What happened when I ran from a cop


One of my prayers and hopes for Harbor Community Church folks, as we pursue diversity in our relationships, is that we would be a people quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I ripped that off from the book of James, chapter 1, FYI. As a white person (although technically I am 1/32 Cherokee and my kids are 1/8 Pamunkey Indian) I really believe that we have the moral responsibility to listen more carefully to the African-American, or any other minority’s experience. But as Christians, we ought to be the first people who consider the cries of the minority instead of blowing them off as though there just couldn’t be a problem. I mean, we’ve had integrated schools in our county since 1969 for crying out loud! We’ve moved past that, now that Obama has served two terms as president of the United States.

Martin Fennelly, Tampa area sports reporter, recently shared former Buccaneer Coach Tony Dungy’s experience of targeted racism, simply for driving in the “wrong” neighborhood (even though he actually was in the “right” neighborhood). Unfortunately the link doesn’t work at this moment.

And unfortunately his experience was far from unique. I read of more and more Black folks having to tell their children, the need to take all kinds of safety precautions, even when innocent, should they find themselves pulled over. My Dad never told me such things. He never needed to.

So I want to share my quite different experience of being pulled over while a senior in high school. My blue Volvo 240 DL (the ultimate box on wheels) puttered along with a full compliment of passengers one Friday morning. We were normally pretty close to being late each day and I had made up my mind that I was going to beat that upcoming red light or go down swinging. I sorely underestimated the speed of my car and ran through quite a “stale” red light.

The red from the light soon blended into the flashing white and red on top of a police car. So I decided to make one the dumber decisions of my life. Let’s lose him! I tried to evade the cop, taking an immediate right turn, then left, then right, and so forth. Again I had misjudged either my driving skills or the speed of my car-probably a little of both-and those lights appeared right behind me in no time.

At this point, I was freaked out. Big time. I pulled over, and when I stopped the car, I proceeded to open the door. The officer yelled, “Stay in your car!” So I stayed, and up he walked towards an aghast and most likely unrecognizable version of myself.

“You wanted for anything?”

“Ummmm……no sir.”

Honestly I can’t remember what he said after that. I didn’t know if I was going to jail; I’m not sure what protocol is on that. I was definitely not in route to my high school, so there went that excuse of missing a turn or other semi acceptable justification.

And then he wrote me a ticket for running a red light. That was it.

It was one of those “that, just, happened” Ricky Bobby type moments. I continue to read and hear stories of ordinary traffic stops gone bad. And I wonder why I didn’t get into more trouble. I can’t prove that I didn’t have a worse experience because I was a white, upper-middle class private school senior. And it was a black cop. But, in light of what I read, listen to, and conversations I’ve had, would this “car chase” have ended differently if I were black? I do wonder.

Nothing can be proved by proposing a hypothetical. That’s not my point. But it’s not abnormal for a black person who has done no wrong, or simply “matches the description” to have an experience far different from mine, whereas I was guilty, and he or she, innocent.

I fear a nation more divided than ever, not just politically, but by race. Not simply those racist and those not, but even by those who would deny any form of racism (because they haven’t personally experienced it) and those who have legitimately been hurt by it. I fear that by refusal to acknowledge that systemic racism can coexist even with a black president, we might just be widening the gap instead of bridging the gap. And Christians have the privilege to act as agents of reconciliation.

Does listening really make a difference? Don’t you enjoy being heard when you experience something unfair? I know I do. I know I don’t like, “Well yeah but, statistically,” or “This person didn’t experience that, so it must not really be a problem.” That response does more damage than we realize.

May we listen, learn, and love. It eventually will make a difference.






Back to the Future II and the Narrative of Progress


I felt it was time to take my kids through the Back to the Future movies 1-3, so we spent our family movie nights the last month going through these flicks. Of course, time travel necessitated many questions from my 8 and 6 year old boys so we did have to stop, explain, and discuss other issues raised during the films.

During the Back to the Future II, Marty and Doc head to the future in 2015. If you’re not familiar with it, the future looks completely different than our present 2016. Cars are flying, hover-boards are  actually hovering (not rolling like the “hover-boards” we have now), and pizza in a small ball can be zapped into a full pie in seconds.

Now I know that to appear as though one has traveled to the future, he or she must create a future which looks far different than the present: a world where a flying Deloreon blends in with other flying cars.

But I wonder the director at that time, expected a world so much different, so much better than the world we live in today. Or if he just wanted to depict a world much different, better than what he might have expected. A world we have progressed so far much. Was he too optimistic about progress?

I don’t know which is which. If you think about it, we did fly in the early 1900’s and then went to space in the 60’s. That’s quite a bit of progress in a short amount of time.

But I think more and more people would do well to at least consider Blaise Pascal’s greatness and wretchedness principle. He postulates that Christianity gives the most accurate depiction of humanity, based upon the extreme knowledge and public good man is capable of, and yet also the extreme depravity and evil of which he is capable. Great and wretched.

In humanity, we see amazing technology and medical advances, as well as catastrophic evil perpetrated by even the most “civilized.” In a world where social media is so pervasive (I was even able to connect with Cade Carney a Christian running back from Wake Forest on twitter), we struggle to have an honest conversation, much less a relationship, with people who differ from us and actually listen to each other. Wasn’t WWII good enough to extinguish this narrative of progress that we are simply getting better and better, and the world with us?

Whether or not you believe Pascal’s conclusions in regards to Jesus, I do think it wouldn’t hurt to consider that we haven’t progressed nearly as far as we’d have liked.

Why not? Both sides of the aisle would point fingers at each other. One side wants to return to greatness (although I believe we’d do well to consider racism not just in individual terms but in systems). Another side believes we are heading toward an even greater reality, but that we need to embrace secular humanism, and move beyond the shackles of religious dogma-even though it was first through religion that people agreed folks did have rights. Backwards thinkers….

If Obama just years ago opposed gay marriage, and yet now celebrates the Supreme Court decision to legislate it, what freedoms or oppression will we see in 30 years? Is that not a concern from those embracing this narrative of progress?  Will it be flying cars type change or the difference in cars from 1985 to now?

In a period of such divisiveness, maybe a little more critique and affirmation would do us all some good. In my opinion, Americans would do well to be more critical of their past instead of simply “making it great again.” In the same light, I think we’d do well to be more appreciate of it’s past, and not ignore the fact that the notion of human rights came to us from “religious” folks, and not Darwin. According to leaked emails from Clinton aides, what progress actually looks like to them, is eradicating any religious, or specifically Catholic thought from leaders.

Regardless of what happens in the next 30 years-whether the future is as different than Back to the Future II or looks more similar to where we are now-as a Christian, I’m not fearful that anything has taken God by surprise. His power and goodness have made sure that His promise to build His church stands sure. If I care more about His Kingdom, than my own, then I’ll be just fine. You will too.




“So when are you going to host a community group?”


A woman in our church just bought a new house. As soon as my son caught word of this new purchase, his first question (and I’ve never met a child or adult who asks more questions than my 8 year old) was, “So when are you going to host a community group?”

How cool is that? He has associated home ownership with hosting a community group. It’s kind of like the GEICO commercials: “It’s what you do.” You have a home, so the question is not “if,” but “When, are you going to host?”

But unlike a GEICO motivation: “it’s what you do,” we see a different motivation from scripture: the gospel. When God calls Abram in Genesis 12, he very clearly claims that He will bless Abram. But what is often lost (particularly by those who know it’s there) is the purpose for that blessing. There’s a “so that” I often ignore practically, despite recognizing it’s presence and theological importance. Abraham, as he later became known, was blessed SO THAT he would be a blessing to others, and that all the families of the Earth would be blessed through Him. So Israel was designed to be a blessing for the nations. It failed, but Jesus did what Israel did not do, and now by faith in Him, that blessing comes to us.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

So blessing others is not just what we do, but it’s who we are, and why we do we what we do. Because of Jesus, Christians are a blessed people. But we are blessed for a purpose. The blessing of faith in Christ-along with any blessing that comes down from above- is not an ends but a means to an end: to bring praise to God and love/bless others. So if we consider our identity as a blessed people of God, then that becomes the lens through which we view our physical blessings such as houses, apartments, boats, cars, computers, or any kind of skill.

I’m not saying that everyone (who has room) has to host a community group. Some are more gifted in hospitality than others. And I’m not painting myself as a model of hospitality. We had neighbors over to play and swim this Sunday, and one stayed to watch football. But I didn’t want to share my pizza (I don’t mind sharing the pool), so my first reaction was to scold my younger son for inviting his friend to stay for dinner without first asking me. That was my first reaction, when my kid wanted to bless another. So I’ve got a ways to go!

But if your identity is truly in Christ, you’re going to begin to ask yourself (or ask others to help you discern), how may I use any blessing God has bestowed upon me for the blessing of others?  The cool part is that a blessing shared, brings joy in Christ, while a blessing hoarded often indicates that we’ve been seeking a vain idol and not Jesus.



A Presbyterian, Baptist, and Non-denominational pastor walk into a coffee shop…


A few weeks ago I met an area pastor at a local coffee shop. No agenda, just getting to know each other, listen to each other, hear how the Lord is at work in our respective churches. I love these kinds of meetings! It was nice. No comparing sizes (we never talked about nickels and noses), or even impact in the community. By the way, pastors often struggle with comparison, although you probably already know that. And it can sound spiritual to compare the level of communal impact one church has versus another. But it’s most definitely just another form of self-justification. No different than with circumcision in the book of Galatians. But I, as is usual, digress.

We seemed to really be pulling for one another. Both of us hoped our churches would grow in depth as well as in width. While we come from different theological camps, we both still rest in, and try to apply the gospel message. We’re Christians first and foremost.

The next day I had a meeting at a not so local coffee shop you may have heard of called Starbucks. I just happened to run into a Reformed Baptist pastor. So for about 10 minutes or so, I got to hear about his new book, his plans for community groups, and heard about his upcoming preaching series. We talked about the Gospel Coalition conference, and lamented how far away Indianapolis is. We had both attended the previous one in Orlando. Why can’t everything be in sunny Florida?

Then I met with some friends from my church to talk about baptizing their toddler son (not something Baptists do), while he worked away on his sermon in the corner.

Do you see the progression? Evangelical——Reformed——-Presbyterian. As the levels of agreement decrease, so does how strongly we draw fellowship lines with one another. I met at pastor in the same location some years back who denied the necessity of the cross as payment for sins.  We lied and said that we’d both like to connect again. Confession. But with these lads, no lines needed to be drawn. We felt we were still on the same team and really pulled for each other.

I thought about the scene in one of my favorite movies The Apostle. The Pentecostal preacher/church planter played by Robert Duvall looks upon a Catholic or Episcopal priest (hard to tell from the clip) and sees him blessing a fleet of boats in transit to fishing grounds. He responds, “You do it your way, and I do it mine, but we get it done, don’t we?”

I give a progression in our membership class on the gradual levels of distinctives at Harbor and it mirrored my relationships those two days. Evangelical——Reformed——Presbyterian. I preach and minister from a Reformed, Gospel-Centered, and Presbyterian perspective, but one only needs to affirm the basics all Christians believe in order to join our work.

I’m thankful for how each of us ministers to and will reach a different slice of Bradenton. It is not about me, us, Harbor, them, but about His Kingdom. We’re just witnesses. I do forget that sometimes, but I’m thankful for these relationships to remind me. I’m glad we’re here together.

Ecumenical coffee.


A lesson in timeless truth and beauty from a new work of fiction: The Awakening of Miss Prim

I read somewhere that preachers ought to read a lot of fiction. But having finally found reading enjoyable after college was primarily due to the work of non-fiction. I wasn’t quite ready to make much of a change. Sure I had read some fiction here and there with classics like Dostoyevski and a few others, but the challenge eventually prompted me to vary up my diet just a bit.

So this summer, due to recommendation from Trevin Wax who blogs at The Gospel Coalition website, I “picked up” The Awakening of Miss Prim.

Set in a fictitious town in Spain, the story centers around the journey toward love, truth, and faith of a young secular librarian. She comes to work for a knowledgeable, charitable, but intimidating older bachelor who homeschools his nieces and nephews. Miss Prim finds herself surrounded by a town that never capitulated to western individualism and secular modernity. It operates quite differently, and yet quite successfully from a completely different worldview.

Within her antagonistic dialog, we see that secularism fails to lead her to the ultimate truth and beauty she seeks. I’ll not reveal which direction she turns, but I will say that it is in this dialog, we see the impact of beauty, community, dialog, and patience.

In fact that was what grabbed my attention from the get go. Aside from the writing and storyline, which I loved (I think gals would love this book, though really did as well), I think this book sets up a nice

The book merits such praise, but Fenollera’s work is much more profound. With a generous serving of tea and cake, The Awakening of Miss Prim subverts the secular worldview and challenges contemporary orthodoxy regarding marriage, the economy, the place of religion, what constitutes progress, and the definition of feminism. Fenollera’s tender treatment charms the reader into wanting the main character (Miss Prim) to give up her stubborn, secular ways and give in to the dazzling mystery of the Christian faith….She defends Christianity’s social teaching by painting a portrait rather than just mounting an argument, but even then, her portrait does include debate and logic and argumentation.  You can read the rest of Trevin Wax’s short review here.

The arguments in favor of Christianity point to more than it being true-which it is-but to it being beautiful. And perhaps folks might just be more open to consider it as beautiful, as they see it lived out in a broken but beautiful community? Listen to the challenge of the librarians employer…..

“So seek beauty, Miss Prim. Seek it in silence, in tranquillity; seek it in the middle of the night and at dawn. Pause to close doors while you seek it, and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t reside in museums or in palaces. Don’t be surprised if, in the end, you find beauty to be not Something but Someone.”

The way this woman is invited to taste and see, and given opportunity to dialog and defend within a gracious yet truthful community, is perhaps the best way to love and reach those outside the faith.

Real community is like a good yard

Lawn, Grass, Mowing, Green, Nature, Garden, Yard

I love having a yard that actually has grass. My first yard looked like a adolescent’s facial hair: splotchy grass pieces here and there and ant hills like acne.  It looked pretty bad on a good day. Then when we moved to West Virginia, our lawn was nice. People said so. A number of people. I was proud, of what I had not done.

But over time, it was revealed to me, and I kind of came to the conclusion as well, the previous owners must have had a lawn service. There had to be some sort of “hidden” work to keep it looking nice. So, while it stayed green, it didn’t look as good in our third year as it did in our first. Something was missing.

Today I think my yard looks pretty darn good, though I admit my neighbor does edge it. After a few months where I couldn’t control the chinch bugs, I finally caved and got a yard service. Eventually those dead spots didn’t stay dead for all that long.

While I love having a good looking yard, I really do hate actually keeping it up. I hate mowing. And weed-eating afterwards? Brutal. And I hate having to fix the sprinkler head that gets knocked over at least once a month it. I hate yard work because 9 times out of 12 it is too stinking hot to enjoy.

It takes work to keep up a good yard. The final product is nice, but is it really worth the work? I can’t pay someone to cut the grass because that is one of the few things I CAN actually do.

I think most of us, including me, think of community like a good yard. You enjoy seeing it, without realizing that there is a lot of time/resources/effort which have to continue to go into it. I like the idea of it, until I have to actually work at it. Sometimes talking, listening, bearing, sharing, can be like mowing on a hot day. Or maybe it’s a hard conversation, or maybe it’s bearing with someone’s bad stories, unrecognized insensitivity, different background or baggage. Fellowship can be quite an inconvenience when I have an agenda from which you are keeping me.

Real community is created by Jesus but it must be kept up by fallible people who committed to Him and to each other. In other words, real community doesn’t just happen. It takes work. Sometimes that feels like mowing on a hot day in August. Other times, it’s not so hard. The good news is that Jesus does care about His community more than we do, so He is at work convicting people to keep moving toward Him and them.

When you are enjoying the community you have at your church or community group or perhaps a group of friends scattered but connected by participation in the gospel, remember that it took work to get there. It didn’t just happen. And it doesn’t just continue to happen. When you aren’t enjoying the community, remember it will take work to get it back there.

If it doesn’t feel as close as you’d like it, remember it takes time. Some “yards” are bigger than others. But unlike the yard, you can’t pay anyone to do it for you. Fortunately Someone already paid for the lawn treatment service, we’re just called to keep mowing. Even in, and especially in, when it’s hot.


Hear the voice of Jesus BEFORE you hear Roy D. Mercer

Angry Man, Point, Finger, India, Angry, Male, Hand

Before we had kids, my wife and I used to drive up to the Richmond area once or twice a year to visit her family. To pass the time, we would pop in one of Roy D. Mercer’s comedy CD’s. These feature a number of prank phone calls Roy has already arranged through the recipients friend or co-worker. In almost every case, Roy, “has a bone to pick” because he claims the offending party has done something that he hasn’t. He then follows up the false claim by demanding an exorbitant pay-off amount or receive the back-side whooping he has planned. After a few minutes, Roy reveals his true identity, the call comes to a close, and the collective blood pressure seems to drop.

When it comes to dialog about sensitive subjects such as guns and race, we rarely ever hear a sensible, reasonable, compassionate voice. We don’t hear the sound of someone else’s actual experience or legitimate fears when it comes to gun violence or race. Instead more often than not, we hear the voice of Roy D, making outrageous claims, and demanding an immediate response. We can hear the voice of Roy D saying “pay up,” when in reality such words might have been delivered as gently, humbly, and honestly as a Benjamin Watson interview.

We always respond to what we “hear.” And when we hear Roy D’s voice, we do what everyone does when he hear Roy D’s voice. We get angry, defensive, talk louder, and threaten back.

Don’t believe me? Have you ever been on facebook? Black lives matter. No all lives matter. Guns lead to more violence, no guns lead to less violence. Both sides hear Roy. All they hear is Roy.

Rarely do we actually listen. We respond. Maybe with a facebook or blog comment or email or words that simply must be said at that moment, when we are most emotionally invested.

But what if we really heard what the other was saying? Sometimes we hear Roy D, when in reality he or she is saying is, “I’m afraid!” Or perhaps it is an experience that needs validation, a concern that needs hearing, a question for clarification, or even a challenge to a deep conviction that is not grounded in God’s Word to us.

Listening is more than an option. The book of James reminds us to be, “Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

I know we feel like we are making a difference when we take a certain stance on facebook. But we aren’t. Sometimes we’re just perpetuating the shouting.

Jesus has an open door policy with His followers. We can pray. We can be heard. His feelings don’t get hurt when we express disappointment to Him, so we don’t have to express disappointment with others all the time. When others say “Pay up,” Jesus says “It’s already paid!”

If we hear its “paid up,” we can listen before we speak. We can then recognize how often we sound like Roy D to others. We can change our tone without changing our convictions. We can validate others experiences even when disagreeing with their conclusions. We have the tools to listen if we hear Jesus’ voice before we hear Roy’s. Oh that we would believe that. Oh that I would believe this more today than yesterday.

This article first appeared in “Faith Matters section” of Bradenton Herald