The Call to Ordinary Justice

We live in a sad world. We turn on our TVs or read the paper, and we are bombarded by images that confront us emotionally and devastate our moods. So, we take action. We opine about the injustices around the world: orphans, widows, separated families, abuse, etc. We opine to draw attention to a cause, perhaps to our social warrior spirit, or even to a particular brand of politics.

Christians are justice seekers (Micah 6:8), but to what end does our justice-seeking apologetic hinder us from doing the basic and ordinary Christian thing? Just this morning I counted six items for discussion that would be considered heavy by any standard (and I am not counting the day-to-day horrors of abortion and martyrdom all over the world). Is it possible that we are justice fatigued to the point that the daily duties of praying, catechizing, singing, worshiping, dish-washing, diaper-changing, hugging, disciplining, reading, and everything else are relegated to a lesser domain? Are we creating a hierarchy of piety and justice?

“My cause is more righteous, and you should be ashamed of yourself for not caring or investing your time and keyboard to it.”

Before we apply justice, mercy, and humility to the major headlines of our day, we ought to begin right at our local kingdoms. Some will reply, “But we can do both. We can care about our homes and families and churches and also care about the national and international justice issues.” I submit that if you are an ordinary individual with an ordinary family with an ordinary job in an ordinary church, you will realize that the cause of justice most pressing is not starvation in Haiti, but your spouse in need, your fellow congregant who needs your call, or your close friend who just lost a child. Pursue justice by all means; carefully, wisely and prudently. But don’t let the “great” injustices blind you to those precious vessels nearest to you desperate to receive your mercy.

Answering Questions on the New Ruth Commentary

What is the point of the Book of Ruth?

I think there are two central points: a political and Christological dimension:

What we argue is that Ruth is actually a political tract making the case for the Davidic Kingdom…in other words, why Israel needs a faithful King who will be strong like Boaz, loyal like Ruth, and whose fortunes will turn like Naomi’s.

It’s Christological because it sets the stage for a kinsman redeemer who woos his bride through his generosity and strength, who covers his bride under his wings, who becomes this new land where God’s people can glean freely until the end of history. Jesus is this unending source of blessing to the foreigner and to the citizens of the land.

How do you preach through the book?

It’s such a compelling story that if I were a pastor who had not preached through Ruth, I’d go to Amazon and buy this commentary right now and start a series through it. I kid. But seriously, what are you waiting for? CLICK HERE!

I think the beauty of preaching through it is that you are preaching through a familiar story, which means the contextual dimensions are fairly known, but it also means that people have expectations for what you are going to say, but our goal in the commentary was to show just how nuanced the commentary is and just how the language of Ruth is filled with redemptive meanings from the names of Mahlon and Chilion and to the genealogy in chapter 4 which is generally overlooked.

The pastor can take his time working through each character and bringing out their significance in the larger story.

What is it like to write a commentary?

Well, I think we both have to preach through it first as pastors…we need to read and re-read the text. Lusk, who is the genius behind this, taught a Sunday school class on it and I both preached and taught through numerous times here in the US and in Brazil.

The process can be really slow because we both have full-time jobs, children and other concerns, but we have to find time whenever it is available.

So, the benefit of the Through New Eyes Series commentaries is that much of our theology is already developed. It’s based on the genius of James B. Jordan whose imprint is in every page. With that starting point, we are looking at two elements: first, what does the text say? We are operating on a section or verse by verse analysis of the text

Confession and Restoring our Humanity

We confess our sins because we need God’s forgiveness. There is a transaction that occurs: We confess, God forgives (I Jn. 1:9). This is of primary importance. But there is a second dimension to our confession that is not often stressed, namely, that we need to be restored to communion with our God-given humanity (Rom. 12:1-2). When we sin—and we do with frightening frequency—we are losing/weakening–qualitatively–who we are called to be. The goal of confession is to renew us in our earthly walk and realign our internal map. Confession of sins puts us in step with the Spirit of God. Confession is God’s way to call us back to the race. Confession is God’s gift to humanity in the path to maturity. Therefore, confess boldly.

Arguing for the Glory of God

When a married couple says to me “Pastor, we have a good marriage. We never argue,” I have three reactions to this: a) “You are absolutely lying,” b) “Surely the Adamic curse has made you one cosmic exception,” or c) “You all need to be in counseling immediately.” Even the most placid, introverted couples I’ve met argue with one another.

I am not talking about the shouting, throwing vases, or the verbal insults arguing. These are sinful and require immediate accountability and measures. I am referring to the differences of opinion form of arguing. These are necessary and expected in any happy marriage.

If a husband cannot accept the fact that his wife has a difference of opinion on some issue that does not violate biblical morality, that husband is likely making the house a difficult place to live. Husbands and wives ought to thrive in the honest conversations of life.

A spouse must not make arguing a habit or a daily routine of marriage. This can be a sign of deeper problems. But life is too complex, children too unique, and circumstances too unpredictable to avoid ordinary arguing.

Happy marriages are not made of avoiding differences, hiding feelings, playing make-believe, but embracing the necessary disagreements with mutual respect and love for one another. So, when differences arise, argue for the glory of God and the good of your marriage.

Ten Years of Pastorate

Ten years ago we arrived in Pensacola! I was an eager seminary grad about to assume the pastorate of my first church. We arrived on a U-Haul truck and Providence folks were there to unload us into our new life.

In previous months, I remember applying for all sorts of churches only to hear 2-3 months later: “Thanks for applying but we are looking for a pastor with ten years of experience.” Well, here’s your ten years! I am grateful that Al Stoutand the Providence tribe decided to hire a 29-year-old to lead a small, loving church into the future. It’s been better than I imagined.

In our day, pastors stay in a local church for an average of 3.6 years. In God’s grace, Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola,FL has loved me into a decade of service. I cannot begin to express my gratitude and the overwhelming hospitality of these saints to the Brito clan. It’s the only community my children have ever known and the most loving community I have ever served and learned from in my life. The challenges of the last ten years are easily overwhelmed by the immense blessings I’ve received and am continually receiving. Thanks be to God!

Prayer for a Wine Tasting Party

O blessed Lord, your riches abound far higher than the fortunes of Abraham and Solomon for you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Your majesty is adored by every square inch of creation for even the invisible things bow down before you. As we gather this evening to celebrate the wonder of the incarnation, we are celebrating the bond of peace you established when you entered the world.

We give thanks that we are not bound by Nazarite vows, nor the impositions of men that bind our conscience. We drink wine tonight for you are a God of absolute freedom and where there is liberty there is love and peace and truth and righteousness. Guard us against abusing your gifts, especially the gift of gratitude. May we see your gifts, enjoy them and give thanks to the giver of all good things. Far be it from us to turn our backs to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose name is blessed and worthy to be praised. So we pray, give us hearts that abound with thanksgiving.

May we drink believing that our very bodies and souls are in communion with you. We drink in the name of your covenant promises which are yes and amen. As we sing cheers with every glass of wine may our fortunes be passed down to our children and our children’s children, may gratitude overflow, may the laughter of the saints outlast and outlive the laughter of the oppressors and persecutors, may your church sing as choirs of angels in exaltation, may wine gladden our hearts, food fill our bodies, and carols fill this house with your presence.

We pray these things in the name of the Lord of glory, the Savior of Israel, the prince of Salem, the Lion of Judah and the One who exults over us with singing, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Planning for 2019

It’s the third day of Christmas and I am finishing up some work before some hard deadlines. But I am already looking to next year. I journal at least three times a week–try this new year– and it helps me keep track of my progress.

As I read through my accomplishments this morning I looked back at some my goals at the beginning of 2018. In short, I essentially failed to accomplish all of them as intended. I did not read as much as I wanted, I did not write as much as I wanted, I did not pray as much as I wanted; in sum, I probably accomplished 30% of my goals for 2018. I confess my goals were fairly noble like reading 45 books (including some novels and poetry).

Though I failed to achieve my noble goals, I view it as a success. After all, I accomplished 30% of them. I could have lived all of 2018 aimlessly and purposelessly. But God wants your plans to succeed (Ps. 20:4), which implies there are plans made. It’s true that I set a fairly high standard and fell short, but I knew I was going to fall short at some level. But the planning ahead was fundamental to achieving the 30%. Had I not stopped to think late 2017 about how 2018 would unfold I would have entered the year without goals and agendas.

It’s quite easy to mock resolutions, but resolutions mean you have certain goals in mind; a healthy story you are trying to experience which will better your life and your family’s. This is why the Puritans journaled vociferously and wrote remarkably lengthy resolutions (see Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions).

So it is entirely true that God has a habit of shattering our well-laid out plans, but he also has a habit of honoring well-laid out plans. Therefore, plan. Plan for the coming year. Plan to love God, your family and your church and fill those days with ardent productivity.

Doing Away with Sentimentalism during Christmas

Steve Wilkins writes in his helpful article:

Observing Christmas as a season helps us to move beyond the sentimentalism that has become so much a part of “Christmas” and commemorate the true significance of Jesus’ birth. It enables us to see that Jesus’ coming truly transforms all things. It marked the end of the old world (under the dominion of sin and death) and the beginning of the new. And it reminds us of our new identity and purpose. We are now children of the King and are called to rejoice and give thanks and show the world the new destiny that now has come in Him. To celebrate for twelve days (as opposed to one) enables us to realize afresh the significance of what happened in Bethlehem and it declares to the world the remarkable reality that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil and established a kingdom that shall have no end.

The Gnostic Advent

Christmas begins on Tuesday and it lasts for 12 days. Some criticize Advent as gnostic. “Advent is too immaterial and Christians want nothing with immateriality. We want the physical things like eggnog and gifts under the tree. So, why wait? Some would say? “Why not start celebrating Christmas early and get rid of this mysticism of Advent?”

Every year I hear this type of argument the more committed I am to the blessings of Advent. Call me stubborn, but I think Advent is as material as John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, as material as tears of those waiting for Messiah to come, as material as getting together for dessert and singing of Advent hymns. Let’s be honest: Advent is only gnostic to those who want it to be gnostic.

I pray this season with all its rich texts about judgment and grace, waiting and deliverance, hope and joy was everything it was meant to be for you and your loved ones. I pray Advent prepared you to embrace these twelve days of Christmas with great rejoicing.

Membership in the Local Church

Our congregation was enriched yesterday with a whole lot of faces who made vows before God and man to join our local church. In my exhortation to the new members I noted:

“To be joined to a local church is one of the most counter-cultural decisions you will ever make and I am sure glad you have not allowed modernity’s individualism to shape your view of the Church.”

Over the years I have heard stories and met individuals who refused to join a church for a host of reasons. Some had been attending a particular church for over ten years and yet, refused to become a member.

In some cases, they have some fear of submitting to anything; some are said to be waiting for the right time; others are still hurting from some past church experience and are now forever fearful of a repetitive cycle; still, some are just naive of what membership means altogether.

My encouragement to those engaged in a local church, committed to a local body, a regular attender of a local congregation, fed by a local pastor, enriched by local fellowship, is to walk up to the pastor as soon as possible and say: “How can I formally join this body?”

It is entirely possible that after such commitment to membership occasions might arise where you will have to leave to another church and memberships will be transferred. This is all possible. But what you cannot do is act as if you can benefit from a local body, enjoy the blessings of family life and yet refuse to formally join such a body.

You cannot claim the universal church by despising its expression in the local church.

Catholicity, Orthodoxy, and Lordship