The Gospel According to…Chance the Rapper.

chance-the-rapper            Last Sunday, America got to have a Sunday Evening Service all thanks to Chance the Rapper. Chance, backed by a praise choir and Kirk Franklin led the nation and the whole music industry in singing Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God. It was an odd moment. Is this allowed? Is Jesus coming back? Then in his acceptance speech for 3 awards (Best Best New Artist, Best Rap Album, and Best Rap Performance) he gave all the glory to God.

What are we seeing here? I had to ask what is the Gospel According to… Chance? And I’m still not sure. After having sifted through his latest mixtape Coloring Book, I am still perplexed as to what he believes.

What we know is this: he’s 23 years old. He’s on his 3rd album. He’s garnered more fame and support because he’s doing things his own way by not signing with a record label. He even changed the rules of the Grammy’s that a physical album had to be produced and sold. Chance’s music is all for free to download on his website or other streaming platforms.

Chance tells us I don’t make songs for free I make them for freedom. He wants freedom to sing about what he likes, the style he wants, and who he worships. There’s a lot to like about this. Then in his first release of the album, he sung Blessings a song he unveiled on The Jimmy Fallon Show. Where he gave credit to all his blessings come from his creator and that he can distinguish the difference between blessings and worldly possessions. Amen! Let’s take our kids to see him! Maybe he can lead more congregations in praise.

But…then there are songs like No Problem where he promises to get revenge if another label tries to stop him and then he goes off on his greatness evidenced by the girls and drugs he gets all the time. It makes you pause.

There are other songs that make you question the sincerity of his faith, Juke Jam features Justin Bieber and singing about sexual encounters at the skating rink, as well as songs about drinking All Night. So what do we do with Chance the Rapper?

On one hand I truly appreciate artists being honest thru their art and not hiding their warts and struggles. I cannot stand Christian artists that only present the joys of the faith without sharing the struggles of it too. But, to me Chance doesn’t appear confessional about his sins. And yet, he says I’m at war with my wrongs.

chancegrammy            So this mixed bag of profanity laden, yet God praising music is perfect for us to study and train our students in asking ‘What’s his gospel?’ Because it takes work to uncover. One of my favorite lines in this whole album comes after the praise song How Great where Chance begins his rendition of this song by adding, Magnify, magnify, lift it on high. Spit it Spotify to qualify a spot on His side. I cannot modify or ratify, my momma made me apple pies. Lullabies and alibis. The book don’t end with Malachi.            

Chance lost his Grandmother, and at her funeral How Great is Our God was sung, and he says, “it crushed me.” This is a song about seeing God’s greatness amidst the darkness. About praising God even when it feels he is far away and not answering his phone calls. AND YET – the book don’t end with Malachi.

Malachi, the last book in the OT, is known for being the last time God speaks for hundreds of years…until Christ the savior comes. So Chance is the bearer of good news! The book, our book, our story doesn’t end with God’s silence – but Jesus comes breaking in!

Now what we need is for Jesus to break in to Chance’s life a little more. To reveal he is not only Great, not only able to give blessings, and restore hope to his broken city of Chicago, but He is able to restore his soul and heart to be free from the other idols his heart is still bent towards.

We can’t know for certain where Chance’s faith is, just like we can’t know anyone’s truly.   But, we can look at their fruit. Chance has fruit and thorns all mixed up. But still fruit. Which means…life. It appears Chance recovered his faith just recently, and it helps to view him as a newborn Christian. We can pray for him what his grandmother prayed for him: Lord, I pray that all things that are not like You, You take away from Chance. Make sure that he fails at everything that is not like You. Take it away. Turn it into dust,”

Please pray that over me too.

The Prodigal

a1theprodigalson

artwork by Delanie Nettles

Being a pastor can be, well, socially interesting at times. Nancy and I met some new friends through our son’s first grade basketball team – the big leagues. We have talked for weeks now and realized we had a mutual friend. “We go to the same church,” I said, and left it at that. At the next game she came running up, saying she talked to our mutual friend and he dropped a bomb: “That’s my pastor and his wife!” She was horrified. She told us, “All week I’ve been thinking through all our conversations, wondering what I said…Did I cuss? Did I say something bad?” I said, “Don’t worry about it, I taped all our conversations.” Luke 15.1 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus.” Messy people flocked to Jesus. In other words, Jesus attracts messed-up people. If real Christianity attracts messy people, then why did our new friend worry about what she said around the pastor and his wife ? Do messed-up people flock to the church today?

The story of the two lost sons has been called “the Bible in miniature, in snapshot.” Its message is the heart of the Bible, pumping life through every page. The structure is easy to follow, consisting of two major thematic threads that run parallel throughout the story. The first thematic thread is found in verse 1: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus.” Now jump to verse 3: “So he told them this parable….” The story of the two lost sons is telling us why messy people flock to Jesus. The second thematic thread is found in verse 2: “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” Now jump to verse 3: “So he told them this parable….” The story of the two lost sons is telling us why good people grumble at Jesus.

We start with the first thematic thread this week (v.12). “And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he (the father) divided his property between them.” For a son in the ancient world to ask for his inheritance before his father’s death meant he wanted his father dead. No small offense in any culture, not to mention a traditional middle-eastern culture.

The attraction of real Christianity starts in the father’s response (v. 12): “And he divided his property between them….” He did what?! No middle-eastern father does this, certainly no Texas father; this is a different father. The universal expectation here, across cultural and generational lines, is a beating! Or at least some form of rebuke with a firm “No!” attached somewhere. But instead, it is a father’s indomitable or unconquerable love, a love that does not exert controlling anger, retaliation, payback, or manipulated dominance, but a love that absorbs all the abuse and pain of the son: a love that eats it.

Look at the two words for “property” in verse 12…they are two different words. The son is saying, “I want my money!” “Property” here means straight financial wealth. But the father is saying, “I divide my life for you!” “Property” here means one’s life. The reason messed-up people flock to Jesus is that at the heart of Christianity is a Father who absorbs their sin, selfishness, and abuse…a Father who divides his life for them.

Want to go deeper? Join us on Sunday Mornings @11  or Wednesday Nights @6.

Pastor Jeff

The Gospel According to…21 Pilots

21-pilotsWhat good can come from Columbus, Ohio? Well…besides yours truly, an odd 2-person band called 21 Pilots. Their fame as grown grass roots style in going door to door inviting people to their shows and now they’re selling out stadiums and dropping hit songs on major movies like Suicide Squad with their Heathens song.

What’s compelling about this group is that you can’t quite put your finger on why you love them. They’re hard to explain to people: they’re piano driven, rap, reggae, mixed with a ukulele. So…you’ll probably hate them. But you don’t. Their talent is evident in the fast rhymes, the sing-able melodies, as well as the bob-your-head beats Josh Dun lays down on the drums.

But what draws you in more than the music itself is the depth in which the lyrics go. This band is not out to make records and money. Tyler writes to figure things out. You can feel his angst and pain and relate to them when he shouts “We’re Broken People!” You relate when he shares how the silence in his car from somebody stealing his car-radio is terrible – because then he has to think, then he has to be real and not stuff and deny the world around him.

That’s a theme in one of their less popular songs Polarize off their latest full album, Blurryface. Tyler asks, “Help Me Polarize, Help Me Out.” It’s easy to miss the deeper meaning behind the groove and tempo-change that are so masterfully woven. But, Tyler is asking for help to sort through his problems. Polarize means Separated into two distinct groups.

Tyler is seeing his life and realizing most of his life is deny, deny, denial. It’s shoving things under the stairs and not dealing with them. But he also realizes how unhealthy that is. And he’s asking for help. Help me understand my life. Help me sort through my junk. Help me separate or Polarize the good from the evil. Help me decide who I am and what battle lines to draw.

Late Night with Seth Meyers - Season 2            Someone has said that the problem with Christianity is that the people “Should all over themselves.” We have all these laws and things we should do: Be a better brother, a better son, a better adversary to the evil I have done. And when we look at our life: what we should do NEVER is equal to what we have done.

In fact the opposite is true. Tyler sees this failure and wonders, “have I lost my halo?” I’m a failure! My life is a mess. I’m a terrible brother, terrible son, and I make the prodigal son look good. Have I lost my salvation? My good deeds don’t outweigh the bad.

And here is where get the gospel from this band, in pain and frustration he screams, “You’ll have to come and find me, find me! “ I can’t do it. I need a Father who loves better than I do. I need a father whose love for me isn’t based on my goodness but in his unending, never-breaking, always and forever love. I need the father to find me! I need Him to seek me out. My life is marked by running away like the prodigal son, and like the prodigal father he runs to his son while he’s a long way off.

If you’ve never wondered, “Am I doomed to hell? Have I lost my salvation?” It’s a lonely feeling. You feel lost. You feel like you can’t breathe and become numb to the world around you.

But here’s where the Gospel comes in and is sweeter than honey. Yes you’re lost, yes you’ve should have done those things, but God’s love for you is not thrwarted because of your sin. This makes me think of a quote from Martin Luther’s in his commentary on Galatians where he says, “ When the devil says “you are a sinner, therefore you are damned: – we can answer him and say “because you say I’m a sinner I shall be righteous and saved.” “No you will be damned” says the devil, “No” I say “for I take refuge in Christ who has given himself for my sins!” In fact when you say that I am a sinner you provide me with armor and weapons against yourself so that I may slit your throat with your own sword and trample you underfoot. You yourself are preaching the glory of God to me! On his shoulders not mine lie all my sins! – therefore Satan you do not frighten me, but bring me immense consolation.

Amen. I’m a sinner. But God died for sinners. Help me Polarize and figure this out.

 

I AM A RACIST.

PrintI am a racist.  There, I said it.  I’ve wondered about it for many years, wished it weren’t true, worked against it, and have never to my knowledge acted upon it until now.  I took a survey to see if I indeed judge people as good or bad based on their skin color, even subliminally.  I went over to implicit.harvard.edu and took their test which asks questions so quickly that you answer out of your nature and instinct instead of convincing yourself that you believe something else.

I discovered that implicitly I prefer my race to the African American race.  I answered more quickly that whites are good than the speed at which I answered blacks are good.  I took this test yesterday.  I’ve been wrestling with racism in this country and in my heart for years. This issue came to the forefront this past year as my wife and I adopted two children of different races into our white home and I even preached on the disgusting practice of partiality that we as the church are complicit in. My Denomination, the PCA,  as a whole passed an overture of repentance for taking part in heinous sins of racism and for not only failed pursuit of racial reconciliation but also actively working against it.

I preached from James 2 where it says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” The word partiality is in the plural so it could say – “show no forms of partiality” which includes racism..  How ugly is it to say you’re not welcome here!  For example, to argue that #alllivesmatter or #bluelivesmatter when a black man was just murdered is inconsiderate of the context that THIS black life mattered! Or as Arthur Chu said its like someone who “runs through a cancer fundraiser screaming ‘THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO.’

I preached on this, I’m convinced of the truth that black lives matter and that all human life is marked with the imago dei (image of God).  That every single person is of infinite worth!  I loathe racism and, yet I’m still a racist.  I’m a passive racist.  I prefer my skin color because I prefer my culture because I prefer me over you.

I fall short of the royal command that James refers to a couple verses later to, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  I have only loved myself.  I have not thought, “how would this affect a whole group of people?” I live in white privilege and am blind to the privileges I have.  I don’t even like that term because it cuts me off from the prideful idea that I have earned my status.  This term, privilege, reveals that I am only as far as I am because God has privileged me to be where I am.  It makes me a debtor.

But, Oh, to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee: Prone to wander (to racism), Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above!

God has grace for racists.  Because that’s not all I am.  I am also an adopted son.  A forgiven enemy.  A prodigal with a party waiting for him.  I pray we all can acknowledge the depth of our sin is deeper and darker than we would like to think.  I pray we can see our hearts are prone to racism; to not love our neighbors.  And this would drive us to the gospel and in turn produce the first step of racial reconciliation.

Some Resources Moving Forward:

James 2 Sermon Referenced above:  Partiality, Racism and Its Aftermath

Heal Us Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church.  Doug Serven, General Editor

RAAN (Reformed African American Network) 

What Is The Christian Life?

The Christian life today is like a carnival of mirrors. You look in one mirror and you are short and fat. You look in another mirror and you are tall and skinny. You look in a third mirror and you are split-in-two and upside down. What is the Christian life? Do we just pick an option? Do we bounce from tradition to tradition and theology to theology? Do we simply find one option that works? Do we seek a sign from God? Do we feel superior to those not in our camp? Does it even matter? Everyone is struggling to figure out the Christian life today: Romans 12.1-3 welcomes all strugglers.  

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship” (v.1). Whatever the Christian life is, it is perfectly reasonable, logical, and even the sane way to live. In other words, not to live the Christian life is irrational, illogical, insanity.

“Present your bodies” (v. 1). Whatever the Christian life is, it is a concrete life, a real life, not an abstract spiritual life. In other words, the Christian life is wherever our body goes. This means the Christian life is a way to present our bodies or build our identity, relationships, work, or handling of money, circumstances, conflict, suffering, etc. For example, is the Christian life an identity built around performance and human acceptance? Is the Christian life building our relationships around control? Is the Christian life relating to our money in order to get respect, power, or security from it? Is the Christian life handling suffering in terms of no hope, despair, or even feelings of deserving it?

“By the mercies of God…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (v. 1). This is temple imagery, specifically temple sacrifices. There were two kinds of temple sacrifices in the ancient Jewish world: (1) sin offerings and (2) thank offerings. This is a Christian, so it cannot be a “sin offering.” The Christian life is not presenting our life as a way to pay for our sins, deal with our sins on our own, or earn our salvation. However, this does not prevent us from trying. We make sin offerings when we hate ourselves and cannot forgive ourselves for failing. We make others bring sin offerings when we do not forgive, withhold love and acceptance, or feel superior to them. Jesus is the Christian’s sin offering… all self-sacrifices are over.

The “sacrifice” here is a thank offering, which is why it is a living sacrifice not a dead one. What is a thank offering? It is an offering of joyful thanks to God for what he has done. It is feeling joy deep in our bones, joy for what God has done for us, for all his multiple mercies toward us. In this case, the thank offering is our life – our identity, marriage, parenting, career, money, pain, successes, failures…our life as a single person or a student, our gifts and abilities, retirement, etc.

What is the Christian life? The answer is simpler than we think. The Christian life is a gospel life or a building of our messy lives around the multiple mercies of God in Jesus Christ.  

Join Jeff Hatton at noon on Thursdays in the private dining room at El Conquistador Hillsboro for Bible study and fellowship. Today’s article will be the topic for discussion on September 29. 

For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit http://www.redeemerwaco.org.

Special Magic


Psalm 139 has special magic. If a person says, “I know God cares for me, but I am still paralyzed by fear.” Psalm 139 replies, “Well, not really. Being paralyzed by anxiety means you don’t really know God cares for you.” And then Psalm 139 helps the person really know God cares for them. How does Psalm 139 do that? The answer is certainly by its content, which we will look at in a moment, and also by the literary form that carries the content. Psalm 139 is a song.

On September 11, 2001 Rick Rescorla was the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in Trade Center Tower 2. The second terrorist-controlled plane slammed into Tower 2 thirty-eight floors above Rescorla and the Morgan Stanley employees, throwing everyone to the floor. Rescorla jumped up with his bullhorn yelling, “Stop. Be still. Be calm.” No one spoke, no one moved. In the silence Riscorla figured out which stairwell to take and led 2,687 employees to safety. How did he do it? How did he save so many lives? Rescorla learned something in war while earning the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart in Vietnam, something that had the power to break his men’s fixation on fear. What did he do? He sang. He sang while all hell was breaking loose, casting a spell over everyone.

Psalm 139 is a song of David designed to release spiritual magic powerful enough to break him (vv.19-22) and us from fixations of fear. Verses 1-6 are not an abstract explanation of God knowing everything, but rather a window into God’s active intimacy with his people. Everything is covered here: the trivial (walking and standing), the deeply personal (one’s trusts, thoughts, and feelings), all one’s movements in a given day (even sleep), and all our communication (even before it is said). Do not miss verse 5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” This is a military image of an army besieging a city. However, in this case the army is God and his people are the city, and God is not surrounding his people to level them but to love them and to rescue them.

Verses 7-12 are not “I’m trying to get away from God but I can’t!” Think Jonah. But rather, “Oh God, I seem to find myself at times in difficult, dark, desperate places! Where are you?” The answer from verses 7-12 is “I’m right here, with you, of course.” Most people in the world today have some sort of notion of hard things eventually working out: karma, natural selection, fate, circle of life, or the very popular belief, “Because I say so.” The God of the Bible in vv.7-12 says, “Hard things might not ever work out in this life. But even there my hand shall lead you, my right hand shall hold you. For the darkness is light to me.” 

Dr. Edmond Clowney taught a preaching class for pastors before his death where he said, “When you get to the Psalms, remember ‘Jesus is the singing Savior.’” We could say Jesus is the better Rick Rescorla. Jesus is the ultimate singer of Psalm 139, who sings songs of surrounding love and rescue to fear-fixated people.
For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit http://www.redeemerwaco.org.

Can These Bones Live?


Contrary to popular Christian belief, God does go to the movies. God loves video truth just as much as audio truth; thus Ezekiel 37 is in the Bible with its apocalyptic literary form. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to hang pictures on the walls of our imagination–to capture the way we see the world.

Today we resume our story of the stunned Ezekiel stumbling around in a valley-sized cemetery. Who are these unfortunates? “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they (i.e. Israel) say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off’’’ (v. 11). Israel is the valley of unburied bones.  

In the ancient world political alliances were formed by covenants or treaties. The super-power of the day (called the suzerain lord) would form a treaty with a weaker or conquered nation (called a vassal servant), detailing stipulations for obedience followed by performance-dependent threats and rewards (like national security). If the vassal nation breaks the covenant, then the suzerain nation invades, leveling everything to the ground and scattering the broken bodies over the surface of the earth without proper burial as a sign to all: “Here lie covenant breakers. Here lie the cut-off, the cursed.” Israel broke covenant with their suzerain lord, the living God himself, resulting in exile to Babylon, in being cut-off, in being cursed.  

“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” (v. 3). This is the central question of the passage. Can our messed-up lives live? Can your struggling child live? Can an unbelieving neighbor live? Can a hopeless marriage live? Can our broken city live? Ezekiel gives a lame answer, so God answers his own question. However, the focal point here is not God’s answer, but the way God answers.

“Preach, Ezekiel. Preach my words to the bones.” This is crazy! Bones cannot hear! They are dead. But this is the kind of God that God is–the deader the better. At first Ezekiel does not see a thing but he hears it: “as I preached, there was a sound…a rattling…and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” “Thus…” CLICK! “Thus sayeth…” CLICK, CLICK! I (v.7). I bet right here Ezekiel gets into his preaching! Do not miss what is happening here; change on-the-spot happens while Ezekiel preaches God’s words. As Ezekiel preaches, people are put back together again, become their true selves, are reached, rescued, redeemed, and healed. God’s words release the personal active presence of God upon our lives and the world.

Notice where Ezekiel is when God shows up. Notice that God is the one who leads the bone tour (v. 2); he is very familiar with them. These observations mean that God went into exile with Israel. Jesus’ favorite name or title for himself in the gospels is “Son of Man.” Years after Ezekiel, God asks the better Son of Man, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” “Yes!” He answers clearly without hesitation. Why is the better “Son of Man” so clear and certain? The answer comes from the cross where Jesus cries out, “My bones are dried up…My hope is lost…I am indeed cut off” so that we never are. 
For Jeff’s sermons on video or audio visit http://www.redeemerwaco.org.