Category: Blog Entries

The Moments That Matter blog entries are written, edited and posted by the Director of the Institute for Innovative Faith-Based Leadership at Belmont University, Dr. Jon Roebuck.

Fish & Loaves: A COVID Response

Over the course of the COVID pandemic, I have taken on the discipline of a careful reading and reflection of the Gospel of Matthew.  Knowing that the Word of God is both “living and active,” I thought such a discipline might allow The Word to speak to me in fresh ways as I examined the text in the midst of this season of challenge.  I have slowly poured my way through the Gospel, line-by-line, making notes, recording insights, and listening for the whisper of the Spirit to speak with new insight into my heart and mind.

In Matthew’s telling of the Gospel, Chapter 14 begins with the account of John the Baptist’s death.  Herod had John imprisoned because of John’s forthright preaching about Herod’s relationship with his brother’s wife.  Because of a foolish promise made during a poignant moment at a party, John is beheaded and his head is presented to the party guests as a gruesome trophy.  The disciples of John take his body and bury it, offering a meager sense of dignity in the midst of a horrific moment.

Coming on the heels of that story, Matthew offers his version of the Feeding of the 5000 (the only miracle recorded by all four Gospel writers).  It begins with the simple phrase, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” (Matthew 14:13).  The antecedent of the word “this” refers to the death of John.  Jesus, feeling the weight of his own sorrow, goes to a distant place to grieve, ponder, pray, fortify, and rest.  He needs a moment of respite and reflection. Matthew then tells of the response of the crowds… “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.”  Mostly, as we read this passage, we assume that when Matthew says “when the crowds heard it,” we think that the crowds are responding to the news that Jesus has departed the region.  But what if they too, are responding to the news that John is dead?  What if that’s the “it” to which Matthew is referring?

Suddenly their pursuit of Jesus is seen in a different light.  Their pursuit is that of seeking solace, answers, hope, and relief from their own sorrow.  The death of John the Baptist would have been a devastating loss.  His preaching, his powerful presence, his prophetic shining of truth into the political space of his day would have been so powerful, so hopeful, so meaning to his generation… and suddenly his life is snuffed out.  Perhaps Jesus feels the weight of their sorrow and bewilderment and that is the reason why he leaves the solitude of his boat and steps out onto the land to engage these desolate people.  In fact, maybe it is not the place that seems so desolate, as much as it is the hearts of the people who are so much at loss.  As you would expect, Jesus gives himself away in that moment.  He preaches, he touches, he heals the broken… both those who are broken emotionally and those who are broken physically.  And then, of course, he feeds them with the miracle of the fish and the loaves.  They leave with hearts and bellies full.  They leave with a renewed hope, a reclaimed faith, and a restored joy.

Understand that John’s death was not forgotten on that single day.  The pain and sorrow were still felt by Jesus.  But his grief was lessened through a sense of community, a sharing of a meal, and willingness to serve the needs of others.  Jesus found his footing again, not simply in the solitude of a quiet moment, but also in the company of his trusted followers and in the act of meeting the needs of hurting people.

Read in the context of this COVID moment, perhaps there is a word for all of us.  Like Christ, we find ourselves a little bewildered, a little stressed, a little “struck down” by the weariness of protocols, the ever-increasing numbers, and the grief of things taken from us… not just lives, but moments… moments that we long to share with loved ones and friends.  How do we regain our footing?  How do we step out onto the shore once again and face the challenges of each day?

First, we must seek the distant place of reflection.  We need to sit quietly and reflect on our confusion, our angst, our anger, and our need for renewed hope.  Most of us have churned our way through endless months of work and worry, trying to stay ahead of the virus and its impositions on our lives.  We all need a little rest… a little break from time to time.  It’s okay to step away for a moment and catch your breath.

Second, we need the comfort of community.  Obviously finding community is challenging in the midst of social distancing.  Finding community is hard, but it is not impossible.  Phone calls can still be made.  Letters can still be written.  Stories can still be told.  Laughter can still be shared.  If nothing else, the pandemic has reminded us of how important it is to be in community with others.  Though it may not be as easy to create community these days, it is still vitally important.

Third, share a meal.  There is something mystical, special, and even healing that comes when we sit together at a table.  We feed both body and soul.  Please do not miss understand… I am not advocating in-person dining in a closed-in space.  It’s not safe.  But maybe a socially distanced picnic, or backyard cookout, or a delivered pizza you share with someone 500 miles away as you meet on Zoom, can provide a chance to kick back, talk, and find solace.

Fourth, remember that Jesus found strength and renewal in meeting the needs of hurting people.  There is great healing when we are able to focus on the needs of others and act on their behalf.  Maybe this is a season to practice generosity… a generosity of wealth, of resources, of time, of patience, of kindness.

For most of us, it’s not a question of “if” we will live through the pandemic… it’s a question of how well we will survive.  May we find strength, hope, and renewal for the facing of this hour.

 

 

It’s Just the Color of Skin…

It’s just the color of skin, Lord, that’s all.

And we boast about our shade as though any one shade is better than any other.

We boast about our color as though we had one single bit of control over who we are, or where we were born, or into what race we were placed.

We’re all just people… made in Your image and precious in Your sight.

Remind us as your children, that the Kingdom is not about color, not about privilege, not about gender, not about politics, and not about economics.

The Kingdom is all about the condition of heart and the content of character.

Your gaze is always upon the person within, and so ours must be as well.

Teach us that there are no limits to the embrace of Your Kingdom.

For in Your Kingdom, there are no lines of color that will segregate, no walls of heritage that will divide, no fences of prejudice that will draw distinctions, for ALL are one in Christ Jesus.

We’ve built enough walls, instilled enough hatred, and passed along enough bigotry.

Forgive us.  Change us.  Empower us.  Make us better and make us bolder.

Teach us to stand united, hand in hand, heart to heart, as children of a Greater God.

Father help us to build the Kingdom and not to destroy it.

Remind us that that which sometimes divides us is just the color of skin, that’s all.

-Dr. Jon R. Roebuck

Listen to the Last Words – John 15:12-17

As we communicate, our conversations can be filled with lots of words that have both nuance and meaning.  Some conversations are long and composed of many words, while other conversations can be extremely short with maybe a single word used to convey our thoughts.  “Go!  Stop!  Look!”  Usually our conversations have a little pattern to them.  They begin with a greeting, followed with the main idea we long to convey, and then maybe we close with a word of farewell.  But there is one thing that I have noticed over the course of many conversations with many people.  Sometimes it’s the last word that becomes the important word.

For example I have had folks come to my office to chat.  We may converse for 5 or 10 minutes.  Finally they get up to leave and with their hand on the door to head out, they will finally get around to saying the thing they have really come to communicate.  “Preacher, my mom’s not doing well and I am worried.”  Or, “I discovered some drugs in my daughter’s car and I don’t know what to do about it.”  Or maybe something like this, “The doctor says that I have a lump that needs a biopsy.  I’m sure that I will be fine.  I just wanted you to know.”  

You have been there, right?  You listen for the last word.  It’s as though the conversation gets really serious at just the point you think that it’s about to end.  Sometimes we need to pay attention to the last word. 

Go back with me in your mind, to that upper room in Jerusalem.  Imagine the scene.  A spacious table is filled with the delicacies of the Passover Feast.  There is lamb, unleavened bread, fruit, and wine.  The room is dimly lit with candles.  In the flicker of light you can see the faces of 12 men and their leader as they spend the evening in celebration of their faith heritage.  Early on in the evening, the conversation is light and the mood is upbeat.  Moments of laughter erupt as these men tell their stories.  But the conversation slowly drifts to a more serious tone.  Jesus will teach and speak about the coming of the Holy Spirit and about the suffering He will endure and about the hatred these men will encounter.  At one point Jesus even gets up from the table to wash the feet of His followers.  It is a shocking display of servanthood that seems hard for each man to take in.

Passover Feasts were not the kind of meal through which one would rush.  It was a long, drawn-out affair that lasted for hours.  We are not told in Scripture the actual hour of the meal but surely it went on into the night.  And for argument’s sake, let’s suppose that it was well after nine when Jesus offered some of His last words.  If that were the case, then just 12 hours later, He would hang from a cross.  Just twelve hours later.  That gives a bit of gravitas to the moment.  Jesus offers a final word of challenge and command, His eyes riveted to the eyes of His followers.  Not only are these words among the last He will speak that night, they are among the last He will speak before the crucifixion and resurrection.  They are the last drops of a flood of teaching that has spanned the course of the past three years.  And because they are the last words, they become the important words.

And notice to whom they are spoken… the 12 disciples.  These men are the foundational stones of the Kingdom of God.  Upon their shoulders the Church will be built and the Gospel will take flight.  It is this group who will go forth to change the world.  Men like the tax collector Matthew, or the fiery Sons of Thunder named James and John.  Andrew, Philip, Simon Peter and the others all hear the voice of Jesus.  These are the men who knew Him best.  They were eyewitnesses to the miracles.  They heard the teaching.  With their own hands they had passed along the baskets of bread and fish that fed 5000 men.  They saw the dead come to life again.  Of all the people on the planet, you would think that they are the strongest, the most loyal, the best of the best, ready to go forth in the footsteps of their Master and Lord.

So, listen to what He says to them.  Listen to the last words.  “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  And just to emphasize His point, a few verses later he repeats Himself, “This is my command; Love each other.”  Do you think that is strange?  That Jesus has to tell His followers to love each other?  Is there the possibility that they wouldn’t love each other?  That they would let differences divide and old ways of thinking replace the new?  That they would forget all that He taught them?  Surely the importance of those words must reach our hearing as well.

This weekend, as we prepare to celebrate the cross, the sacrifice, the pain, and yes the resurrection, do we need to be reminded to love each other again?  Probably so.  You see if we are not careful, we can let the old ways of thinking seep into the hearts and mind’s of God’s people.  We can allow ourselves to live like those who have never met Him.  The love that should be evident is sometimes hard to find.  Think about the moments in which we now live.  These days people who call themselves Christians spew out racial hatred and prejudice in the name of good politics.  These days the people of Jesus try to exclude those whose lives are broken because of their “too many” mistakes… somehow forgetting that all of us are just sinners saved by grace. These days Christian folk will talk behind someone’s back or ignore the way words cause injury.  These days followers of Christ will ignore the plight of the poor or get angry when someone suggests helping out a neighbor.  These days disciples can let the smallest of arguments cause life-long rifts.  These days people who have been charged with “changing the world” somehow get angry when the world around them changes and rather than embrace the opportunity to be Christ-like in an ever-shifting culture, they put bigger locks on the doors so that the church will stay “irrelevantly fixed” in time.  

We have to be better than that.  We have to live by a higher standard.  We have to model a better life.  The distinguishing mark of Christianity is love and nothing else.  So do we love each other?  Do we forgive and long to heal?  Do we share out of our abundance?  Do we care when people haven’t heard the Gospel?  Do we weep for the lost and pray for the unsaved?  Do we love every neighbor as much as we love ourselves?  Do we love enough to listen, to care, to meet a need?  Do we love enough to be kind, thoughtful, and welcoming?

On the last night of His ministry, with the last moment of His teaching, with one of the last breaths in His body… Jesus said, “Love one another.”  That last word has to matter.

My Place at the Table

I’m a big advocate of getting people to the table.  Until we are intentional about inviting others to join us in civil, respectful, and rational dialogue about things that matter, those conversations will simply not happen.  We need to have conversations about race, immigration, gun control, women’s rights, border security, health care, and a whole host of other topics.  Social media, talk radio, and television news panels are not the best places for constructive, peaceful, and sensible words about important matters.  Sometimes we need to simply create the space and talk to people with whom we may not always agree… face to face and heart to heart. Perspective is a wonderful gift and when we learn to build relationships, the hostility and anger tend to seep away and honest dialogue occurs.

But let’s talk about our “place” at the table.  There is a difference between being seated at the table as a participant and standing at the table as an observer.  Most of us tend to think that we belong… that we should be seated at every table.  We think that our opinions, our values, our knowledge, and our experiences put us in a place of intellectual and maybe even moral superiority.  In other words, we tend to think that we are the source of all wisdom and knowledge and that others long to hear what we think.  And for some issues, maybe that’s true.  There are areas of expertise that might get us a seat at the table.  But those areas are not as many as we would like to imagine.

For example, if the topic swirled around preaching or pastoring or starting a new program, then pull me up a chair.  I’ve been there and have experience from which to draw.  Or, want to talk about raising kids?  Been there and done that.  Or consider this… I’m a fairly competent student of the Bible and can probably hold my own in terms of applying Scripture and faith to current events and cultural issues. I can talk with a fair amount of confidence about leadership and how to inspire others.  I can even talk about developing concepts and ideas into curriculum.  Or, if you ever want to talk about knee replacement surgery, I’m your guy.  Again, those are the kinds of topics with which I have had experience.  And although I do not claim to be an expert at any of them, there is enough personal knowledge and experience about those topics that might get me a seat at the table.

And then there are those topics that interest me, but don’t necessarily put me at the table.  I need to sometimes be an observer… a listener… a learner.  The older I get, the more I understand how limited any one person’s perspective can be, even my own.  For example, I can’t speak about what it feels like to be discriminated against, or what it is like to feel oppression because of gender, or denied access to education, goods and services because of my race.  That’s not my life, nor my story.  I can’t begin to tell you what it’s like to be an immigrant.  I can’t talk about how it feels to be denied healthcare.  I can’t tell you what it is like to live with perpetual hunger.  I can’t describe homelessness.  I can’t tell you about the emotional and physical pain that can erupt with an unplanned pregnancy.  I can’t tell you what it is like to be abused by a parent.  I can’t tell you what it’s like to fear the escalation of a routine traffic stop.  I haven’t earned a place at those tables of debate and dialogue because I can only learn of those things from a distance.

But learn I must.  Like many of you, I need to at least be present in the room when such topics are discussed.  I need to learn.  I need to listen.  I need to gain perspective that I don’t have.  I need to discover that moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority is never a goal to be envied, but a false notion to be shunned.  There are far more tables around which I should stand as an observer, than those around which I should sit as a participant.  May God help me to know my place.

Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director – Curb Center for Faith Leadership

Wiping Off The Lenses

I’m at that age where I require reading glasses.  I keep a pair handy in all the strategic places.  I have a pair in the car.  I have a pair next to the recliner… a pair on my desk at home… a pair in the kitchen… a pair on my bedside table.  And of course, I have a pair (or two) at work.  I keep them in my desk drawer.  Here’s my morning routine.  As soon as I arrive in my office, I fire up my computer and while it is booting-up, I reach for my glasses.  And each morning, I take out a special lens-cleaning cloth and carefully wipe away all of the smudges so that I can start the day with a clean pair of glasses and clearer vision.  It’s always amazing to me how dirty the lenses become during a day of typical use.  I sometimes ask myself while cleaning the glasses, “How did I ever see anything clearly with these?”

I wish that I could clean my “life lenses” with the same ease.  It happens to us all… slowly, subtly, and steadily.  Over time our view of the world gets a little jaded.  We begin to perceive the world around us with distortion.  We begin to look at things through the lens of past perceptions and experiences where opinions, biases, and even prejudices quickly smudge our vision.  We no longer see the world with fresh eyes but with suspicion, anger, hatred, and even regret.  We no longer have the capacity to see the humanity and worth of every person. We no longer have the capacity to see to face of Christ in every person we encounter.  We no longer have the capacity to see others through the lens of Christ’s compassion, grace, and tender mercy.

We’ve even lost the ability to see ourselves with the proper perspective.  For some of us, we see only our failures and mistakes when we look at our image reflected in the mirror.  For others of us, we only see what we want to see, which forces us to ignore the changes we need to make in our lives.  We see a distorted image of self-importance and self-perfection.  Both ways of looking at self, blind us to the realities around us.  One view causes us to think too little of ourselves, while the other view causes us to think too highly.

We no longer see anything clearly anymore through our clouded eyes and harsh opinions.  We’ve lost sight of a better world that Christ hopes we will one-day claim as His.   So how do we change our perceptions, our outlook, and our view of others?  Can we wipe off the life lenses and see things differently? Is there a special cloth that can cleanse our eyes, refresh our minds, and open our hearts?  The simple answer is no… there is no quick fix or magic eraser. Most of us have spent years layering our prejudices, our attitudes, and our opinions.  It’s foolish to think that we can remove our cataracts with one simple operation.  It takes time to see the world differently.  It takes times to see with the perception of Jesus.  It takes times to change the human heart.

It all begins with the confession that we need better vision.  I remember denying for several years the fact that I needed reading glasses. I didn’t want to admit that was getting older and not seeing things with the clarity that I desired.  It’s hard for all of us to admit that none of us see with perfect clarity.  We all have a little distortion when we gaze upon others.  But we can start to heal, to change, and to see differently.  Some of us need to spend way less time on Social Media.  If you find yourself getting angry every time you log-on, it’s probably better to step away. Caustic comments made by others can damage your viewpoint.  Some of us need to rethink relationships.  Paul said that “bad company corrupts good character” (I Cor. 15:34).  When you surround yourself with only people who look like you, think like you, vote like you, and worship like you… you limit your outlook tremendously.  Some of us need to rethink how we engage the world.  I have found that people who learn to give themselves away, tend to see the world differently.  They find value, warmth, and meaning in the relationships where they judge less and love more.

It’s time to wipe away the smudges.  The Spirit of Christ within you demands that you see the world with fresh eyes… compassionate eyes… respectful eyes… peaceful eyes…His eyes.

  • Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director, Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership

The Voice

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”– Isaiah 30:21

Some voices you just know. You recognize the tone.  You remember the cadence.  You are familiar with every nuanced inflection.  Blindfold your eyes and listen to a 100 different voices and with certainty you could pick out the ones most familiar.  When my dad calls me on the phone, I never have to ask, “Now who is this?”  When my kids call to say “hey” in the midst of a busy day, I don’t need caller ID to tell me which one is calling.  When my wife speaks my name in the midst of a room full of voices, I can always discern her speech.  Some voices you just know.  For a number of years now, I have had the honor of appearing on Sunday morning television with a minute-long devotional thought that I call, “Moments that Matter.” I’m recognized often in and around town. But sometimes, it’s my voice that gives me away.  It’s not uncommon for someone to look up and say, “I know you… I recognize your voice.”

There are certain leaders whose voices we immediately recognize.  Take the voices of presidents for example.  If I were to play you some sound clips, you could discern the voice of Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Regan, or Jimmy Carter. Even George W and George H have distinguishable voices.  Pay attention long enough, and soon the voices become very clearly recognized in your mind.

But what about the voice of God?  Do we recognize it?  Can we distinguish it among the millions of others voices on the planet?  Do we hear it with clarity and offer our careful attention?  Remember that it is never a question of whether or not God speaks… it is always a question of our willingness to listen.  Sometimes we don’t hear the voice of God because we don’t want to hear the voice of God.  We would rather listen to the voice of self-reliance deeply embedded in our brains. We would rather listen to the voice of human nature over the voice of Spirit whisper.  We would rather listen to the winds of culture that blow through our minds rather than the breath of the Spirit that seeks to speak truth into our hearts.

Isaiah once promised the Israelites that God would direct their paths and give guidance to every decision.  He spoke of a voice that would be heard in their ears, a voice that would whisper which step to take.  He assumed that they would be listening for the voice in the first place.

I’m not sure if you will ever hear the audible voice of God in your ears, telling you what to do or what not to do.  I’m not saying that it won’t happen, or doesn’t happen.  In fact, I certainly don’t discount the claims of the faithful who truly believe that God has spoken to them with an audible voice.  For most of us, however, it doesn’t happen that way. The prompting of God is more of a whisper, a tap on the shoulder, a sudden prompting of when to act or which direction to take.  It’s more than intuition.  It’s more than just a “gut feeling.”  It’s a purposeful prompting that makes sense when held up the light of God’s continuing work in our lives.  It’s a discernment… an undeniable affirmation that this is what we are supposed to do with this moment.

We should not be surprised when we feel His leadership… in fact, we should be surprised when we don’t. Again, it is my belief that God speaks all the time.  His Spirit offers direction in both the large and small aspects of our lives.  But understand… the Spirit assumes that we are listening.  Maybe we need to take our fingers out of our ears and attempt to listen.  Maybe we need to turn down the voices of social media, the drone of television, or the incessant rattle of culture.  God longs to speak and we need to listen.  Who knows… in the quietness of a moment we just may hear The Voice.         – Dr. Jon Roebuck

Integrity & Why It Matters

As a nation and as a people, we have a problem with integrity.  Somewhere along the way we seem to have discounted the importance of telling the truth, of being forthright, of being honest.  We have accepted a narrative that suggests a comfort level with half-truths and casual lies.  We no longer hold ourselves or others accountable for the stories we tell, the facts we convey, or the news we disseminate.  We are on a very dangerous and slippery slope that seeks to undermine everything from relationships to religion.  Our willingness to accept a lack of integrity has eroded trust in both institutions and leadership.  Such a lack of trust will be difficult to reverse.

There are some professions that, through the years, have taken on the moniker of being dishonest. Whether fair or not, there are some people that we have been conditioned not to trust or believe.  For example, on the scale of trustworthiness, used-car salesmen have to be near the bottom, right?  We look on such folks with disdain and go into any conversation or transaction with them having our “distrust antenna” raised in the air. It’s the same with weathermen.  I once heard the expression, “If a weatherman is talking, he’s lying!”… a reputation earned when forecasts go astray. Or what about attorneys?  Story after story is told of dishonest men and women who practice law, not to bear out the truth, but to make the biggest buck. You probably have your own list of folks that you just can’t trust.

A recent nation-wide Gallup poll listed firefighters and nurses as the two most trusted professions. Grade school teachers were also near the top.  Clergy didn’t fair too well… 17thon the list. Senators and congressmen were 36thand 37threspectfully.  Insurance salesmen came in at 40th.  And the least trusted of all professions was that of telemarketers.  The fact that such a list even exists should be telling.  Why shouldn’t integrity matter at every level?  Why should anyone be untrustworthy?  Why should we accept dishonesty within our culture?

I can’t speak for you, but when I go the bank I want my banker to be accountable for how safely my money is being kept.  When I go to my doctor, I want her words concerning my health to be accurate and honest. When I listen to my political leaders, I want them to represent the integrity of their office and not the opinions of their party affiliation.  And when I go to my church, I want the words of my pastor’s sermon to be noble, trustworthy, and representative of Christ.  Here’s the danger when leaders fail to maintain integrity.  Whenever we no can longer trust their words, we begin to no longer trust in the institutions they represent.  We become cynical of everything and everybody.  Such negativity begins to eat away at the spirit of our nation like an ugly, aggressive cancer.

We should expect better. We should demand better.  Not only should we expect and demand better from our leadership, we should expect and demand better from ourselves.  Trust is not easily earned.  It is forged on the anvil of consistency, integrity, and honesty over the long-haul.  It starts with the small things… a promise given, a word kept, a trust maintained. Those who are willing to fudge on the little things, can’t be expected to be faithful with greater ones.  We need to hold ourselves accountable.  We need to demand high standards in our personal lives.  We need to realize that the longings we have for greater morality, integrity, and truth within our nation begins with the longing to establish such a reputation in our own lives.

Let’s be honest when we talk about things… honest when we talk about someone’s reputation or background, honest when we talk about broken laws, honest when we talk about news reporting, honest when we talk about policies, honest when we talk about abuse, honest when we talk about racism, honest when we talk about immigrants, honest when we talk about everything.  And let’s be honest when we talk about the things in our culture that Jesus would have endorsed and the things that He would not have endorsed.  Let’s not mar His reputation by connecting Him to the demonic and dark prejudices of our day.

We have a national integrity problem and it will only get better when each of us decides to live with truth as a way of life, and not as a selective, occasional option.

– Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director, Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership

What We Leave Behind… The Power of Sacrifice

Last week as I made my way across campus, I encountered an older woman, tightly clutching her purse, who seemed a bit confused and distressed.  I identified myself as a Belmont employee and I asked if I could help her in some way.  She began to tell me her story.  She was on campus to “pay for her grandson’s tuition.”  She explained that he was an incoming freshman who would be enrolling for fall classes.  She then said, “I sold my house to pay for his college education.”  She was worried that she might have to wait until the semester began to pay his bill.  “Do you think that I can pay for it today?”  And I assured her that she could and that I would be glad to walk her over to the campus location that handled such matters.  She looked down at her purse and said, “I will be so glad to get all of this money out of my purse.  I have been afraid to put it down anywhere all day.”  I then began to realize that she had the actual cash proceeds from the sale of her house in her purse!  She was walking around campus with thousands and thousands of dollars in cash.

I was certainly shocked by the realization of the situation, but perhaps even more taken with the narrative that was being written in the life of that family.  She knew the importance of education.  She coupled that with the love she had for her grandson. Did she have somewhere else to live? Did she keep enough of her equity to survive for the remainder of her life?  Did she even stop to consider the enormous sacrifice she was making?  My guess is that she probably thought through all of those scenarios, but counted them of little concern when contrasted with the surpassing great joy of sending a beloved grandson to college.

The Power of Sacrifice is an amazing tool.  With a willingness to sacrifice, impossible dreams are brought to reality, insurmountable mountains are scaled with relative ease, freedoms are offered to the oppressed, and distant visions become as sight.  The story of such sacrifice is told thousands of times a day in the lives of ordinary people.  How many single parents sacrifice time, energy, enjoyment, and even their own dreams in order to create a path for their children to succeed? How many teachers drain their personal accounts to buy school supplies for their woefully ill-equipped classrooms so their “kids” will have the opportunity at learning?  How many fathers will work two or three jobs to put food on the family table?  How many mothers will clean another woman’s house or take in laundry in order to make ends meet?  How many soldiers will go off to war so that the nation lives in relative peace?  How many missionaries will sacrifice health and family ties so that others might hear the Gospel?  How many couples do without so their children can have the opportunity to play a team sport at school or march in the local high school band? How many grandmothers will gladly sell a house to send a grandson to college?

It is my belief that most noble endeavors… most deeds of lasting significance… most decisions that change the trajectory of someone’s future are all forged on the anvil of sacrifice.  It is not the coerced sacrifice that is meaningful, but the ones gladly made that are the most poignant.  The opposite of sacrifice is surely selfishness.  For until we are willing to forsake ourselves, our comforts, our securities, or even our carefully saved finances, will we be in a position to make a transformative difference in the life of someone else.  The question is difficult.  What are you willing to sacrifice so that someone’s life is made better?  What are you willing to leave behind, cast aside, or release from your grasp that will make a difference?  It may be your lifestyle, your materialistically-manipulated value system, your pride, your opinion, or even your power and influence.  Maybe it’s as simple as giving away your own life.

At the end of the day don’t we all share a desire for our lives to matter?  Don’t we want our lives to count?  I don’t know about you, but when it is all said and done, I want to leave with an empty tank… I want to empty every ounce of my energy and every breath in my lungs.  I want to know the exquisite joy that can only be experienced by the sacrifice of self in order to make life better for someone else.  Maybe the better question is not, “What will I sacrifice in the future to make a difference?”  But instead, “What can I sacrifice today to create a transformative investment in someone else’s life?”

Someone once said that humility is not thinking less of yourself… it is thinking about yourself less. There are a lot of problems in our culture and world that need a solution.  Some of those solutions begin with your willingness to live a life of sacrifice.

– Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director

Will the Real Evangelicals Please Stand Up?

What it means to be an “evangelical” has certainly morphed over the past few years. When I was young, to be an evangelical was a good thing with a good identity throughout the world.  There was no baggage, no partisan politic, no bullying, and no anger.  To be an evangelical was to embraced the Christ of the New Testament in both word & deed and attempt to make Him known.  Evangelicals were not mean-spirited, nor were they hate-mongers, nor were they judgmental.  They shared a love of Jesus and had a passion to tell His story to the world.  In fact, go to Merriam-Webster and look at how the word is defined.  “Evangelical: of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.”

What, in fact, is the good news of the four Gospels? What is the image of Christ portrayed in the pages?  What is His ethic, His passion, His priority?  Once, the disciples of John came to Jesus and asked Him if, He was in fact, the Promised Messiah.  This was His response: “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22). Look closely and you will see Jesus doing things like lifting up the oppressed, welcoming the marginalized, giving access to the outsiders, loving His enemies, forgiving sinners, and inviting the lonely, the poor, the desperate, and the lowly to follow Him. He was inclusive, loving, giving, sharing, and welcoming.  That’s the Jesus I grew up longing to serve.  That was the Jesus of the evangelical community.  That was the Jesus whose story we wanted to share with a loving truth and not a judgmental, elitist attitude. There was something about the story we told that was contagious, life-giving, and destiny altering. The story filled churches, inspired leaders, and changed lives… because it really was good news.

So what happened?  Did the Gospel message suddenly change?  Did the story get re-written?  Did the priorities of Jesus shift?  Maybe the Gospel didn’t change… maybe we did.  Maybe our story of Jesus’ love got co-opted.  Maybe we lost sight of what it means to love Jesus so much that we compassionately love the world He died to redeem.  Doesn’t it make sense that if evangelicals are “in agreement with the Christian Gospel” that we should at least, in some way, reflect it?  If we are His ambassadors then shouldn’t we represent that which is important to Him and not chase after our own narrow-minded social agendas?  In the eyes of the world, evangelicals are now defined in a very different way than they once were.  Now evangelicals have to vote a certain party line.  They have to crusade for the unborn but end programs that support those same children when they come into the world.  They have to hate Muslims and love guns.  They worry about transgendered persons using the wrong bathroom but keep silent about child molesters who serve in public office.  They declare that Jesus matters, but black lives don’t.  They want the right justices, but care little for real justice.  They pray in church but post the most un-Christian rhetoric on-line as though the two can somehow be reconciled.

Let’s be honest when we talk about being an evangelical. If your passion and your priorities are not fully surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, then please don’t use the name.  You’re just confusing a world that is already skeptical of the “Christian” message. Jesus said that His true followers would be known by their love for one another, not by how abusive they would be towards anyone that doesn’t accept every misguided and twisted point of their theology.  It’s time for “real evangelicals” to offer a better witness to the world.

-Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director

The Long Arc of Racism

Let’s be honest, racism is alive and well in our nation.  And I’m not sure that recent events, political decisions, hate speeches, and angry tirades have made it any more so, they have just helped us all see the problem with fresh eyes.  I have to admit that it is not always easy seeing the world through the perspective of someone else’s experience.  What may have seemed like an issue with progressive thought and some semblance of resolve to some, is still a very real and raw and dangerous issue for others.  Those in the majority, with privilege, wealth and access, may have quickly dismissed or even forgotten the plight of the marginalized, the oppressed, or the under-represented.  Ignorance of another’s plight is no excuse.  Neither is turning a blind eye and deaf ear an option.

I grew up in the deep south… in the 60’s… in times that were racially divisive.  And yet, much of the tension and inequality of that day were shielded from me by virtue of a privileged status that back then I’m not sure I fully appreciated nor understood.  My parents were people of authentic faith who taught me to love everyone and to treat others as equals.  The Jesus ethic of loving your neighbor was reinforced by both action and teaching.  I never heard my parents use the “N” word, nor even express a prejudicial attitude and they certainly would not have tolerated it, if such things were found in the heart and mind of my brother and me.  I truly believe that people are taught and conditioned to hate, and by the grace of God I grew up in a household where such teaching was never offered.  That doesn’t make me better nor morally superior to those who grew up differently… it just makes me grateful and maybe even more determined to be intentional about the world we pass on to the next generation.

It was as I grew older that I learned more about hatred and ugly, racial division.  My hometown of Rome, Georgia went through the racial tensions that many southern towns experienced in the mid to late 60’s.  There were some riots, some threats, some broken windows, and some arrests.  It was all a little crazy to me at the time.  I went to a public elementary school that was integrated.  African-American boys and girls in my grade were among my friends.  I still remember Reginald, Alvin, and Sarah nearly half a century later.  It seemed odd that friends with whom I learned to read and write, friends who shared the playground, friends who listened to the same teachers, and ate at the same table with me, were people that according to the racial ethic of the day were people I should avoid.

I went to a private high-school that was mostly white.  Unlike some private schools of that era that were established to avoid “the coloreds,” my school, created in 1903, was focused on academics and Christian values and was open to any who could afford to attend.  And though the cost of admission afforded me a great college-preparatory education, it certainly excluded others.  It robbed me in some ways of the rich experience that diversity offers.  Please don’t misunderstand… I am very grateful for all the sacrifices through both high school and college that provided me with a good education.  All I am saying is that in some ways I was shielded from the pain of racial inequality that plagued many of my generation.  It has taken years, (and the process in my life is not complete), to understand the complexities of racial inequality, injustice, issues of access, and discrimination.  But I have learned the value of intentionality.  Issues that plague our culture are not changed without intentional effort.  Issues that plague our cities are not resolved without dialogue and understanding.  Issues that plague our hearts are not settled until we make conscious choices to both acknowledge the issues and take positive and practical steps to engage them.

I work at a University that takes on diversity as a priority.  Boundaries of race, ethnicity, and gender are being constantly assaulted with each hiring decision and admission acceptance.  It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but at least we, here at Belmont, are moving in the right direction.  No, we can’t change the heart and mind of everyone around us, but at least we are striving to raise the important issues and conduct our actions accordingly.

But let me remind you that our society is only as good as we make it become.  We cannot afford the luxury of time, thinking that in some miraculous way, racism will automatically be erased as the years role by.  No.  Big issues take courageous people to solve them.  It is by our fidelity to the vision of a better, brighter world, that change will come.  Be intentional about the issue of race.  If you are not a striving to be a part of the solution, you may well be part of the lingering problem.

-Dr. Jon R. Roebuck, Executive Director