Why I wrote a book

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hope for the hurting... How an American Elm Tree Survived



In his book Why Do I Love These People?, award-winning author Po Bronson tells a story about an American Elm Tree in the town of Beulah, MI.

Keep reading. I think it will inspire you like it inspired me.

Bronson explains that in the 1950s, an iron chain surrounded the trunk of the elm tree, as a farmer kept a bull chained to the tree. Over the years, the tree developed a deep gash. It was a gash so severe that many people thought it would eventually kill the American Elm Tree.

That farmhouse eventually became home to a boy, who Bronson writes had an equally deep emotional scar. The boy's mom and sister had been killed by a drunk driver. When the boy's father remarried, according to Bronson's story, the father left the son at the farm with his grandparents. 

As time went by, Dutch Elm Disease began killing all of the American Elm Trees in Beulah.

But not this particular tree.

Experts from Michigan State University came to see why only this particular American Elm Tree survived. They reached an interesting conclusion.

"The university crew had only one theory to offer. Somehow, this scar, this chain – which for years everyone thought was going to kill the tree – instead had saved the tree’s life. They suggested that by absorbing so much iron from the chain, the tree had become immune. To the boy, this offered a powerful metaphor. Perhaps his scar was not going to kill him, either. Perhaps someday, when everyone expected it to destroy him, it might save his life." (1)  (Read the full story of the tree here.)

Recently, I've had my fair share of gashes. I have a bunch of circumstances that I wish I could change. It's been tough. Not only that, I've had conversations with a lot of other people who have been deeply gashed by life as well. 

The good news for the Christ-follower is that when life gashes us (which the Bible promises will happen) it's never just random. God has a purpose in allowing what He allows. It's never arbitrary. It's not because God is powerless. And it's not because God is asleep on His throne.

The apostle Paul reminds us that God is working all things (even the really tough circumstances that gash us) out for our good. For proof of this, we need to look no further than the cross of Christ. God works out a plan of redemption for us through an extremely unjust and painful crucifixion of His Son.

You may be hurting deeply now (songs like the one in the video I posted above tend to help me in those times) but don't give up!!!!

I try to write these blogs as conversation-starters. I would love to hear how you relate to the story of The American Elm Tree. 

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (you can read guest blog post here), a father to five amazing kids, and a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for The News Leader, Rapzilla.com, VIBE, HipHopDX.com, Young Life Relationships and several other publications. Recently, Moody Publishers published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here

 1. Bronson, Po, The Tree, pobronson.com, http://www.pobronson.com/WDILTP_Tree.htm, (accessed Oct. 29, 2013) 






Monday, October 28, 2013

Kanye West says he's a Christian... Well, is he? 11 questions to ask.

Iconic rap star Kanye West's recent comments on the Kris Jenner Show sparked a question: Does Yeezus, the emcee of Jesus Walks fame, truly walk with Jesus?


Kanye West - Jesus Walks pt. 3 by channelzerotv

On a video uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 23, 2013, Jenner asked West about his WWJD bracelet. The bracelet question, which I first learned about on one of my favorite Web sites Rapzilla.com, appears at the 27:30 mark of the interview.


The exchange goes like this:
  
Kanye: So actually Rob (Kardashian) gave me this ... It's just What Would Jesus Do? I love it. It's just such a cool bracelet...

Kris: I like that. 

Kanye:  I'm a Christian, and I always wanted to let people know that that's what's on my mind...

Kris: "That's what's important to you."

Kanye:  "It's important to me that I grow and walk and raise my family with Christian values... 

It begs the question. Is Kanye West a Christian? However, there's an even bigger question. How can you know if someone - not just a famous someone - is a Christian? 

Before we get to the test, let's start with a definition. A Christian is a person who has responded in faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the good news of God's rescuing work in the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

When this process happens in the life of a person, we call it regeneration. Since it's fall, think of a jack-o-lantern. We gut out the inside of a pumpkin to put a light inside. The outside is still a pumpkin shell, but the inside is totally changed.

This is what happens to Christians. God cleans us up from the inside-out through the gospel. The Bible teaches that the fundamental problem of all mankind is that we are born with a desire to live independently of the God who created us.

God solves this problem. Jesus willingly took the punishment rebellious humans deserve at the cross, so that we can have the perfect relationship with God that only Jesus deserved. It's a great exchange. One of my favorite musical artists Flame (whose new project Royal Flush I highly recommend) poses a series of questions on his song, Who Can Pluck Us, that helps us determine whether our Christianity is genuine.
  • Do you enjoy fellowship with God?
  • Are you sensitive to sin? 
  • Do you obey God's word? 
  • Do you reject evil? 
  • Do you eagerly await Christ's return? 
  • Do you see a decreased pattern of sin in your life? 
  • Do you love other Christians? 
  • Do you experience answered prayer?
  • Do you discern between truth and error? 
  • Do you have the (internal) witness of the (Holy) Spirit?
  • Are you rejected and persecuted for your faith?
 I write these blogs with hopes of starting conversations. I would love to hear your thoughts on genuine Christian faith.


 Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower,  husband to Emily (read her guest blog post here), father of five wonderful kids, and a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for The News Leader, Rapzilla.com, HipHopDX.com, Young Life Relationships  and other publications. Moody Publications recently published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here.



Friday, October 25, 2013

If Rap Star Ja Rule Came to Your Church ... 3 Important Things to Know


 Have you ever wondered how people outside the church perceive the church? 

You must watch this five-minute interview with Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum rap star Ja Rule.


 
Ja Rule talking about "I'm In Love With A Church Girl" from HillsongNYC on Vimeo.

Also an actor, Ja Rule appeared The Fast and the Furious and The Cookout among other movies. The rapper, whose mother was a Jehovah's witness, talks about going on a church tour to promote the new movie I'm in Love With a Church Girl.



As Ja Rule toured churches, he found himself having the same experience fairly regularly. He describes it like this:

"Once I started going back into the church with the movie and stuff, I just didn't feel like I was welcomed. I go into the church, and they say, 'Come as you are.' But do they really mean it?" 

However, one church struck him differently.

"I go into a church right here in the city in Urban Plaza," Ja Rule said during a recent interview. "It's called Hillsong. They have a pastor called Carl Lentz. From the moment I walked in the church, I said OK, 'this is what they mean by "Come as you are.'"

Ja Rule then went on to explain what made Hillsong different. Now, I don't know what churches Ja Rule visited or much about Hillsong. I do know that these three factors will be key in determining how churches relate to those outside the church.
  • The church proclaims the true gospel. It always goes back to the cross. Jesus Christ, the God-man, willingly left heaven, became man, lived perfectly, and then died a substitutionary death. It's not about if you're good or bad. It's about if you've been restored to God through the cross. The gospel changes hearts of people from all cultures, including hip-hop.  
  • The church can navigate culture. The church that can reach people from different cultures successfully eliminates the cultural barriers between people and the clear presentation of the gospel message. In other words, the church navigates the cultural issues in such a way that a visitor can focus on the gospel rather than how different he or she is from the congregation. If people come to your church and are more concerned with navigating "church culture" than being restored to God through the gospel, it may be time to to some serious study on the gospel and culture.
  • The church is on mission. This church isn't surprised when someone like Ja Rule enters. In fact, they've been praying and preparing for those outside of the church to come investigate. The pastor's sermon considers this. There will be points in every sermon where the pastor specifically speaks to visitors as well as church members. Members in the church are also prepared to engage vistors.
After my wife showed me this video and I started working on this blog, a pastor that i deeply respect, Thabiti Anyabwile, also wrote a blog on the topic. You can read his blog here. 

I write these blogs in hopes that they will be conversation starters. I would love to back from you. If you're a hip-hopper, what has your church experience been? If you're an active member in a church, what has been your experience engaging different cultures?

Chris Lassiter is a husband to Emily, father of five, and a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for the The News Leader, HipHopDX.com, Rapzilla.com, Young Life Relationships and other publications. Recently, Moody Publishers published his first book, You're Grounded. You can read about it here. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why men don't go to church... Wrestling through Manhood Restored

A certain social media app has put me in quite a bind.

Sometimes one of my friends will post something, and I like what they post. However, to express my appreciation, I have to double-tap my phone until it creates a heart.

The only problem is I'm a dude. I usually don't express myself with hearts, especially to other dudes. 


Not only am I a dude, but I am a (former) athlete. When I did something noteworthy during athletic competition - which was rare but it occasionally happened - the response from my dudes was usually a celebratory push, a chest bump, or a hard swat on the butt.

Never anything with hearts.

That's a little tongue-and-cheek, but it's also a point that Dr. Eric Mason addresses in his book, Manhood Restored (read about the book here). Many things inside the walls of the church are designed to attract women, which at the same time often makes it unattractive to men.

The real problem, Mason states, is that many times those of us that are inside the church are unaware of these things.

Read Mason's quote.

"Christianity's primary delivery system, the local church, is perfectly designed to reach women and older folks. But this church system does little to stir the masculine heart, so men will find it dull and irrelevant. The more masculine the man, the more likely he is to dislike church."(1)

The problem becomes heightened in urban settings, where other religions that have an emphasis on black nationalism appear masculine while Christianity is often characterized as feminine.

  
 

 
Just to be clear, the Epiphany Fellowship pastor is by no means a church basher. In fact, the rest of the Restored Church chapter helps readers walk through both practical and theological ministry helps for creating churches that reach men. Manhood Restored is worth the purchase for this chapter alone, but it also covers a myriad of other topics such as family, sexuality and fatherlessness from a sound gospel perspective. (Watch that one-minute video trailer. It's great!) 
I write blogs like this one on Manhood Restored in hopes that the topics will facilitate discussion. That said, I would love to hear your thoughts on why men don't go to church.
 
note: I purchased this book myself. I do not know Dr. Eric Mason personally and I was not asked by anyone to review this book. 

Chris Lassiter is a husband to Emily, father to five great kids, and a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for The News Leader, Rapzilla.com, HipHopDx.com, and many other publications. Recently, Moody Publishers published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here. 

 1. Dr. Eric Mason, Manhood Restored, (Nashville: B&H Publishing) 2013, p. 163

Monday, October 21, 2013

Guest post from my wife Emily Lassiter: 3 reasons you should care about justice

I don't know if every kid is like this, but when I was young, issues of injustice really made me angry. Not the usual 'You took my blocks' type of injustice, but making fun of kids with disabilities, blatant racism, and treating people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds like second-class citizens type of injustice.

Now that I've grown into an adult, I'm even more passionate about justice. Some might say this is a special calling on my life - and to a degree it is - but I believe God wants us all to care about justice...and to care enough to do something about it.





As we look around, I don't think it takes a special calling or passion to see that something's wrong with our world and something needs to be done to address it. Because of how God made me, I can't help but care about matters of justice. Here are 3 reasons I think ALL Christians should care about justice:


  1.  God cares about justice. God hates injustice because He is fully just. The more I grow in my faith and understanding of God's character, the more I see where my passion for justice originates. As we grow to be more like Him, we begin to care about the things He cares about. Pastor and Author Timothy Keller says "The Bible is a book devoted to justice in the world from first to last." As we study the Bible and pray for God to make our hearts more like His, we begin to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates. God hates injustice and we should too. You can find a book by Timothy Keller on justice here.
  2. God has called His followers to DO justice. Doing nothing is not an option. "God has called his people - all of God's people - to do the work of justice." - Bethany H. Hoang. Justice isn't a spectator sport. In one of my favorite verses, Micah 6:8, God gives His church marching orders: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" God may call us to do the work of justice in different ways, but He has called His church to "do justice." We can't continue to focus on our own lives while watching injustice flourish and not the people God created and loves. Imagine what the world would look like if Jesus' followers throughout the world worked together against injustice. It's a win-win, really. It would not only promote justice, but unity within the church as we serve on His mission together.
  3. Lives depend on it. I'll never forget reading the account by Christine Caine of a young woman rescued from human trafficking who asked "If God is so good, why didn't you come sooner?" Those words still stir me to tears today. The young woman in this story was one of the few who survived being shipped across the ocean in a shipping container before being sold into sexual slavery. There are people all over the world waiting for justice. There are people in our communities waiting for someone to care enough to step into the brokenness of their lives, be an advocate for them, and point them to hope. You have the opportunity to make a difference and I guarantee that it won't only change them, but it will change your life in the process. Knowing lives depend on it, will you go? 

What's one area that God breaks your heart over injustice? I'd love to hear from you about it.

You can read more about Christine Caine and her anti-human trafficking organization, The A21 Campaign, here. Over the last few weeks, I've had the opportunity to read two books that have encouraged my passion for and calling to do justice. You can find Deeping the Soul for Justice by Bethany H. Hoang here and Just Courage by Gary A. Haugen - President and CEO of International Justice Mission here. These are both great resources that I highly recommend.


 Emily Lassiter is married to Chris Lassiter and together they have 5 children. She is the area Coordinator for YoungLives, an outreach ministry to pregnant and parenting teenage mothers. You can contact her at younglivesvalley@gmail.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where would the Interracial Cheerios Family go to church?

Over the summer, the Cheerios cereal brand created quite a national stir with its "controversial" advertising campaign.

A Middle-class black father. A Middle-class white mother. And a beautiful bircacial daughter. In short, a family that looked just like mine. An interracial family.


After a conversation where the mom relays facts about how Cheerios could help "dad" have a healthy heart - and presumably live a nice, long life - the daughter runs out of the room. When "dad" awakens from his nap on the couch, he is literally covered in Cheerios. It's a heartwarming commerical.

But not to everyone.

The commercial received such backlash that the St. Louis Dispatch reported that General Mills  disabled comments to the video on YouTube.

Here's the reality. America has made progress in race relations.

There was an era where not only could a commercial like this not have aired, but the mere thought of such a relationship could have forced the man in the commercial to become the sad lyric of a Billie Holliday Strange Fruit song (hear the song here). 

But, obviously, the commercial reaction reminds us that we are still not in post-racial America. 

Because I think about church dynamics a lot, I recently asked myself this question: What advice would I give the Cheerios family about church? 

I grew in a black Baptist church. Would that be a good fit?  I've been at a non-denominational church that is mostly white. Would that work better?  I've been a church intern. How about that one?  As a person who has worked in a parachurch ministry, I've visited bunches of churches. How about those?

I've had numerous conversations with interracial families in our communities who have given up finding a church home. It's sad.  Even though it's difficult, the Bible is clear that being part of a local fellowship is vitally important to the life of Christians.

If the Cheerios family were to ask me for advice, here are five things I would tell them.
  • Find a healthy church first. In our family's journey, we would only consider membership in a church that would be healthy as the New Testament defines health. If a church had the diversity we sought for but wasn't healthy along those lines, it wouldn't be an option. (Read more about marks of a healthy church here.)
  • Once we have narrowed the discussion down to healthy churches, one key factor in the search would be a diverse pastoral staff. To us, that would show that a church was willing to put its money where its theology is. The old saying "Like pulpit, like pew" is true in this sense. Churches are likely to be as diverse as the church's leadership. My favorite example of this diverse shared leadership approach is a church called Fellowship Memphis (visit Web site here.)
  •  Consider the "wet cement" principle. One of the reasons churches plant new churches is to reach a diversity of people within in the city. Pastor and author Tim Keller talks about the idea of becoming part of a group that has yet to fully establish its identity as wet cement. If you can be part of a church in its "wet cement phase," maybe you can help the church become diverse.
  •  Don't over-assimilate! Neither spouse should feel like they have be something they are not to be part of the church. As Christians, we're called to prefer other people, so they will be times of preferring others (You're gonna eat some food you don't like at some point!). What this doesn't mean, however,  is completely denying who you are, the culture you come from, or who God made you to be.
  • Expect some messy situations. I would tell the Cheerios family there will be some awkward conversations about their daughter's hair. There will be assumptions made. Political discussions can get strange. Press on anyways. Don't be angry race man or woman, but don't hide your true feelings when things bother you.  Be willing to be part of the solution. Walk through situations with grace. The cross is strong enough to break down cultural barriers. And your family's courage may help other families to give church another chance, too.
Chris Lassiter is the husband to Emily and father to Telijah, Hannah, Isaiah, Keziah and Saraiah. He works as a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for The News Leader, VIBE, Rapzilla.com, HipHopDX.com, Young Life Relationships, S.O.U.L. Mag and a list of other magazines. Moody Publications recently published his first book You're Grounded, which you can read about here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2Pac, Preachers of L.A., Pastor Clever and the apostle Paul

The idea of reality television is ingenious.

Television producers found a way to create more drama with less money. And, on top of that, it's all "real."

It was only a matter of time before the cash cow that is Reality TV hit the church.

And now it's here, in the form of the Oxygen Network's new series, Preachers of L.A. 


If you are unfamiliar with Preachers of L.A., watch the three-minute trailer above. (Or check out the show Web site here.)

Part of me is intrigued. The other part of me is scared that the show will remind us of the fictitious L.A. reverend named Pastor Clever, Bernie Mac's character in the classic hood film Friday.  

In what must clearly be taken as Hollywood taking a jab at Christianity, Pastor Clever is represented as all "religious" talk with no Christian walk.

Take, for instance, this exchange between Pastor Clever and Craig and Smokey on the porch as the other two men prepare to roll up some marijuana. 

"Excuse me brother, what we call drugs at 74th Street Church Baptist Church, we call that sinny-sin-sin," said Pastor Clever in one breath. In the next breath, he asks Craig and Smokey to share their marijuana.  "Let me get a little bit for my cataracts." (1)

The hood has a saying: Real recognize real!  In many cases, sadly, the church is one of the things labeled as not real.

Fancy buildings full of Pastor Clevers. 

That skepticism can best be summed up by iconic hip-hop artist 2Pac. And while the New Testament - and not a hip-hop legend  - is to be the judge of what the church should and shouldn't be, it's worth wrestling through 2Pac's perception.

"If the churches took half the money they was making and gave it back to the community, we'd be all right ... Have you seen some of the churches lately? There's one that takes up the whole block in New York. There's homeless people out here. Why ain't God lettin' them stay there? Why these (brothers) got gold ceilings and (stuff)? Why God need gold ceilings to talk to me? Why God need colored windows to talk to me? If God wants to talk to me in a pretty spot like that, why the (heck) he send me here then? That makes ghetto kids not believe in God. Why?" (2)

I know some of 2Pac's questions have good answers. I also wince as I imagine myself trying to explain to him why what I hold to be true biblically isn't what he sees experientially.  As someone who cares deeply about both the hood and the church, I am hoping Preachers of L.A. isn't the reality version of Pastor Clever.

Whether it's Pastor Clever on Friday or the Preachers of L.A., the New Testament clearly lays out the standard for pastors. Hint: It looks nothing like Pastor Clever.

As you watch the show, here are four New Testament guidelines given for pastors to consider:


  • First, does this pastor truly and sacrificially love the people he is pastoring? True pastors follow Christ as their example. In John 10, Jesus uses three examples in relationship to sheep. The true shepherd loves the sheep and would give his life to protect the sheep. That's the example pastors are to follow. Conversely, for the hired farm hand, watching sheep is just a job. He is only in it for the money and would bail in a heartbeat before he defended the sheep. He doesn't care about sheep one way or the other. Finally, the wolf just wants to eat the sheep. If a pastor reminds you more of a hired hand or a wolf than a shepherd, that's a big problem.
  • Second, does this man's life and words match up with the Bible? True pastors preach what they practice. They watch their life and doctrine closely. True pastors care deeply about their own spiritual formation and the spiritual growth of the people they are leading. Their desire is to look more and more like Jesus every day, and to study carefully the doctrines of Christianity to avoid false teachings.
  • Third, is this man a one-woman man? Simply put, this pastor is not trying to get with the ladies in the congregation. He's faithful to his one wife. In Friday, after the verbal exchange between Pastor Clever, Craig and Smokey, Pastor Clever is shown chasing after one of the scantily clad woman in the neighborhood, Mrs. Parker. A better picture of the gospel is that a Christ-exalting preacher will treat every woman that is not his wife like his daughter or sister, not as prey.
  •  Fourth, is this man a lover of God or a lover of money?  Point blank, you shouldn't walk away from a pastor feeling like he loves money more than he loves Jesus Christ.  There is a set of teachings called the prosperity gospel that claims that God's ultimate blessing is material possessions. (Read a good blog about Preachers of L.A. and the Prosperity Gospel here.) The true Christian sees Christ - and not a material blessing - as his or her greatest treasure.
Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, husband to Emily and father of five. He has written for The News Leader, VIBE, rapzilla.com, HipHopDX.com, Young Life Relationships and other publications. He is the author of You're Grounded, which you can read about here.


 (1) F. Gary Gray, Friday, New Line Cinema, April 25, 1995
(2) TUPAC SHAKUR: By the editors of VIBE, (New York: Three Rivers Press), 1998, p. 98.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Six Ideas for Helping Under-Resourced Students


 

 Normally, books don't make me furious. 

Jonathan's Kozol's book, Savage Inequalities, made me furious






The book (read more about it here) is the account of a former educator-turned-education advocate and education reformer. Kozol visits schools in cities like East St. Louis, Camden, N.J., New York City, Washington, D.C. and other places.

I was truly heartbroken at the education (or lack thereof) that the kids in these inner-cities received.


Savage Inequalities did two other things besides making me angry.

First, it made me appreciative for the education opportunities I received.

Second, it created a passion in me to help underprivileged and under-resourced children receive better education.

I actually tried teaching, but I was awful at it.

I'm talking 2013 New York Giants awful. 

If you've ever had a good teacher, thank him or her. If you're a parent, and your kid has a good teacher, thank him or her. Teaching is not easy.

And, fortunately, there are other ways to make a difference. One thing I got to do today was meet with a great group of people to discuss ways to help minority students and kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds succeed in school.

I have thousands of ideas. Below are six.
  • Make afterschool activities such as sporting events affordable.  Sometimes, the kids that would benefit the most from being part of the school's social fabric can't afford the cost to attend several sporting events a week. It would be great to create a program where kids could earn passes.
  • Create partnerships with the surrounding institutions of higher learning. Recruiting minority professionals from big cities to smaller towns is difficult. It's asking people to give up a lot culturally. I would love to see an approach where we really emphasized creating a stronger middle class out of the current students here through scholarship programs with Mary Baldwin College and Blue Ridge Community College.
  • 30-for-30: A volunteer a day. I would love to see a group of 30 minority professionals in the community commit to volunteer 30 minutes a month. Each professional would be assigned his or her own day. Each day of the month, all of the kids in the school (white, black, Asian, Hispanic, etc.) would have examples of successful minorities who care enough to invest in their local school systems.
  •  Mentorships and internships. I would love to see some of those same 30 professional volunteers make themselves available in the mentorship program. I know a lot of the students at R.E. Lee fairly well, and I know a lot of the minority professionals in this community fairly well. I know it would be a valuable experience. 
  • A  support group for high-achieving minority students. I know of two black male students currently enrolled at Governor's School. These were not kids born with silver spoons in their mouths. In both cases, the students have worked hard to put themselves in places to succeed and could benefit from a support system.  
  •  A more strategic use of what's already available.  I've had a chance to get to know the Boys & Girls Club director Tyrell McElroy over the past year. His vision for what the club could be is amazing. It sounds like the answer to a lot of the systemic problems that kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds routinely face. More people need to know about it. 
  Question: Did you like an idea? Did you hate an idea? Do you have an idea? I would love to hear them. 

Chris Lassiter is a husband to Emily, father of five, and Young Life leader in his own former high school, Robert E. Lee in Staunton, VA. He has written for The News Leader, VIBE, S.O.U.L Mag, HipHopDX.com, Rapzilla.com and Young Life Relationships magazine. He is the author of You're Grounded, which you can read about here.

 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

This may change the way you think about church!

Can a two-minute video change the way you think about church?


I sure hope so.

I love this brilliantly simple video entitled The Missional Church ... Simple. Please take two minutes of your day and watch it. The video compares two ways that churches can set out to impact their communities. The ideas posed are worth wrestling through. 

Here are three reasons I tend to favor with the missional approach. 
  • Genuine relationships are more important than programs. I grew up in a predominately black Baptist church. To quote Christian hip-hop artist LeCrae, "I was a drug baby. Mama always drug me to church." I knew how to "do church." I knew when to clap. Part of my closet was dedicated to "Sunday clothes." And I knew that fifth Sunday meant fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, greens,  peanuts, multi-colored mints and red soda punch. 
But imagine if you were unfamiliar with "church culture." Or didn't own "church clothes."   Imagine how uncomfortable church would be if you had no clue what was going on in the meeting. That's why I think it's more effective for us to go out in our communities, build genuine friendships, live out the gospel, share the gospel and explain the purpose of the church first rather than asking people to jump through all of those hoops initially.
  •  Increasingly, more and more people outside of the Christian faith don't have a close Christian friend. 
     
Inside of the church, we have to guard against a musk oxen defense approach. When anything that is not a musk ox approaches a herd of musk oxen, they form an unpenetrable circle to keep the outsiders out. As Christians, we can do the same. 
I read one study that within three years of becoming a Christian, almost all Christians have no friends that aren't Christian. Unknowingly, we become just like musk oxen.
  • Christianity isn't a spectator sport. The God of the Bible is a God on a rescue mission setting right what is wrong in the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ. To be a Christ-follower means to be on mission, too. That's not just for the pastor. The biblical picture isn't for the pastor to "reach" everyone in the community. It's for the pastor to equip you and me to both live out and tell the story of God's work in the world. 
I write blogs in hope that they will be conversation starters. I would love to hear your thoughts on how churches engage communities.

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her powerful blog about forgiveness here), and a father to five great kids. He's written for The News Leader, VIBE, HipHopDX.com, Young Life Relationships and many other publications. Moody Publishers recently published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Why I'm not Looking at the Front Door: Five Thoughts on Marriage

On July 23, 1991, hip-hop group Main Source released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the golden era of hip-hop. One of the top songs on the Breaking Atoms album was called Looking at the Front Door. 






In the song, emcee Large Professor gives the relationship equivalent of a two weeks notice, laying out his arguments to explain to his woman why the next time he walks out the front door will be his last time walking out the front door.

The song is catchy. But the message is tragic. 

My wife and I have some unwritten rules about marriage. We don't air our dirty laundry in public, whether that be public conversations or on social media. Comically, this had led some people who know us to assume that in our marriage there is no dirty laundry.

I could name dozens or problems in our marriage. My wife could probably name hundreds.

Still, by God's grace, we're both committed. Looking at the Front Door isn't an option.

Here are five thoughts on marriage.

  •  Marriages take a lot of work. If you let your marriage drift, it will drift in the wrong direction. I haven't set out to put on weight since being married. I just haven't been intentional enough about being in better shape. Marriage is sort of like that. If you are not intentionally working on it, it can drift somewhere you never wanted it to go. 
Just how intentional should you be? A wise person once told us that two scheduled times to talk without interruptions and one date night each week were the minimum.
  • The marriage relationship is the most important relationship in the home. The best thing I can do for my kids is to love my wife unconditionally. They will receive more security knowing that our marriage can survive hard circumstances or relationship strife than from anything else I can do. 
  • We date to marry, but it shouldn't stop there. We should marry to date, meaning that you can't let the busyness of life make enjoying your marriage less of a priority. (Note to self on this one especially.)
  • Humility is key. My wife really does have a lot of great qualities. However, when I can see something that disturbs me, I tend to focus on the disturbing thing more than great things she brings into my life. I wrestle with entitlement. I'm not as thankful as I'd like to be, and the biggest way this reveals itself is in how much I take my wife for granted instead of expressing gratitude. 
  •  The gospel really does make a difference. I Corinthians 13, "the love chapter" has been read at almost every wedding I've attended. All of the attributes of love - doesn't envy, keeps no records of wrong, etc. - were found in the nature of Jesus Christ, who after having loved perfectly, was willing to die to make our reconciliation with God possible. The Bible refers to the church as Christ's bride, so it's also the example for men to follow in loving their wives. 
Pastor Bryan Loritts is one of my favorite gospel communicators. I would encourage you to listen to his message on marriage here.  At times, having a third party, such as a church counselor or a trusted professional counselor, can help you work through problems, too. Emily and I have benefited from both.  Marriage isn't easy, but is worth fighting for.

Question: What are other important factors in a marriage?

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a  husband to Emily (read her blog here), father of five, and Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for The News Leader, VIBE, HipHopDX.com, Rapzilla.com, S.O.U.L. Mag, Young Life Relationships and many other place. He is the author of You're Grounded, which you can read about here. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"The Oreo Crumb in a Cup of Milk" 3 reasons you should read Reconciliation Blues


Rule Number one: No Country music in the Ghetto Blaster. 
 
The Ghetto Blaster, of course, was the name for the boombox in the boys' basketball locker room. Even though the black students were the minority in the school, we were the majority on the team. 

I remember one day one of my white teammates trying to replace our "Get Hyped" music - which was always hip-hop - with a country or bluegrass type of song called The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Needless to say, the song was quickly stopped. Our song, Time To Flow, was re-inserted. And I never thought about it again. 

But maybe I should have.

Here's what happened that day. One culture was validated. Another culture was invalidated. It was clear. There wasn't room for cultural diversity in our minds. We were the dominant culture. Everyone outside of our culture needed to assimilate. 

Listen to what we like only.

Fast forward some decades, and my life has been radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the past decade, I've studied in depth what the church needs to look like in my community so that no one feels like my teammate when he learned that country music wasn't allowed in the locker room.  

I want my friends to see the gospel and the church as beautiful, but I know my friends will rightly reject anything that tries to make them assimilate culturally.  (You can read a blog I wrote for Rapzilla.com about the church and the hip-hop generation here.)  

A friend in ministry told me I had to read Ed Gilbreath's book Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity. Now I'm telling you to read it, too,  for the following three reasons. 

1. It's well written. Instead of a bunch of church statistics, Gilbreath makes his points through the power of story. Readers are allowed to go with him on his journey. It's comical at times, sad at others. And well worth the read.

2. You might be in the minority. My spiritual journey has led me to be the "Oreo crumb in the cup of milk," or the only black guy in the room, on many occasions. It's freeing to know others before have had the struggle of trying to navigate this.

3. You might be in the majority. Whenever I'm the "Oreo Crumb," the cultural issues and differences are easy to spot. In the locker room, when I was part of the majority, the problem becomes much more difficult to spot. This book will also help increase racial awareness for the majority culture as well.
  
If your hope is that the church doesn't wait until heaven to integrate, a good first step is picking up this book, which you can find here. 

 P.S. If my teammate were ever to read this, I just want you to know that I listened to The Devil Went Down to Georgia today. It wasn't that bad. 

Question: Is your church diverse?  If so, what has helped your church achieve diversity? If not, what have been the barriers to diversity?

Note: I purchased this book on my own. I've never met Edward Gilbreath. I did not get paid anything to endorse this book.


Chris Lassiter is a husband and father of five, radically transformed by the gospel of grace and hoping to see a gospel-proclaiming, racially diverse, missional church in his hometown of Staunton, VA, some day. He was writtten for The News Leader, VIBE, Young Life Relationships, HipHopDX.com and many other places. He is the author of You're Grounded, which you can find here.