Why I Walked and Participated in a Black Lives Matters Protest and Justice for George Floyd Rally and What I think I am Learning in this Midst of this Crisis

I took a walk this week, downtown.

I walked with about three hundred people who were protesting police brutality. This protest was only one of the thousands that are sweeping the globe right now.

If you’ve watched the news, then you’ve seen the riots and destruction that are often associated with these protests. If you’ve paid attention, then you’ve also seen moments of tremendous unity, love, and hope associated with these protests.

The protest in Vero was peaceful. The police force did an admirable job making the protest possible by blocking intersections and walking with us as we went. The police chief clearly and compassionately communicated his goal to protect our community, which included the protesters. He was also clear about the department’s support and willingness to stand against police brutality in every possible way.

Once again, as a citizen of Vero Beach, I was proud of our police department and proud of our community.

Later on in the evening, I joined a Justice for George Floyd rally in our town. A rally hosted by the Vero Beach Police Department.

During the rally, I heard a local officer, a black man – one I’ve come to admire – named Darryl Rivers, discuss how it feels to be black and wear a badge. His testimony was moving.

The rally ended with an open-mic which allowed citizens to express their anger, distrust, and desire for change. It was also a time for some to say thank you to our local police force and offer support to their work in our community.

As a minister in our community, I believe it was important for me to be present at both of these events. Marching in the Black Lives Matters protest was, candidly, difficult for me. I found some of the signs (posters) disturbing and the chants disconcerting. I have spent a small amount of time researching the national organization. I am suspicious of the answers they are proposing while at the same time appreciative of the questions they are asking.

So, marching in a protest sponsored by a movement with which I am in disagreement on many issues, was very difficult. And, though I found it difficult, I also found it to be a meaningful experience.

I’ve noted a couple of the reasons why I found it meaningful above in relation to our police force and the citizens of this great community. One I’ve not yet mentioned is the subtle tension I felt as a follower of Christ (there were likely dozens of such followers in this march) supporting a specific cause while recognizing that the answers and resources of the group I am marching with (in this case, BLM) are going to fall short and leave us wanting more.

In that place of tension, I also sensed hope: hope that the resources of Christ’s love are more than ample to meet the need of this desperate hour.

The resources of Christ’s love, however, are designed to be displayed through the presence of His Church – His people. All too often the church has been silent and her presence absent, or antagonistic, in moments such as these.

I was struck with how different every protest might be if people committed to sharing the love of Christ could walk with those who have never heard of such love, rejected such love, or simply cannot believe such love to be true!

While there are more reasons for why I walked in the protest and participated in the rally, I am going to close by listing the things I’ve learned or reflections I’ve gathered from the experience. The reflections are designed as ways to encourage the church – God’s people – to step into the midst of this current chaos and be agents of God’s will.

  • Process Constructively. It’s time to process what’s going on around us in constructive and unbiased (as much as that is possible) ways. Too many of us (I am primarily speaking to the white, middle/upper-class church) simply don’t understand the feelings and emotions that are being expressed and experienced by our black brothers and sisters. And, yes, they are our brothers and sisters. They worship Christ as King just down the street from us. They gather in South Vero, Wabasso, Gifford, and all the surrounding areas of our community. We share true allegiance with them. An allegiance that demands more than any other allegiance we know – particularly our misplaced allegiances to our political parties and cultural sensitivities. One way we can begin processing all that’s going on around us by educating rather than insulating ourselves.
  • Pray Intentionally. It’s time to pray for God’s good to come through us and extend to the least-of-these in our world. God cares about all of us and He is against injustice and brutality in all its forms. Our prayers should absorb this heart of our Lord when we call upon His name. Lest we forget, Jesus taught us a prayer that is a fundamentally subversive prayer. The first request of the Lord’s prayer is that God’s Kingdom would topple all false kingdoms and His reign and rule be expressed over all the earth.
  • Prepare Congregationally and Communally by Cross-Cultural Bridge Building. It’s time to prepare our congregations and communities by seeking to befriend those less fortunate than us or those who are culturally different from us. Our hearts break naturally when we are intimately aware of the pain and suffering a friend or loved one is going through. Building relationships that cross the many divides we experience in our world is vital to the on-going health of our congregations, community, and country. I spent a year meeting with the Pastors Association of Indian River County. This group is primarily composed of African American pastors in the Gifford/Wabasso area. As I got to know these men and women, I began to realize that we share many things in common even as we have vastly different experiences.

As I continue to process and reflect on my experience, I am incorporating a handful of questions to ask myself daily:

  1. Am I willing to listen and learn what I don’t know rather than proclaim and defend what I think I do?
  2. Will I examine my heart in order to expose any personal prejudice and bias that may rest within?
  3. Will I pray for justice and mercy to flow and for God’s good to be revealed to those most in need?
  4. Will I befriend someone who has a culturally, socially, and economically different experience than my own?

Just a few reflections and thoughts on my experience with a few questions to explore.

For now, that is the right place for me to be as I hope and pray they will lead me into what is yet to come!

And, while I do not pretend to know how the church should move forward, any more than I intended to speak on behalf of the church, I believe that if local congregations begin to:

  • Process These Events Constructively.
  • Pray Intentional for God’s Kingdom to Come.
  • Prepare Congregationally by Cross-Cultural Bridge Building.

we may, in the midst of the chaos around us, be positioned to offer the life-giving hope of the Gospel of the Kingdom!

Grace and peace,

Biz

What if the WE Gave the Earth a Four to Six Week “Break” Once a Year?

As I write this blog, my home state of Florida is easing her way out of the stay-at-home order. The order has been in place for the past four to six weeks.

Honestly, I am ready. I miss being around people and out-and-about in our community. And, while I intend to be wise as I “renter” (and hope my fellow Floridians will be as well), I am more than ready to get back to a little bit of normalcy.

I have, however, wondered what kind of impact this global lockdown has had on our environment. Based on a handful of pictures I’ve seen, and news articles I’ve read, I’d say the global quarantine may have been a time or renewal for creation.

In some ways, it’s as if all of creation has taken a deep breath and gotten some much-needed rest.

For the first time in decades, it seems, citizens of Northern India are capturing views of the Himalayan Mountain range.

Some are saying that the beautiful and robust waterways of Italy (think, canals of Venice) are more transparent than they’ve been in years.

I’ve heard rumors and seen a few pictures of historically smoggy and polluted skylines now appearing to clear—the clear skies offering breathtaking views of the cities, in some instances for the very first time.

We have, of course, experienced significant loss during this pandemic. We may, in fact, experience many more losses before we’re on the other side of this virus. In my own family, we’ve endured the loss of a loved one who contracted COVID 19 and simply wasn’t able to fight it off.

And, while I’d never wish such an experience on any people at any time, I do wonder what, if any, long-term positive residuals the environment will feel because we simply eased her load for a few weeks?

As a Christain seeking to follow Christ, I believe we have a duty – a sacred responsibility – to care for creation in systemic and global ways. That means that we/I try to do our part, where we can, to help ease the burden creation feels while also enjoying the good gifts she provides.

This burden is a delight—one given to us by the Creator when He first breathed air into our lungs. In Genesis 1:28 and 2:15, we are called to the Royal joy of caretaking a beautiful and bountiful creation. God then chose a people from a small semi-nomadic tribe and invited them to be a blessing to the nations, which cannot happen without careful and considerate creation-care of the nation’s homeland.

The Torah reiterates many times over this call to creation-care. When you run through the Prophets, Wisdom Literature, and Hebrew books of history, you encounter both the command, and its oversight, again and again.

In the New Testament, the Gospels reveal God’s heart for His creation! The letters further proclaim the inherent glory and the hope of creation. And, even as creation groans, she also longs for fulfillment.

In short, you can’t be a follower of Christ and not care about God’s earth, period.

No, I wouldn’t wish a pandemic on any people at any time. As we begin this journey into a new season of life, I do wonder if it might be wise to steward our time and resources in such a way that the world could give the earth an annual break to let her catch her breath.

Such an initiative would require global unity and enormous energy to implement. Such a vision, honestly, might be quite impractical even to try.

Yet, what if we could? What if a global sabbath is precisely what the world needs and the earth requires?

If so, then it’s believers – we who follow Christ – who should lead the charge and seek to pave the way.

After all, if you’re going to opt-out by telling me it’s not practical, then we are going to have to do a review of the practicalities of miracles, the dead coming to life, and redemption offered for all humankind.

Biz

Gone in Sixty Seconds and the Priest Who Died So Others Might Live!

Sixty seconds.

That’s all you the time you have left to live.

How are you going to use it?

That’s the “spiritual rhythm/discipline” I’ve been trying on for size the past six years or so. It’s challenging because it forces me to spend that moment – which is all I am ever promised anyhow – well. It’s not enough time to do anything (fix what’s broken, repair what I’ve mangled, etc.) other than use that time well.

In this season of social distancing (a phrase that my good friend Derek West calls an oxymoron – “if you’re distant, you can’t be social”), this discipline/rhythm is taking on new meaning for me.

The discipline itself is rooted in the Scriptures. While I’ve not done a thorough examination, I’d guess there are a couple of dozen direct biblical references to time and our use of it. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, more indirect references and lessons related to the use of time in the Bible.

My favorite is found in Ephesians 5;15-16,

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. “

Earlier, in Ephesians 5:1, Paul encourages us to “live in love.” He then defines what he means by instructing us to imitate and model Christ in the world.

When we see words like “imitate” and “model” we think they mean that we observe and repeat what we see. But it’s not as simple as observing and repeating. To imitate means more than mere observation.

If I am going to imitate someone, I will need to get to know them. I will need to become so familiar with them that it’s as if I become them. Imitation demands intimacy!

That’s why Paul, before he tells us to imitate Jesus, encourage us, in Ephesians 4, to clothe ourselves in Him. We are, in a literal sense, to “put on Jesus.” In Ephesians 4:24 we read,

“Clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This “putting on Jesus” is something we do again and again. It requires discipline – an action we take that’s driven by an intention we have.

When reflecting on Spiritual Discipline, Henri Nouwen once wrote,

“In the spiritual life, the word discipline means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means finding that place where you’re not occupied, certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”

The act (or action) of clothing myself in Him is a recurring discipline that creates space in which God acts. The discipline creates space in my life for God to do the unexpected in and through me!

In other words, if my intention is to imitate Jesus, then the action that must happen prior to that is the discipline of “clothing myself” in Him.

As we clothe ourselves in Him, we are then empowered by Him – His life within us – to live in love as we live in the world.

This is what Ephesians 5:15 explicitly calls living wisely – or living in wisdom (Ephesians 5:15-16. Specifically, that means that as God’s beloved children (Ephesians 5:1-2), clothed in Christ and living in union with Him (Ephesians 4), we are empowered to live well in a world that’s all but forgotten (and even forsaken) how (Ephesians 5:3-4) to live well.

This week, I was humbled by a news article that exemplifies how one can live wisely in our world. The story caught my eye because it’s subject is an Italian Priest who died from the Cornovirus in March. He died because he made a decision to surrender his ventilator so that someone younger might have access to it and live.

Such a decision is possible, even probable, for one who spends a lifetime clothing themselves in Christ. That’s a decision to live as God’s beloved, wrapped up in His life, in the world. A world where both currently and rampantly our first inclination is to hoard, consume, and preserve ourselves rather than sacrifice and share for the sake of others!

Could I make that kind of decision?

Honestly, I am not sure.

I know I could give up a ventilator for those I love, but for those I don’t know and those who may even be an “enemy,” I am not so sure.

I’ve recently witnessed other behaviors from Christian leaders that I consider to be foolish. Behaviors like bantering on about our First Amendment Rights in relation to the mitigations set in place during this Coronavirus pandemic.

No. That’s not the way I want to live those last sixty seconds of my life.

Nor is it the way I think the Scriptures encourage us to live them.

Sixty seconds.

That’s all the time you have left to live.

Do you surrender your ventilator so that others might live?

Do you whine about your rights and pound your self-righteous chest so that all might hear just how upset you are?

Do you extend mercy and grace or anger and hate?

Do you share the light of Christ or keep His light to yourself?

Do you rest in peace as you head into peaceful rest?

Are you able to reflect on a lifetime of sixty seconds in which you’ve “put on Christ” and absorbed HIm into your life?

Sixty seconds.

How are you going to use it?

I am asking myself these questions more than ever before.

I am not always satisfied with my answers, but I am thankful that I continue to ask the question.

Grace and peace,

Biz

If You Knew You Only Had Sixty Seconds to Live, How Would you Live them?

A few years ago, I started asking myself what I would do If I were about to enter the final minute of my life.

The first time I did so I was sitting in a Starbucks in Vero Beach, Fl. The one that is located on U.S. 1, in the Publix plaza parking lot. Starbucks was a second home when we moved to Vero and planted Pillar Community Church. It, and other local coffee houses, served as my office for the first four to five years of the ministry.

On this particular morning, Starbucks was filled with people. As I observed folks coming in and out, I found myself passing subtle judgments. You know, judgments like,

“That’s not a coffee drink . . . it’s a soft-serve ice cream sundae laced with peppermint-cocoa flavoring,” Or

“Wow, you wore that in public?” Or

“Good grief, do you really need that much space? Can’t you see that people are standing around waiting for a place to sit?”

I was clearly feeling a sense of “I am better-than-you are” as I sat hunched in a small corner, at a small table, sipping on my dark-roast black coffee for the morning.

I the midst of these thoughts, I suddenly wondered, “What would I do If Jesus showed up and said, ‘Okay son, it’s time to go. Pack it up and come with me.’?”

I found myself stumbling to explain my thoughts to Him and wondering what I would say if that did happen!?!?

So, I decided to re-enact those sixty seconds and live as if these would be the last sixty seconds of my life.

A funny thing happened. The thoughts I was having ceased. New thoughts emerged. They were powerful thoughts. I didn’t wonder why people ordered what they were ordering, sat where they were sitting, or wore what they were wearing. Rather, I began to ask myself, “What should I do with the time I have remaining?” or “How should I spend these final moments of my life?”

On that morning I began a new spiritual practice or rhythm that I call “living as if I am in the last sixty seconds of my life.” As one who believes our practices and habits shape our behaviors, this one has been fascinating.

The time constraint of sixty seconds, while challenging, prevents the hysteria of trying to fix all I’ve broken even as it invites me to consider where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, said, and done and challenges me to spend my final seconds well! The time limitation is challenging on so many levels.

So, when I practice “living as if I am in the last sixty seconds of my life,” I find myself going through a quick but meaningful internal catalog of my dearest loves in this life.

After thinking about them, I give thanks for them.

I am humbled every time.

There have been times when I’ve caught myself feeling a need to fix what I’ve broken, unsay what I’ve said, or un-see what I’ve seen. But I don’t have time to do any of that so I offer a simple confession to my Father and invite His son to do for me what I cannot do for myself (again).

Then, with whatever time remains, I usually try to offer a smile or word of encouragement to someone nearby and, in my own way, share some of the light that Christ has so generously shared with me.

Suddenly, my time is up.

My final sixty seconds are over.

And that’s when the real fun begins. The practice itself reminds me of what a precious gift time is and how grateful I should be for this life I live. It serves to remind me of the generous grace of our Father, the Holy love of His Son, and the empowering influence of His Spirit.

In short, the practice generates joy, gratitude, and a renewed sense of sharing the good news Gospel of the With-God-Life that Jesus preached and makes possible. It’s the news that experiencing and enjoying life with God is possible now.!

And, of course, there have been times when the practice has surfaced some things left unsaid and undone that God, in His grace, gives me the chance to address and bring into the light of His Gospel.

Most of all, the practice shines a light on how often I fail to live as if it’s the last sixty seconds of my life. It’s stunning, really. Particularly given the Bible’s thorough and consistent persistence that we take note of the time we are given and take stock of how we are living!

From beginning to end, the Bible is full of encouragement to wake up to the presence of God and the light of Christ and then live as if that matters to everyone on the planet. A favorite of mine is found in Ephesians, where the writer (I believe it’s Paul, for what it’s worth) encourages us to buy back the time we are given and use it well.

In Ephesians 5:15-16 we read, ” Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+5&version=NRSV

In some small way, this practice of “living as if I am in the final sixty seconds of my life,” rekindles my desire to make the most of every moment. When I am “making the most of every moment,” I discover that my walk with Christ is more robust. and my life with others is more enriching.

You may want to try this one sometime. If you do, let me know what you discover.

Hoping this blog will serve to help you awaken and be attentive to the eternal life now present and possible in Christ!

Grace and peace,

Biz

A Way to Pray Through the Day!

Looking for a new, or at least, deeper faith walk this year?

If you’re like me, then you are just now coming to rest after a busy holiday season.  In the midst of the chaos, I rediscovered a way to pray that aligns perfectly with Paul’s encouragement to:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  I Thessalonians 5

This way of praying is one way I am experiencing the presence of God, who is alive within me and active among us!  It’s another step in our journey at Pillar.

An adventure, really.  An adventure called, “Set Sail with Us as we Explore, Experience, and Enjoy, the With-God-Life Jesus proclaims and makes possible.”

One of the ways I am connecting with the presence of Christ and the with-God-life is through the practice of Fixed-Hour-Prayer, or as I like to say, “praying your way through your day.”

If you’d like to settle into the presence of Christ throughout your day, check out this brief video and then download the prayer page!

Youtube Link: A Way to Pray Through The Day

Prayer Page: [download-attachment id=”5456″ title=”Pillar A Way to Pray Throughout the Day”]

It might be helpful if I define the term Spiritual Rhythms (Disciplines) so that you know exactly what I mean:

Spiritual Rhythms empower us to live fully into the present reality of God.  They are not an ‘end’ in and of themselves.   They are a means to an end.  They don’t earn any favor with God or serve as some arbitrary measure of our spiritual success.  They are practices of grace, to be experienced over and over again (habit), that awaken us to the presence of Christ in our midst.  As we are awakened, we are then invited to abide with Him.  As we abide with Him, we then begin to live a Jesus-way of life.  A way of life that will experience God’s goodness in our world as we receive His goodness within our hearts and bring His goodness to others.

In other words, Spiritual rhythms help cultivate a life around the reality that Jesus is in our midst and that He is inviting us into an interactive and ongoing relationship with Him.

That means that Jesus is inviting our children and youth to experience him in their home, the hallways at school, the lunchroom, neighborhood, bedroom, etc.

It’s a life lived with Him at this very moment, in this very space.

Our emphasis in January and February is on living a Generous life and the impact our generosity can make on our communities!

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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