GOSPEL SANDWICH

gospel sandwich

If you can make a sandwich, then you can share the gospel.  The world is famished for the “bread of life” and the “meat” of God’s Word.  We can no longer excuse ourselves from the kitchen, claiming we’re not professional chefs. (Acts 4:13)  The great o-mission of the church in the west is that we’ve become a “dine-in-only” establishment, full of diners, when we need to become a “delivery service” full of food runners.  The church urgently needs to return to our former business model (Acts 1:8) of making and delivering “Gospel Sandwiches.”

SANDWICH MAKING 101 | There is both an “art” and a “science” to making a “gospel sandwich.”

To appreciate the artistry of evangelism, consider Phillips Brooks’ definition (adapted): “evangelism is the gospel poured through personality.”  When it comes to sharing the “good news,” there’s crazy potential for creative expression, and permission granted to “relax and be yourself.”  Trust the Holy Spirit to deliver the “good news” of the gospel through your unique, flawed, quirky, redeemed personality for just the right flavor in any given situation.

There is also a “science,” or method, to persuasive gospel witness.  A gospel sandwich has two slices of “good news” with a slice of “hard news” in the middle.  I call this method, readily observable throughout the New Testament, the…

THREE C’s (slices) OF A GOSPEL SANDWICH: 

CONNECTION | Reach Your Audience| The first order of business is to connect with your audience.  Consider Peter, in Acts 2:14, as he reaches for his audience’s ear, saying: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.”  We connect by listening well, empathizing, showing genuine love and respect, establishing common ground (ie: shared identity, experience, struggle, interests), and by drawing from culturally authoritative sources.  What carries weight with the audience? (ie: Jews = Old Testament, Athenians = their own poets).  As Christians, we say, “If something is true (ie: God’s Word) then it must work.”  Culture is skeptical, and inverts this: “If something works then it must be true.”  Hint: For this reason, your own personal story, of God working in your life, carries weight with culture!  The Apostle Paul, formerly a state-sponsored terrorist, shared his story three times in the Book of Acts, declaring how the gospel had changed his life! (Acts 9, 22, 26)  The aim of CONNECTION is to gain an audience willing and motivated to lean in and listen intently to the “good news” of the gospel!

CONVICTION |Risk Your Audience | Having gained their ear, we must now shift gears to talk about hard realities: According to Scripture, we are rebels. (Romans 5:8)  As rebels against God, the Bible says “we all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that because of our rebellious nature we deserve (eternal) death (Romans 6:23).  The risk for losing our audience, at this point, is high!  And we risk losing more than just our audience.  We could lose relationships, reputation, credibility, social standing, job, and in many circumstances, even our life! (Hebrews 11:36-38)  But we take this risk, and we thrust in the sword of “hard news,” as an act of obedience & unabashed confidence in the gospel, which is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”  (Romans 1:16)   In Acts 2, Peter confronted the masses with the hard news of their sin and guilt over having crucified the Christ, and we read that, “when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?

CONVERSION | Redirect your audience | At this point, having “reached” to gain the ear (connection), and “risked” to pierce the heart (conviction), we now “redirect” the faith (conversion).  The Jews had formerly rejected Christ, and were trusting in themselves; in their own ability to earn salvation by keeping the law.  In Acts 2:15, Peter redirected their faith (away from themselves) to the person of Christ, by instructing them to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…”  Everyone has faith; be it faith in the polytheistic gods of Hinduism, faith in Allah, faith in dead ancestors, faith in self (secular humanism), faith in naturalism & science, faith in the government, faith in culture, etc.  Yet, Jesus alone, in all of history, has credibly demonstrated his power over sin and death, by rising from the dead.  Therefore, faithful gospel witness finds its climax in the exaltation of Jesus as Savior & Lord.  Christ, and Christ alone, saves to the utmost!  In Acts 16:31, Paul delivers the most succinct statement of the gospel in the entire Bible.  With just ten words, he redirects the faith of his audience: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

Once a person believes in the Lord Jesus for salvation, it’s imperative that we get them in the kitchen so they too can learn how to make and deliver “Gospel Sandwiches.”  Robert Coleman said it best: “The world is lost and blind in sin.  The only hope for the world is for laborers to go to them with the gospel of salvation, and having won them to the Savior, not to leave them, but to work with them faithfully, patiently, painstakingly, until they become fruitful Christians savoring the world about them with the Redeemer’s Love.

I was once lost and blind in sin.  I’m thankful someone cared enough to share a “gospel sandwich” with me!

 

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ON THE RECORD: MY APPEAL TO REPEAL PRESIDENT OBAMA’S “AFFORDABLE” HEALTHCARE ACT

From where I’m sitting, my back hurts, and Obama Care is a historic disaster!  I think I speak for MANY Americans when I say that it has impacted my life in a direct and negative way, more so than anything else our government has forced upon us!

The year I transitioned back to the states from living overseas was the year it went into effect.  I came home with several pre-existing conditions:  aggravated hiatal hernia, recurring lower back problems, torn meniscus in left knee, chronic allergies, and a cyst on my forehead (from wearing a scooter helmet that was too tight.)  FOUR YEARS LATER, NONE of these “pre-existing” conditions have been treated.  I live with them every single day!  I’ve lost wages, resigned jobs, and altered my active lifestyle, in order to cope.  I’ve changed insurance providers like a serial dater changes girlfriends…only it’s been far more expensive, and less fun than dating!  So much for helping out the lower-income bracket; my stateside income, and therefore income taxes paid in, in my first year home, was SO LOW that I didn’t qualify for ANY federal subsidy on health insurance.  Instead, I was referred down to state-level Medicare.  Surprise…I didn’t qualify there either!  (Something about being too young, too healthy, too male, too privileged.)  I was unemployed and faced with paying full price on healthcare, so I went without insurance, naturally!  Welcome home!  I didn’t have enough money to shop at the Gap but apparently had just enough to hop in the crack!

act-1

Affordable Healthcare aka “Bill of Goods.”

Now that I can finally “afford” “Affordable” healthcare, I’ve twice been misguided by the Marketplace “experts” to buy insurance coverage that is basically useless:  In the first case, my assigned PCP, the closest doctor in my network, turned out to be in a city 3 hours away!  I LIVE IN HOUSTON!  The marketplace had one job, (and I trusted it) to find me a provider network with doctors IN Houston, the city where I live!    Naturally, I cancelled my coverage and got a refund, but changing insurance providers set me back MONTHS on seeking the medical attention I needed for “pre-existing” conditions.  With my new coverage, (again through the Marketplace) upon visiting my new doctor (PCP), he informed me that his office would be happy to refer me to the specialists I need, HOWEVER they weren’t personally aware of ANY such specialists who accept my insurance!  I LIVE IN HOUSTON, the fourth largest city in our country!  I dutifully, and compliantly shopped at the Marketplace, like our President mandated, and specifically requested insurance with specialists to treat my particular pre-existing conditions.  Even though it was more expensive, I went with a TOP recommended provider.   In return, they sold me “a bill of goods.”  My Doctor’s response to my dilemma: “I’m really not supposed to tell you this, but ‘off the record,’ I recommend that you change insurance providers.”  Again!?  He then told me that he himself had been “dropped” by his insurance provider under ObamaCare, and that he no longer even carried insurance due to his income bracket and the outrageously high premiums.

The hilarity of it all is that the provider which my doctor suggested I try was the provider I initially went with (nearly four years ago) upon returning stateside.  Ah, I remember that relationship fondly;   I thought it was going really well…we seemed to really click…until they sent a letter in the mail informing me that they were “dumping” me; canceling my coverage and refunding my premium.  Their stated reason (true story!):  Because I was pregnant!!!!!!!  In the first place, that is NO WAY to treat a pregnant man!  In the second place, being pregnant is NOT one of my “pre-existing” conditions!  (Everyone knows it’s scientifically impossible for a man to get pregnant if he’s not having pre-marital sex!)  They said I could appeal in 60 days, but that didn’t sound very appealing!  In the meantime, here I am; an expectant parent with NO coverage!  And now I’m afraid, in a moment of weakness, that I may go back to my Ex!

This would all be funny, except that millions of Americans’ lives have been severely impacted by the sweeping incompetency and dishonesty of this so called “Affordable” HealthCare Act.  And hey, I’m not even trying to keep my doctor...just my health, my humor, and my hard-earned money!

I have a college degree, and years in the work force, yet my past four jobs have not provided insurance.  It’s always the same story:  “Sorry, we wish we could, we just can’t…because of Obama Care.”

Yes, we need healthcare reform.  Let’s repeal, and try again.

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RACISM IN FOCUS: ZOOM IN, ZOOM OUT.

racism-in-focusIN FOCUS: To truly see, we must focus; and to focus means both zooming in, to examine the details, and zooming out, to appreciate the bigger picture:

HUMANITY IN FOCUS: There is something extremely visceral about watching a video of a man shot to death, which catches us off guard, and strikes us at a deeply emotional, gut level.  It draws out of us our most raw, unfiltered beliefs and feelings.

COLOR IN FOCUS: For many, the death of another black man, at the hands of the very institution which once enslaved, evokes the fear and pain of hundreds of years of institutionalized oppression.  Understandably, there is a deep, historic, collective anguish rising violently to the surface.

EXPERIENCE IN FOCUS: To be human means we not only experience life, but we also interpret our experience.  We grow up hearing, “Experience is the best teacher,” which makes us think our main task is simply to live; to experience.  The challenge, however, is to interpret honestly, and accurately.  One of my favorite quotes, by Dr. Howard Hendricks says, “Experience is not the best teacher.  Properly evaluated experience is the best teacher.

RACISM IN FOCUS: Racism refuses facts.  For example, some anti-Semitic countries have refused to acknowledge that the holocaust happened.  Historically, in our own country, we’ve seen, at different junctures, a failure to acknowledge numerous racial inequalities and injustices, from Native Americans to African Americans.  We’re presently seeing a so called “progressive” political ideology fan the flames of racism by propagating a false narrative unhinged from facts.  This political agenda is manipulative; it evokes fear, incites rage, and creates more division.  In short, it perpetuates racism.  Charlotte burns.

FACTS IN FOCUS: We need to be honest; the facts simply do not support the false narrative that “black people are more likely to be killed by police,” and, for everyone who truly wants progress, this is a good thing!  Here are facts: Harvard Professor of Economics, Roland G. Fryer Jr., an African American, conducted an in depth study, for the express purpose of empirically verifying a racial bias against black people in police shootings, but actually found no such bias, calling his research, “the most surprising result of my career.”  Washington State University’s research found a “reverse racism phenomenon” when it comes to police shootings; meaning white suspects are statistically more likely to be shot than black suspects.  Additionally, according to both the Department of Justice and the FBI, officers of color are three times more likely than white officers to fire their weapon, and suspects of color are 18.8 times more likely to kill a police than the other way around. In light of the facts, apart from a pervasive fallacious group mentality, how do we explain an entire BLM movement? How do we explain the destructive rioting and looting of Charlotte, including a black protester shooting another black protester, all in the name of ending police racism, on the occasion of a black officer shooting a black suspect?  How?

POLICE IN FOCUS:  Police work is dangerous and precarious to begin with.  To blatantly dehumanize and demonize our police department, the public servants who lay their lives on the line to protect us,  is unconscionable.  “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Romans 13:3‭-‬5  Are there cases of police brutality, over reach, neglect, even murder, which need to be tried in a court of law? Absolutely. And the Bible calls for civil disobedience when the laws of man oppose the laws of God. But the axiom of truth needed in our current crisis is that the police department is a good thing, even a God-thing, given for our benefit, to preserve order and protect the citizenry, and that our response ought to be respect for authority.

GRIEVING IN FOCUS: My Memaw has dementia.  She lives in a recurring state of grief over the loss of my Papaw.  He died over a year ago, but every time she forgets and remembers his death, it’s as if it happened that very day; it cuts her to the heart and she immediately bursts into tears.  She’s stuck in grief.  Her faulty memory refuses her rest.  If we don’t learn to distinguish between the racist past and a “false racist narrative” of the present, how are we going to move forward and find healing?

SYSTEMIC CAUSATION IN FOCUS: What is truly hurting the African American community at present?  What is keeping the African American community from flourishing?  By all means, this is the question we want to honestly approach, and work together for a real solution.  What would happen if we put all the cards on the table?  What cards, along with “racial inequality” need to be on the table?  What would happen if we stepped back, and looked at the bigger picture?  Well, maybe it’s just not time??  I can appreciate that.

THE GOSPEL IN FOCUS:  The Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt for 430 years.  They groaned in anguish under harsh oppression.  God heard their cries, and he sent a savior, named Moses, who led them out of captivity.  Jesus is the greater Moses; he came to “save his people from their sins.”  Our ultimate enslavement, every one of us, is to the ruthless task master called Sin.  Sin separates us from God, from those we love, from the rest of humanity, and it keeps us shackled in anger, lust, bitterness, hatred, violence, and eventually death, forever.  But Jesus is here, in our midst, ready to set captives free.  He hears our groans, when we cry out for redemption.  Cry out today.

May our nation of nations come together to grieve, to heal, to dialogue, and to work together for a better tomorrow,…with our eyes open to truth, our hearts open to hope, and our arms open to one another.

Sincerely,

Brandon Durham

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DUE PROCESS: BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW APPLIED TO RECENT POLICE SHOOTINGS

due-process-3There is something extremely visceral about watching a video of a man shot to death, which catches us off guard, and strikes us at a deeply emotional, gut level.  It draws out of us our most raw, unfiltered beliefs and feelings.  We react.  We need to process.  And we need to be honest; the facts simply do not support the popular, fear-evoking narrative being perpetuated in our country.  Here are 12 truths we can know from a Biblical perspective, as the current facts are “filtered through the lens” of Ancient Scripture:

  1. Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott were both members of our humanity; made in the Image of God, and endowed with intrinsic value and worth. Therefore, their untimely, tragic deaths are a great loss.
  2. The Bible instructs us to “mourn with those who mourn,” and this must be our starting point. 1 Corinthians 13:2-3 says that, “ If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,…but have not love, I am nothing.” This is an occasion for the church to link hearts together, and pray for the grief-stricken families, and for the wider community, even for our nation, as we process the pain of loss, and the fear it evokes.
  3. The U.S. has a long, sad, undeniable historical legacy of institutionalized racism (ie: Slavery, Jim Crow, Segregation, KKK, second-class citizenry), and that dark history, understandably, gives rise to fear and mistrust in the hearts of many African Americans every time another member of the community dies at the hands of the institution.
  4. People, who make up institutions, ought to regularly examine our hearts for racism, and repent of it at every turn.  True reform must come first at the heart level.
  5. Institutions are not inherently evil. Conversely, government institutions, including the police department, are God-ordained, and intended for the good of all humanity.  To demonize the police force is to speak against the very governance which God has given to help preserve society.  Romans 13:1-4a says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good.”
  6. Society, especially parents, must teach respect for and submission to authority, both as a matter of conscience, and for the sake of avoiding the consequences of disobedience. Romans 13:4b-5 says, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”
  7. Due process (which we all should want) says there are gaps of information in the cases of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott which need to be filled. All citizens, officers included, should be presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law.  When found guilty of negligence, overreach, or criminal offence, officers, like all citizens, should face the consequences as handed down by our legal system, fair and impartial.
  8. Peaceful protests & even civil disobedience may be warranted when the facts clearly evidence that the law or practice of the land violates the moral law of God (including the harm of law-abiding citizens).
  9. The current facts do not support the popular, fear-evoking narrative perpetuated by progressive liberal politics, and this is a good thing! We have reason to hope!  A 63-page study, “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force,” was compiled by Mr. Roland G. Fryer Jr., a Harvard Professor of Economics.  Fryer, an African American, anticipated finding a racial bias against black people in police shootings, but actually found no such bias, calling his research, “the most surprising result of my career.”  Additionally, Washington State University’s research found a “reverse racism phenomenon” when it comes to police shootings; meaning white suspects are statistically more likely to be shot than black suspects.  As a counter perspective to the fear-evoking narrative that black people are more likely to be killed by police, according to the Washington Post, “To date, law enforcement officials have fatally shot 702 people this year, 163 of them black men, according to a Washington Post database tracking fatal police shootings.”
  10. The above study by Mr. Fryer, Harvard Professor of Economics, does show a stark contrast, beyond use of lethal force, in how different races are treated by the police force, citing a 50% more likelihood for black people to “experience physical interactions with police, including touching, pushing, handcuffing, drawing a weapon, and using a baton or pepper spray.” There are conflicting reasons put forth to explain this contrast: including institutionalized racism within the police force, but also a disproportionately higher crime rate among the African American community.  For everyone who cares about racial equality and desires to see our communities flourish, the question of “systemic causation” remains an important issue that must be probed deeper, together.
  11. While racial inequality remains a serious issue to be addressed, there is compelling reason to state that racism is not the greatest problem facing African Americans, although it has become the greatest focus. Consider that the number of documented lynchings during the entire 80 years between the Civil War and the Civil Rights eras is eclipsed every six months by so called “black on black” murders (3,446!)!  One man thoughtfully, respectfully puts forth 5 key problems facing the African American community.
  12. If anyone should be laboring to overcome racial inequality and to see the nations thriving together, it’s the Church!  Ultimately, the Christian hope for racial reconciliation is found in Jesus; a poor, lower-class Jewish carpenter that willingly laid down his life to redeem the entire human race, and”was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”  By faith in Jesus, the promised risen Savior, astonishingly, sinners can be reconciled with a holy God, and restored to a familial, kindred fellowship with one another!  “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,…” Ephesians 2:14

I share this post because I deeply love my African American friends and family, and I ache in my heart to see us thriving together.  I truly do!  I am committed to that end!  If you feel that I am missing something, I’d welcome a conversation.  If you’re a young black man, and you want to rise above the crippling false narrative, and help others do the same, come see me.  I’ve got a guest room where you can sleep, and we’ll talk.    We can go much further together, in the right direction.

Your Brother Always,

Brandon Durham

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MODESTY IS LOVE—Part 1

modesty is love

 I’ll be the first to admit that modesty is a complex & challenging issue for today’s woman, more so than any man can fully appreciate!  Taking my own deficit of understanding, my cultural conditioning, bias of conviction, lack of sensitivity, and countless personal shortcomings into account, I do believe that modesty is an issue which both men and women must speak too as we strive to live in community together.  Today I want to exhort my Christian sisters, especially, to embrace and champion modesty as love.

The mere mention of modesty is viewed as an infringement upon today’s hyper-feminist culture.  Do so, and you’ll immediately be painted as antagonistic and regressive, or even worse, dismissed as irrelevant, and this by the “professing Christian” crowd!  That’s because many professing Christians are actually more cultural than “Christian” in their worldview.  They’ve done the very thing the Bible warns against, and that’s “conform to the patterns of this world.” (Rom. 12:2)   This is particularly true of many professing Christian women today, who claim to faithfully espouse and embody biblical womanhood, when in actuality, they’re espousing, and operating from some various shade of feminism. Feminism has infiltrated the church, and hijacked the conversation about modesty, dressing it as a women’s rights issue; making it primarily about you, as a woman, feeling “comfortable in your own skin,” and having permission to freely “be yourself” and dress however you want to.

I want to lovingly challenge my “culturally conformed” sisters: when we follow Jesus we give up our right to dress how we want.  Romans 14:7-8 says plainly, “For none of us lives to our self alone and none of us dies to our self alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”   Modesty is a virtue which the ancient Scriptures, and therefore, the eternal Lord, speaks over our lives, both directly and indirectly, and this virtue (in regards to clothing) is expressly, though not exclusively, for women:  1 Timothy 2:9-10 says, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,…with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”  Simply put, women, if you claim to be a Christian, or a worshipper of Jesus, but disregard the Bible’s call to modesty, then you are living in serious “disconnect” from your faith.  Furthermore, you are failing to love.  2 John 6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands…” 

When viewed through the lens of Scripture, what readily emerges is that modesty is love for your fellow sisters, for your brothers, for the Lord Jesus, and today, let’s consider how:

“MODESTY IS LOVE” FOR YOURSELF—Several years ago, a woman named Jessica Rey presented a compelling case for modesty as she introduced findings from a (2009) Princeton study in which male students were shown images of women dressed in different degrees of modesty. As these men viewed images of women dressed in less (esp. the bikini) the region of their brains associated with using tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers, lit up!  But the part of the brain associated with showing empathy and appreciation for another person’s thoughts and feelings was virtually turned off!  As Miss Rey reiterated, “Researches found this shocking, because they almost never see this part of the brain shut down in this way!”  As it turns out, modern feminist notions on “freedom of self-expression” are actually regressive and exploitive of women, whereas the Biblical admonition towards modesty is actually empowering to women.  Miss Jessica brings this home when she states that dressing immodestly gives a woman “the power to shut down a man’s ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object.  This is surely not the kind of power that women are searching for; the power to be treated as an equal, to be seen as in control, and to be taken seriously.  It seems that the kind of power they are searching for is more attainable when they dress modestly.”  

Dear Sisters, the Bible declares that you are “fearfully and wonderfully” made, that you bear God’s image (Ps 139:14, Gen 1:27, 31), that after God created you, he stepped back to admire all of his creation, concluding that, “It is very good.”  By design, you are more, not less than your outer beauty.  The Bible says (II Cor 6:18, I Pe 3:7) when you trust in Christ as your Savior  you become daughters of the Lord Almighty and heirs of the gracious gift of eternal life!   According to I Peter 3:4 God has endowed you with an “inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Modesty invites you to embrace and display this fuller picture of your person-hood, and then safeguards your self-worth in the midst of a broken world which constantly seeks to reduce you to less.  As Miss Rey so elegantly states, “Modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves. (shame) It’s about revealing our dignity.”  .

 

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THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!

struggle

Most every Thursday I gladly open my home to my friends where we share a delicious meal & have a relaxed Bible discussion in my living room.  We call it Grill’n & Chill’n.” Our purpose is to: “Have Fun, Make Friends, Think Deeply.”  (something I borrowed from  my friend “Little John” in Taiwan. :)) This past week one of my good Bro’s, Bruno, had a great idea for a topic: “How to deal with trials & challenges in work, life, relationships.

So, last night 15+ people packed into my living room and we watched a 15 minute clip on Combat Veteran & MMA fighter, Chad “Robo” Robichaux.

Disclaimer: I believe that “fighting” or defense training is a necessary skill in which select men still need to be trained in order to protect society in a “fallen” world, (such as in times of war or chaos), and it’s readily observable that boys grow up “rehearsing” such fight skills instinctively.  That being said, I do not condone “fighting as entertainment.”

Chad Robichaux has an incredible story that transcends wrestling and resonates across SO MANY points of brokenness in our own lives.  For anyone who woke up this morning and felt acutely that “the struggle Is real,’ I’d encourage you to take 15 minutes and hear Chad’s story of redemption.

BELOW ARE FIVE QUESTIONS—BIBLICAL TRUTHS—FROM CHAD’s STORY:

ONE: WHO IS IN YOUR CORNER, FIGHTING FOR YOU?Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 

We need people in our lives who are praying for us, rooting for us, encouraging us, holding us accountable, engaging us in genuine friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood.  Do you have someone (?) that you can sit down with, take off the mask, and say, “this is what I’m struggling with.” If you don’t, pray and ask God to send you someone.  Reach out to your friends who consistently model the love of Christ.

TWO: HAVE YOU SUBMITTED YOUR LIFE TO CHRIST? “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” —Jesus, John 15:5

 You can’t save yourself!  Have you come to this realization yet?  Our greatest struggle isn’t outside of us; it’s in our heart.  We are born with a “sin” nature that causes us to “war” against ourselves, against those we love, and ultimately against God. (see Romans 3:23, Romans 7:14-20)  Only Christ has the power to set us free; to save us from this struggle.  He offers it to you, by faith!  “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13 

THREE: ARE YOU BEING TRAINED?A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:40

Jesus carefully, intentionally trained 12 ordinary dudes for a period of 2-3 years, and then he unleashed a disciple-making movement when he commissioned these 12 disciples to go and train others. (Matt 28:19-20) The world has never been the same.  He invites you to have your entire life transformed when he says, “Come follow me…” (Matt 4:19)  Everything we need to know about life, relationships, trials, struggles, situational ethics, so forth can be found in God’s Word.  Get trained! If you don’t know who to ask, then message me.  I’ll help you.

FOUR: ARE YOU LIVING REDEMPTIVELY?Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

To live “redemptively” is to freely extend the same grace, love, patience, forgiveness, and reconciliation that we freely receive in Christ.  It’s to stop blame-shifting, and take ownership of our faults & failures.  Who have you hurt?  Who is bleeding because of you?  Go and make things right.  Start down the long, hard path of restoration and healing.

FIVE: WHOSE CORNER ARE YOU IN?Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Who are you helping? What purpose are you serving? How are you helping others in their struggles?  As my good brother, Charles, highlighted this Thursday, once we have experienced the comfort of God in our own trials (often through others) we are in a position to share that comfort with those around us.  (II Cor. 1:4)

Next time you’re up against the ropes, remember “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

The struggle is real.  Struggle well!

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FINDING MY PLACE: BASEBALL, BULLIES, CHURCH PLANTING & JESUS

baseball

At age 14 I entered into my final year of little league baseball.  I worked extremely hard, spending hours each week in the batting cage and fielding ground balls.  My hard work paid off.  I ended the season with a .533 batting average and made the All-Star Team with a group of guys that would eventually go on to win their High School (3A) State Championship.  I was excited.  I started All-Star practice off by hitting the ball very well, and the coach said if I kept it up I’d be in the starting line-up.

Then things went south, in a bad way.  I was an outsider, driving in from a smaller “country” town.  I hadn’t grown up with these city boys, didn’t attend school with them, and now I found myself competing with one of them for the starting first base position.  I was bullied, to say the least.  The ring leader was a kid named Adam.  For whatever reason, he despised me.  During practice he would throw baseballs at me when I wasn’t looking.  Sometimes I’d get drilled right in the back, and other times, near misses would whiz right over my head or just past my ear.  I began to dread practice and lived in constant anxiety of when the next ball might nail me in the head.  Unbeknownst to me, one of Adam’s friends had sold me an illegal bat loaded with tennis balls (Supposedly, to help you hit the ball further).  One day in practice, I discovered Adam and some others banging my bat against a fence post, trying to remove the cap, in order to expose me to the coach and have me banned from the team.  When that didn’t work, they tried other tactics.  When it was my turn to field throws at first base, I can still remember my teammates whispering among themselves, just loud enough so I could hear, “throw it in the dirt.”  And they did, time and time again.  Needless to say, my shins took quite a beating, trying to scoop low throw after low throw out of the dirt.  I spent that All-Star season sitting on the bench, rarely seeing the field, and I couldn’t wait to go home and never return to that “bully” pen again.  Nobody stood up for me.

I’m 35 now, and I’ve come to realize that some bullies never grow up, they just get older and more sophisticated in their bullying.  After trying to break into the “church planting” world for two years now, it’s been hard not to feel like I’m back in little league baseball.  Three months into my first Church Planting Residency (training program) I was preaching regularly, overseeing “small group” leaders, and even asked to draft church documents.  Church goers began affirming me on my leadership, and asking me when I was preaching next, and to my dismay, the pastor strangely began to view me as his competition.  Things went south fast. He essentially did everything he could to push me out.  He tried to cut my already meager salary package by half!  When I told him I couldn’t afford this cut, his response was, “Well then I guess you’ll just have to get out there and make more money!”  At the time, I was already working a second job, as a valet, (running sprints on concrete with a torn meniscus), just so I could afford to stay in the program.  I couldn’t even afford health insurance.  In a private meeting, which I requested, this pastor realized that a salary cut would put him in breach of contract, so he said he had simply “misspoken.”   He proceeded to verbally abused me; provoking me, shaming me, and demeaning me, referring to me as a “boy.”  Before the meeting ended, he told me that if I couldn’t ‘sync up” with what he was doing, then maybe I should leave.  In hindsight, that’s generally a good time to leave.  But I stayed on, and tried to work things out.  The next three months proved to be a farce.  This pastor, who was supposed to be training me, didn’t invest another second into our relationship.  He effectively sat me on the bench.  When I did finally resign, he announced to the church on my last Sunday that my residency had been a success, and that they looked forward to supporting me in my future ministry endeavors.  The next day I borrowed gas money so I could move home to my parents’ house.  I shared all of this, and more, with leaders in that church.  Nobody stood up for me.

Later that year, I attended a church planting conference, hoping to regain my bearings.  During a Q & A session, I raised my hand and asked one of the main speakers, “How would you approach training an unmarried pastor vs. a married pastor?”  He laughed slightly, and then retorted, “I’d tell him to go get married first!”   Evidently, single men are not thought very highly of in the “church planting” world.  This past year, I applied for another church-planting residency here in Houston.  When I inquired as to why I was not selected, the only reason mentioned was, “…our team is looking more at married guys.  This has more to do with the structure and nature of the cohort as we do a lot as couples/wives,…” 

Yes, I must be back in little league baseball, and because I’m not from here, and because I don’t fit the mold, there is seemingly not a place on the team for me.  I meet people all the time who have been bullied, by both the church and the world.  They’re still hurting and grieving from it, as I am.  It might be tempting to pick up the bat and fight back, but this isn’t the way to find your place on the team.

Our solace needs to come from Christ.  The scriptures tell us in John 1:11 that “He came unto his own, but his own people did not receive him.”  Jesus was an outsider, too, and he didn’t fit the mold, either.  Consequently, he was rejected, bullied, and eventually crucified.  We learn from Christ that “turning the other cheek” is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.  We realize that, because Christ defeated his enemies on the cross, we too can overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:17-20 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

If you’re being bullied, speak up.  Reach out.  But don’t return evil for evil.  When we trust that God “has our back” we are free to love our enemies, and we can face our bullies without fear, anger, or retaliation, because Jesus promises to stand up for us!  Have you been bullied?  Have you trusted in Christ to be your Savior?  He’s got a place on the team for you; a place where you’ll be safe, valued, and loved!  Find a local church family that (imperfectly) emulates him, and get back in the game!

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