms of my relationships to others can I start to see clearly who I am.”

We live in an age where the false narrative of the self-made person is the heroic tale we want our lives to tell, and where the vain value of independent individualism is contributing to our increasingly lonely world. God wants to free us from these destructive ways of thinking and living by directing our hearts toward Him who is the giver of every good gift. 

Do you want to see the hand of God at work in your life? Start by looking at your belly button.

The Foolishness of Forgiveness

The Foolishness of Forgiveness

I love a good payback story. I don’t know what that says about me, but it’s true. And before you start judging me, you judgy judger, you know that you feel a level of satisfaction when you see someone get pulled over just moments after they cut you off in traffic.

But why are we so drawn to payback? I think it’s because payback is so natural and hard wired into us. It’s why Shakespeare penned these famous words in The Merchant of Venice…

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” 

I think payback feels so natural precisely because forgiveness feels so unnatural. You don’t have to teach a child how to retaliate. You do have to teach a child how to forgive. And that’s because forgiveness feels foolish. But even if that’s how we feel about forgiveness, it’s always the right choice. 

The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is a prime example of the pain and power of forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and essentially left him for dead. Joseph grew to power in Egypt and was later reunited with his brothers. But as you can imagine, he wasn’t sure if he could fully forgive and return to a relationship with the very people that wished him dead.

Genesis 42:7–8

Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them…but they did not recognize him.

As you see in the story, Joseph deals with significant inner turmoil as he wrestles through the decision of whether or not to forgive. Finally, the story culminates with Joseph no longer being able to hold the past against his brothers.

Genesis 45:1–3

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him….And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?”

At the end of the day, Joseph’s desire to forgive his brothers won out over his desire to hold their sin against them. Joseph made the right decision, not just because forgiveness is always the right thing to do, but because it spared him from greater pain and heartache. That may sound backwards. Wouldn’t forgiving someone actually be more painful?

The truth of the matter is that in our attempts to hurt the one who has hurt us by refusing to forgive them, we actually end up hurting ourselves. And that’s because unforgiveness in our hearts slowly ferments inside us and turns into the sour wine of bitterness. Eventually it eats away at us on the inside. 

Withholding forgiveness is like holding your breath, hoping that the other person will pass out. We think that we are getting even with the person by withholding forgiveness, but in the end we will find that it produces a self-inflicted wound. When we withhold forgiveness from someone, we think we are building one prison cell, but we really end up building two. And we are in one of them.

We imprison ourselves with our refusal to forgive because we allow the bitterness to fester inside of us. We also allow our self righteousness to convince us that “I would never do what they did to me.”  The unforgiving person is quick to see others as more heinous and themselves as more virtuous.

Croatian theologian Miraslov Volf offers these stinging words for us.

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and myself from the community of sinners.” -Miraslov Volf (Exclusion and Embrace)

So we’ve seen what happens when we don’t forgive. What happens when we do forgive? Returning to the story of Joseph, when we see his outburst of emotion we almost get the sense that he can’t wait to forgive his brothers. He has to release this emotion that has been built up for the last 22 years!

In this sense, forgiveness is like a great pressure release valve that ends up being a blessing to the forgiver, not just to the forgiven. Just as withholding forgiveness ends up building two prisons, extending forgiveness ends up setting two prisoners free. 

So what does it take to forgive? 

  • Behold the greatness of God

Joseph was able to embrace his brothers in forgiveness because he knew that while they intended a great evil against him, God was at work through it all to accomplish a greater good. Joseph believed that God was the one who sovereignly orchestrated this whole story in order to bring about greater good for many people. 

Genesis 45:5-8

…for God sent me before you to preserve life…And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth…So it was not you who sent me here, but God.

A small view of God diminishes our ability to forgive. A big view of God increases our ability to forgive. If you find that the wrong done against you is too great to forgive, then it’s quite possible that God is not great enough in your life.

  • Trust in the justice of God

When we fail to trust that God will right all wrongs, we feel like we can’t forgive because this person will just get away with it. If there is no judge sitting on the bench of the courtroom of the universe, then forgiveness truly becomes a foolish act of letting people off the hook. Because if God won’t punish evil, then someone has to.

Violence and revenge have their way in our world when we fail to believe that God will set the world to rights. But when we trust that God is just, then we can forgive those who wrong us because we trust that the judge of all the earth will do what is right.

  • Rest in the forgiveness of God

The best way to know how to forgive is to know how forgiven you are. The reason that you and I struggle to be a forgiving people is because we struggle to believe that we are a forgiven people.

One of my favorite examples is related in Luke 7, when Jesus has an encounter with a woman who quite likely is a prostitute. She arrived at the home where Jesus was dining with many religious leaders, and began to wash Jesus’ feet with perfume. The religious leaders grumbled and complained about this because she was such a great sinner. But then Jesus so beautifully and powerfully flips the script on them and shows them that it is precisely because she knows how great a sinner she is that makes her worthy of love and forgiveness.

Luke 7:47

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 

There is a direct correlation between our ability to forgive and our understanding of our own forgiveness. The power to forgive comes from the power of being forgiven. 

If we claim that the sins committed against us are unforgivable, then we are in that moment revealing how little we think of our own sin and how little we think of God’s forgiveness toward us. But when we understand the depth of God’s forgiveness toward us in Christ, then there will never be a wrong so egregious committed against us that we can’t forgive.

Do you want to be a forgiving person? Then become a forgiven person. Forgiveness feels foolish but it’s always the right choice. Praise be to God that Jesus made the right choice for us. 

How to REALLY Give the Benefit of the Doubt

How to REALLY Give the Benefit of the Doubt

In 1860, Dr. Thomas Inman recommended that his fellow medical professionals not prescribe a medicine for a cure if they weren’t sure it would work. Dr. Inman encouraged his colleagues to “give the patient the benefit of our doubts.”

We hear this phrase and think that all it means is that we should stop being so critical, minimize our differences, and assume the best in people. In one sense that is true. But giving someone the benefit of the doubt has more to do with the one giving the benefit than the one receiving it. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, we tend to think that it is tantamount to saying “They are probably just having a bad day” or “I’m sure she didn’t mean that” or “He must not really understand everything that he’s saying.” When I say these things to myself, even in all sincerity, I am still placing the onus of the problem on the other person. I am still claiming that the reason there is tension or division is because of a deficiency of some kind in the other person, not me. The problem is due to something lacking in them, not me.

To truly give someone the benefit of our doubts is to assume the humble posture and perspective that says “There may be something I am not seeing correctly” or “Perhaps I don’t have my facts straight.” To really give someone the benefit of the doubt implies that we have some level of epistemic humility as we hold our viewpoints and opinions in dialogue with others. It also means that we own up and admit as much to the other person when we recognize this to be the case.

This is in part what the apostle Paul means in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians when he writes…

1 Corinthians 13:4–7
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

One of the ways we display the kindness and patience of love with others is by bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things. That list of “all things” that Paul mentions is a way of saying that love gives the benefit of our doubts to others. How can we increase our love for others and decrease our resentment of others? By properly giving others the benefit of our doubts.

So how do we do that?

A major prerequisite for really giving someone the benefit of our doubts is knowing the functional distinction between convictions, persuasions, and opinions. This is imperative because it is rather common to find these three things being used interchangeably and synonymously in conversations in our culture. But there is a world of difference between a conviction and an opinion. And as such, there is a world of difference between how you should hold, view, and communicate a conviction in comparison to an opinion.

Let’s briefly look at each of these so that we know what we are talking about and how to more genuinely give others the benefit of our doubts.

Conviction-something you hold to be true without question or concern. “I am willing to die for this.”

Persuasion-something you are inclined to believe but you are open to be challenged on. “I am willing to fight for this.”

Opinion-something you are drawn to but you could take it or leave it. “I am willing to let go of this.”

This is not an exact science, nor are these categories meant to be static. As we grow, learn, struggle, and experience things throughout our lives we should expect to see persuasions move to convictions and convictions move all the way down to opinions. And perhaps we might expect something to move into a fourth category that Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.” Things that no one should care about because no one else cares about them.

Simply having a clear and functional understanding of these categories can help us tremendously as we engage in conversation and debate with people. But we must do the hard work of clarifying and admitting to ourselves and to others which category this subject falls into for us.

Problems arise in relationships and conversations when we hold opinions as strongly as we do convictions and vice versa. Additionally, we find tensions develop when we miscategorize other people’s convictions, persuasions, and opinions. It might be a worthwhile exercise in your next heated conversation with a co-worker or family member to simply ask them what category this subject falls into for them? You may find that framing the discussion in the proper category may mitigate a great deal of unnecessary tension and conflict.

So as we think about giving people the benefit of our doubts, one key way we can do that is to first admit to ourselves that we just might be expressing an opinion disguised as a conviction. This reminds me of that great scene in the Pixar movie Inside Out where a box of opinions and a box of facts spill over and get mixed up. And the character Joy says “All these facts and opinions look the same. I can’t tell them apart.” This happens so often in conversation.

If we are to grow in genuine love for others then we must learn how to genuinely give the benefit of our doubts. And that requires knowing the difference between our convictions, persuasions, and opinions.

But knowing is half the battle. The other half is found in communicating each of those categories with grace, humility, and slowness.

As the New Testament writer James so convincingly declares…

James 1:19
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you must share it. Think through if what you want to share needs to be shared. And if it needs to be shared you should ask yourself if now is the time. And do you have all of the information you need in order to speak up?

There is timeless wisdom in the book of Proverbs on this subject. Here are just a few nuggets of stinging insight.

Proverbs 18:13
If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:17
The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:2
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 17:28
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

My paraphrase of that last proverb goes like this. “If you aren’t smart, try shutting up.”

In a day and age when convictions are held like opinions and opinions are shouted as if they were convictions we could stand to learn a great deal about the loving practice of really giving people the benefit of our doubts. But that’s just my opinion.

CCKC Cares About Welcoming the Stranger

CCKC Cares About Welcoming the Stranger

And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” -Deuteronomy 10:19 (NIV)

The command and expectation to love the foreigner is deeply tied to the heart of God. However, one of the challenges in our cultural context is the way this subject has been polarized by partisan perspectives. Followers of Jesus must fight the pervasive temptation of viewing the arrival of immigrants and refugees to our country primarily through a political, national, or economic lens, before viewing it through a biblical one. As we seek to love and care for our foreign neighbor, we must do so by being tethered to the Scriptures, in tune with the heart of God, and in touch with contemporary issues. 

We had the joy and honor of hosting a city wide event called Welcoming the Stranger: Exploring God’s Heart for the Foreigner. We were blessed to have Jenny Yang with us as the keynote speaker. Jenny is the Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief where she provides oversight for all advocacy initiatives and policy positions for the organization, and leads the organization’s public relations efforts. Jenny is co-author of “Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate” and contributing author to three other books. 

If you were not able to attend in person, you can go back and watch it here or listen to it here. We also had  Jenny Yang with us at the Olathe campus on a Sunday morning. You can watch the interview I conducted with her here as she gives a synopsis of the content she shared at length during the event.

There were several things Jenny shared that helped us grow in areas of education, conviction, inspiration, and action. One personal highlight was Jenny’s exposition of the incredible opportunity presented to the church to respond to the arrival of immigrants and refugees. She shared how it is absolutely an opportunity to share the gospel with those from other countries and cultures. However, it is also an opportunity to receive the gospel from the very same people. 

There is a humbling work that takes place when we decenter our culture, which we often view as normative, by engaging in meaningful and mutual relationships with people from other cultures.

It is not about feeling shame or guilt about our culture, but rather about seeing the beauty of God’s design for the church as a diverse people brought together from all tribes, tongues, and nations. There is something we lack in our ability to fully understand, behold, and reflect the glory of God when we remain in homogenous communities. 

The story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 is a perfect picture of this reality. The apostle Peter, who was Jewish, was able to see and understand a truth about the gospel that was lacking in him. How did he come to see this? It was through his relationship with Cornelius, the Roman centurion. Prior to his encounter with Cornelius, Peter failed to see God’s heart for making a people for himself from all peoples through the work of Christ. Through his cross-cultural experience and relationship with Cornelius, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter to see and declare these words…

…“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean….Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:28, 34-35 

So as we think about our own postures, perspectives, and practices toward immigrants and refugees, we must be willing to let the words of Jesus confront, convict, and compel us. The Lord Jesus himself declared… 

“…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.…” Matthew 25:35

These words show us that no small part of loving and following Christ is displayed in our hospitality and care for the stranger in our midst. These are timely words given the current refugee crisis taking place around the globe.

In addition to the thousands of refugees being resettled in our country every year, we are also seeing the many refugees from Afghanistan coming to our shores. At the time of this writing, in Kansas City alone there are already upwards of 500 Afghan refugees either already resettled or in processing. 

This is an opportunity for the church to be the church. To show the world the goodness and glory of Jesus in loving and serving our neighbors in need. Not only because this is a powerful way to live out the great commission AND the great commandment, but because it is a way to witness to the world the loving power of Jesus. Especially during a time when people outside the church see Christians as not having genuine care and concern for the needs in their communities.

The Barna Group hosted an event in Kansas City in the fall of 2021 addressing the state of Kansas City and the church. In their research they found that 90% of churchgoers in Kansas City believe that their church cares about what’s happening in their community. However, when non-churchgoers were asked the same question about the church, only 54% agreed with that statement. 

We want to undeniably show our city and our neighbors that we care. Which is why we are excited to share our new resource page on our website CCKC Cares. On it you will find information and ways to serve the many refugee families being resettled here in our own city. In collaboration with key agencies who are leading the way to resettle refugees in Kansas City, we seek to mobilize our church across all campuses to respond by welcoming and resettling our refugee neighbors.

There are several opportunities to get involved including help with affordable housing, volunteering at medical clinics, providing legal assistance, and welcoming families at the airport. To learn more and sign up to serve, please visit CCKC Cares.

As a church for Monday, this is a beautiful way for followers of Jesus to steward their gifts, callings, and resources for the flourishing of our world and glory of Christ. This is a unique opportunity for the church to be the church and respond with the love of Christ our King. As a people marked by the radical hospitality of our God who has welcomed us into his family through Jesus, we are joyfully compelled to respond in kind to our neighbors in need.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16–18