Saturday, November 29, 2014

GUEST POST: Gospel Gardening: Ferguson and Beyond, by Darryl Ford

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too.

 There are weeds preventing water from reaching the soil. There are plants suffering drought. There are areas where soil nutrients are being overtaxed. Recent events are a reminder that our garden in America is unhealthy and is in desperate need of maintenance. Specifically when we look at the powder keg that is race in America.

A few examples: The shooting fatality of Mike Brown in Ferguson. The choking fatality of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. The shooting fatality of John Crawford III in a southwestern Ohio Walmart. The shooting fatality of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles. The shooting fatality of Darrien Hunt outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. All unarmed African Americans killed while being arrested or in custody.

There are also certainly huge issues within the African American community. High absentee father rates, high incarceration rates, and high recidivism rates remind us that there are significant issues without clear answers. But one thing is clear, regardless of what side of these issues you’re on.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too.

Sadly, some of us know this and are apathetic and uncaring. Others of us don’t know that we should care. Within American evangelicalism, both groups route their apathy and/or ignorance in hollowed out churchy platitudes like “Racism is bad, but sin is the real problem” or “Racism will never end until Jesus returns". Platitudes like these, even if true, provide convenient ways to ignore the holistic mission of God in all the world to which He has called his people.

We are created to be Gospel Gardeners.

Part of the reason I think we (including myself) can become apathetic or ignorant on issues of systemic injustice is because of how we are likely to answer this question: “What is the oldest job in the world?” If your answer is “Prostitution”, you’d be wrong. (Thanks a lot Rudyard Kipling!)

We learn what the first vocation given by God actually is in Genesis 2:15:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it”.

The first job given to Adam was two-fold: To work it (Hebrew word ‘abad’ meaning to tend, prepare and cultivate) and to keep it (Hebrew word ‘shamar’ meaning to preserve or guard it).

The garden was the place where God created man to dwell. We were created to cultivate and protect the garden. We were created to be Gardener-Guardians. Although Adam and Eve were kicked out of the original garden, our garden is wherever Gods people are. God always expected his image bearers to tend the garden. We see this in the OT:

Zechariah 7:9-19 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against one another in your heart.”

Psalm 82:3-4 “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but you do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

God has called us to always care about the garden. This includes both individual sin issues, as well as systemic injustices. Sadly, we usually emphasize one at the expense of the other. And in the case of American evangelicalism, we avoid the issue of systemic racism and injustice by emphasizing individual sin exclusively.

On the Sunday after the Travon Martin/George Zimmerman decision, or the Sunday after Mike Brown’s death, many majority culture, predominately white churches were largely silent. Church went on like usual. Conversely, many ethnic minority churches were heavily conversant on that Sunday morning. For those churches, Sunday was a day of heart wrenching mourning.

God shows us that caring for the garden means we mourn with those who are mourning. We don’t have to necessarily agree on the reason for their mourning. We still mourn with them because they mourn. This is how community in the garden is supposed to work.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too.

We struggle with caring because we are beholden to an abrogated and truncated gospel.

We fail to do justice because we don’t understand it. It’s been hijacked politically. Regardless of your political flavor, you have an understanding of justice that likely isn’t God’s definition. Justice in scripture means to make things right. It means fulfilling mutual obligation.

When justice is mentioned in scripture, you normally see these words close by: widow, fatherless, poor, hungry, stranger/immigrant, needy, weak and oppressed. This means we don’t turn a blind eye and/or a deaf ear to those who are unjustly affected by a broken system.

It’s why I don’t believe believers (gospel gardeners) should avoid the news. A lot of us avoid the news because it’s so “negative” and “sad” and it gets us down. This isn’t only because we can be apathetic or callous. For many of us, injustice can be so overwhelming because of the sheer enormity of the issues. We can’t begin to think about how we could ever fix the problems, so why expend emotional and intellectual capital on it? I believe this is the subtle way that, as American evangelicals,  we anesthetize ourselves from mourning injustice. In so doing, we grieve the heart of God.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too.

We mourn the ways in which the garden doesn’t work. God hates injustice! He hates when people use power and privilege for exploitation and not human flourishing.

If righteousness means making things right within, then justice means being made right without! This means that, to quote Jim Wallis, “Your faith may be personal, but it is never private”. God’s mission isn’t just to redeem broken people, but to redeem broken systems. We are called into a relationship with Christ in which we are changed and re-oriented to use our passions, talents, gifting and vocation to advocate for human flourishing.

So how should Christians respond?

As an African American pastor of a new multi-cultural church plant in Atlanta, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring the ways in which the garden doesn’t allow for people to flourish. I can’t avoid the fact that there are at least two different perspectives of law enforcement in my own household. My wife (who is White and grew up in an upper middle class white suburb of Chicago) had an experience with police officers quite opposite from me (a Black man who grew up in Detroit). We both have experienced being pulled over and although she was driving, the first question the white police officer would ask is “Ma’am, are you ok???” as if to imply that this woman had to have been with me against her will.

Don’t get me wrong. I also have family members and friends that are exemplary police officers. The issue isn’t about how great or horrible cops are. Beyond anecdotes, the point is that we have a huge challenge to cultivate and protect our garden. How do we do this?

Well, a good gardener always looks for the things that may inhibit the garden’s flourishing.

1.    Listen, Learn and Locate: This means we look for weeds. We learn the reasons weeds exist. This means being slow to speak and being quick to listen to others’ accounts of how the garden doesn’t work well for them. This means we don’t use our experience as the litmus test for whether or not their experience is legitimate. We listen and learn. What does law enforcement look like in our garden? What does access to good education look like? What does access to good jobs look like? What do family structures and dynamics look like? What systems are in place that unfairly and unintentionally benefit some and harm others?

2.    We Engage: This means we engage in prompt weed removal to prevent more weeds from becoming established. This keeps weeds from robbing moisture and nutrients from other plants. This also keeps from allowing a haven for pests and disease to exist. When we see injustice, we become burdened and we act. Whether it’s predatory lending, or exploitative check cashing businesses, we work to end their existence. Even if we do it imperfectly, we still image God well when we do.

3.    Monitor: We look for symptoms of disease or pest problems regularly. Individual sin is definitely at play in all forms of injustice. That’s not going to be eradicated on this side of eternity. This means we expect to see systemic injustice arise in myriad forms. We need to keep a watchful eye as we guard the garden.

4.    Expect: While injustice won’t be eradicated completely, we can see signs of hope. The beauty of our hope being rooted in the resurrection, is that we have a new life and new creation to look forward to. But this doesn’t mean we hide in our prayer closets in our bubbles and wait for Jesus to rescue us. Saying “racism will always be here so it’s silly to rail against it” ignores the holistic gospel mission of God.

The reason the Lord’s prayer includes “Your kingdom come, your will be done in Earth as it is in heaven” is because in caring for the garden, we become signposts for the kingdom that is coming. We give a picture of what perfect community looks like in Revelation 7:9-10:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Mike Brown’s death is bigger than whether or not he “deserved” it, or whether or not he “brought it on himself”. I’m not sure if we’ll ever truly know that. What we do know is that this forces a larger courageous conversation that needs to be had by American Evangelicals. A conversation guided by this question, “How is our garden doing? Any other response, whether it’s looting or ignorant passivity is at best lazy, and at worst blatant disregard for the heart of God.

Something is wrong with our garden. God cares about it. We should too. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

GUEST POST: Ferguson by Embo Tshimanga


I’ve been pondering over Ferguson since the beginning and it’s crazy how quickly things are escalating.
Firstly, I’ve never felt so numb, disappointed, sad and mad over what’s been happening and how quickly things are changing. I am fervently praying for peace.
Knee jerk reactions and generalizations are booming across social media and the news but I believe that you must listen in order to speak. Generalizations deny the reality of any given situation and truth must be foundation, then love.

To those who state Jesus and the church is not involved in this, I simply believe you are wrong. In I am in no way passing judgement on their beliefs, I am merely stating my opinion. I believe that this world that we inhabit and all that occurs within it is not our own, I believe that it is His and His alone. 
That being said, all that occurs and this world itself along with those who inhabit it, are His. The aspect of unity especially in the church is so much deeper than before. God is infinitely and intricately woven into all events of this world, including the ones of Ferguson, Missouri. This is much much deeper than a “black vs. white” thing. 
The story of Ferguson, Missouri is one that has gripped the hearts of not only African American people, but people of the Asian, Hispanic, and White race from the beginning. Ferguson is not a clear cut black vs. white event though society it has been deemed that way. 
Both sides of Ferguson are understandable- I can admit that. I understand the anger land uproar on both sides, because let’s be real- no matter the outcome, the protesting would’ve happened either way. I am so saddened.

I admire The Brown Family for their courage and bravery of their peaceful words. Many people have asked me simply because of the reason I am an African American whose side I’m on in regards to this case but the thing is, my stance is irrelevant, my “biased” beliefs are irrelevant, and more so, my skin color does not matter either because it isn’t a skin problem, or a black vs. white problem,or a racism problem. I love what Benjamin Watson said, “it’s a sin problem,” it is sin that has made this world that full of corruption- not the fact that I’m African American or white- sin. It is a sin problem. 
Sin is a tree in this world with many roots. As an African American person, it’s heartbreaking, our nation seems hopeless. As an African American Christian, I feel hopeful because our only hope, the only explanation, is Him. Not in that sense, but more in a sense that while there is still racial discrimination and issues, it’s lessened over the years and we’ve obtained a new sort of “normalcy”. As I’ve said before, my stance is with Him, because He alone is the only hope for this world. I’m with Jesus.
I’ve prayed about it, and I’ve thought about it and 1 Peter 4:7-8 is what came to mind:
"The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:7-8)
NOTE: This is the first in a possible series of guest blog posts where I will open my blog up to African American Christian's who share their perspectives on Ferguson, in hopes that those of us who are White can see this from another angle.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

PODCAST: [Subversive Radio] The Didache - Part 4: Chapter 3

Here we explore Chapter 3 which examines the cause and effect of "small sins" in our life and how sowing a thought can reap an action, and how those can grow to become larger sins in our life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


My friend Richard Jacobson fires the opening shot in this upcoming blog series "Who Makes Decisions In An Organic Church?".

This series looks at how organic churches make decisions without a "Senior Pastor" in place.

Here's the complete schedule, with links to participating blogs:

* Richard Jacobson's video and blog is HERE:

Richard Jacobson is an artist, blogger and former pastor. He tries to inspire fellow believers who are captivated by the church but disillusioned by today’s consumer-Christian church model to follow the longing of their hearts: to step outside the institutional church box and enter into genuine church community.

*Jon Zens: Decision Making In Organic Church Part 2: The Mind of Christ in Our Life Together - "All of Christ Through All The Voices": HERE:

Since 1977, Jon and Dotty have been traveling among and encouraging relational communities. Jon has been the editor of the Searching Together journal since 1978. From 1970 – 2000 he worked in three manufacturing facilities, and he is the author of many books, including "58 to 0 — How Christ Leads Through the One Anothers."

*Keith Giles: Decision Making In Organic Church Part 3: HERE:

Keith is a former pastor who left traditional church to start a simple church where 100% of the offering would go to help the poor in the community. He nows works as an advertising copywriter and publishes books about following Jesus in daily life. His latest book is “The Power of Weakness”.

BONUS: [Podcast] Who Decides? Making Decisions In An Organic Church by Keith Giles, HERE

*Dan Herford: Decision Making In Organic Church Part 4: HERE:

Dan is an artsy engineer with a bike shop and a blog. He has a patient wife, six children, and more interests than time. He wonders about words like ‘pastor’ and ‘disciple’ and ‘church’.

*Neil Cole: Decision Making In Organic Church Part 5: HERE:

Neil Cole is an author and organic church planter that has catalyzed church movements around the globe.


Please share your thoughts and comments here and on each blog and video post if you can. Interaction and conversation are part of what we hope to encourage.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

PODCAST: [Subversive Radio] The Didache (Part 2)

NOTE: The ending cuts off. Part 3 will continue from this point forward.

Listen as we study the structure of the Didache and begin to read the first chapter together.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PODCAST: [Subversive Radio] What Is The Didache? (Part 1)

The Didache is a first century document that contains the teaching of the Apostles for how to train new followers of Jesus in the Way of Life.

How has it remained obscure so long? What does it actually teach?

Listen and find out here!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Spectacular Fail Or Abiding Life?

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I say?" - Jesus (Luke 6:46)

A few days ago I suggested to a friend of mine that should consider the words of Jesus regarding love for enemies before he continued to express his hatred for Muslim people.

Not only did my friend not take that advice very well, he quickly accused me of being a "self-righteous Pharisee" and said that Jesus "opposed" being a Pharisee.  Before I could respond he un-friended me and ended the conversation.

I could write a blog about how wrong my friend was in this case. I could go on and on about the irony of his using Jesus' distaste for Pharisees to justify an opposition to the practice of urging a fellow Christian to obey the words of Jesus, when what Jesus commanded was that we teach one another to obey all that he commanded. But I won't.

Instead, I'd like to talk about how I have failed to obey Jesus, even as I call him my "Lord."

It's too easy to react to the failures of others, isn't it? Peter was quick to point to the Apostle John and ask Jesus, "What about him?" when Jesus had just told Peter to follow him and feed his sheep.

And Jesus response to Peter is the same to you and to me: "What is it to you? Follow me!"

So, I have to examine my own heart first and when I do I realize that lately there have been several times when I have called Jesus "Lord, Lord" even though I was not doing what He said to do.

I have failed to love my neighbor as I love myself.
I've failed to risk my pride in order to serve someone else.
I've held back my money from those who asked for help because of my own selfishness.
I've joined in the gossip talk at work rather than walk away, or offer a positive perspective about the person being roasted.

That's just for starters.

Jesus sincerely wants us to follow Him. He absolutely expects us to put his words into practice. That's why, right after he spoke those words about calling him "Lord, Lord" he went on to tell this parable:

"For I will show you what the one who comes to Me and listens to My words, and puts them into practice is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug and went down deep and laid a foundation upon the rock; and when a flood arose, the torrent broke against that house and could not shake or move it, because it had been securely built or founded on a rock.
"But he who merely hears and does not practice doing My words is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation, against which the torrent burst, and immediately it collapsed and fell, and the breaking and ruin of that house was great." (Luke 6:47-49)

So, Jesus isn't vague about this. He warns us that our lives depend upon putting his words into practice. His words are life. But they are not simply words to be believed, or accepted as true. No. Jesus demands that those who follow him sincerely put his words into practice, daily.

I love when Jesus washes the disciples' feet on the night he is betrayed, and afterwards he sits back down and says:
"Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:17)

Knowing the truth isn't the same as doing it. Being a Christian isn't only about what you believe, it's actually more about what you do with the things you say you believe.

In other words, it's just as much about Orthopraxy (what you do), as it is about Orthodoxy (what you believe).

When another person fails so spectacularly at following Jesus, and runs hard in the opposite direction to avoid even discussing the possibility of putting Jesus' words into practice, it should not make us feel superior.

Far from it.

It should knock us to our knees. Not only to pray for our brothers and sisters who are building their lives on the sand, but to take a good, hard look into the mirror and honestly evaluate our own unwillingness to put the words of our Lord into practice.

We will only give an account of ourselves before the Lord for everything we have done or said in this life. What has been said in the darkness will come into the light. Every idle word will be proclaimed from the rooftops.

That is why I'm confessing my own failures and exposing my own areas of weakness, here and now.

I'm asking Jesus to come and live and breathe in me anew, and to empower me with His Spirit to love as He loves, give as He gives, serve as He serves, and live as He lives.

Like Paul, I forget the past and press on to the high calling of Christ. My hope is not in my own strength, but in His.

My confidence lies only in this: "When I am weak, then I am strong", for my own weakness "is the power of Christ at work in me." (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Without Him, I can do nothing. But if He abides in me, and if I abide in Him, together we will bear much fruit.

What the world needs now are more Christians who are serious about taking the words of Jesus and putting them into practice.

Let the abiding begin.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

[Subversive Radio] Interview: Greg Boyd - Following Jesus Into Nonviolence

Keith Giles interviews Greg Boyd, author of "The Myth of a Christian Nation" about what Jesus really meant by loving our enemies, and how taking those words seriously can change not only our own hearts, but the whole world itself.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

AVAILABLE NOW: Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity

I'm excited to announce that the book, Simple Church:Unity Within Diversity, (which I have contributed a chapter to), is now available for pre-order. [Cost $12.99 plus s/h]

Please use this link to place your order:

“What is simple church?” This is a simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is an attempt to shed light on the above question and provide some answers. The twenty-four contributors all hope this book will help people, both inside and outside the church, better understand what simple church life is all about.

Far too often discussions about the church descend into arguments that accomplish little. We have no desire to take part in that. Rather, each person who has written a chapter for this book desires that it will lead to increased communication, understanding, and ultimately unity within the body of Christ.

Twenty-four writers means twenty-four somewhat different perspectives. We certainly do not agree on everything. You will see that as you read through the book. What we do agree upon is that simple practices often lead to great opportunities for edification and service—both inside and outside the church. We want to share these ideas with other followers of Christ and explain what it is all about. If you would like to know more about simple church from a positive perspective, then this is the book for you!

Contributors include:
Keith Giles
Guy Muse
Alan Knox
Miguel Labrador
Kathleen Ward
Will Rochow
Arthur Sido
Jeremy Myers
Chuck McKnight
Eric Carpenter
And many more!


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

SIMPLE CHURCH: Unity Within Diversity

I'm honored to contribute a chapter to this brand new book, edited by Eric Carpenter with a Foreword by Wayne Jacobsen, entitled "Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity".

My chapter, "A Church That Gives Everything Away To The Poor", is just the story of our little house church and the journey that God took my family on about 8 years ago.

The rest of the book includes other stories and testimonies (from 23 other writes) about how Jesus has been leading and moving others in His Body to "Be The Church" in radical and audacious ways.

Some of the contributors are:
Alan Knox
Guy Muse
Will Rochow
Miguel Labrador
Jeremy Myers
Kathleen Ward
Arthur Sido
Chuck McKnight
Christopher Dryden

and more!

No clue yet when exactly it will hit the streets, but I'll be sure to let everyone know as soon as it does.

Now that this part of our story has been told, I'm ready to start work on living out the next story of Jesus in my life.

Bring it on!