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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

Life After Prison

  • 2024Feb 22

In His famed parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus speaks directly about our lives being held to account on a number of issues:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal.
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.
I was homeless and you gave me no bed.
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes.

Most people resonate with those and feel compassion. But Jesus wasn’t done.

I was sick and in prison, and you never visited.

Some write this off as speaking only to those who may have been wrongly imprisoned or imprisoned for their faith. Sorry, there’s a word for that: eisegesis, which means you are reading that into the text, as opposed to exegesis, which is getting it from the text.

Jesus said what He said. We are to care for those in prison. Visit them. Minister to them.

The point of Jesus’ teaching is to care for those who are in need. Those in prison may be the hardest to care for. We find ourselves conflicted: Aren’t they being punished? Aren’t they getting what they deserve?

But if I am personally convicted by the words of Jesus for my lack of compassion and attention to those in prison, I recently found myself just as stricken with guilt for another dynamic of incarceration: when they are released.

No matter what your feelings may be about those in prison, why is there so little concern for those who have been released? 

The University of Alabama, along with the U.S. Attorney’s office, recently held a reentry simulation as part of a nationwide effort to increase empathy for people leaving prison. (By the way, 95% of the people who are incarcerated are going to eventually come out. Many are released after 15, maybe 20 years, with $10 and a bus ticket.)

The simulation begins with the participants receiving a list of tasks to complete at stations around the gym, such as to visit the probation office, pay outstanding fines at the courthouse, and find work at the employment office.

Most have little idea what to expect. They soon find out that they begin the activity with a felony record, no job and no state identification. To add to the challenge is that they need a “transportation card” to get to each station, meaning they will need a bus ticket or car ride. Which costs money.

The bottom line is that the average person who is released from prison has no resources, no support, and not much of a plan. No wonder so many end up returning to a cell.

It doesn’t have to be that way. They could have been visited in prison, like Jesus challenged, and through the relationships built there, served once they get out.

One of my dear friends in life, Chuck Colson, gave himself to this after his conversion to Christ. One of the reasons is because he spent time in prison as a result of the Watergate scandal. During his life, Chuck challenged Christians to care for those in prisons, founding the ministry Prison Fellowship.

As they say on their website: “Even the most broken lives and situations can be restored and made whole when we respond to God’s call to serve men and women behind bars.”

I think that’s what Jesus had in mind.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Mary Scott Hodgin, “How Hard Is Life After Prison? This Simulation in Birmingham Offers a Taste,” WBHM, June 30, 2023, read online.

Visit the Prison Fellowship website HERE.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

Jesus and Nationalism

  • 2024Feb 19

We are coming up on Holy Week, which traditionally begins with Palm Sunday, marking the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s a seemingly tame, innocuous day filled with symbolism but little significance. It would be easy to think of it as an event distant from the day’s headlines and debates.

Think again.

It was already a day destined to be filled with explosive potential. One reason is because it was the first time that Jesus had visited Jerusalem since He began His public ministry. Even those who weren’t sure about who Jesus was knew that this would be something of significance. Here was a man who was working miracles, raising the dead, giving radical teachings causing thousands to follow. People were hoping, calling, for Him to lead the entire nation, to declare independence from Rome, and to set up a new dynasty. And now He was coming to the most holy of cities, the place of the great Temple and the heart of the Jewish faith, as well as the heart of the Jewish people. If He was going to do anything, lead anything, declare Himself to be anything, be crowned anything,

... it would be here.

Those closest to Jesus shared the expectation. He had been telling them all along that everything He was doing, everything He was teaching, everything He was about, was moving toward Jerusalem. Even entering on a colt, in fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah’s declaration surrounding the coming Messiah, made the import of the day clear.

But about that colt....

The donkey was a lowly animal, an animal of peace. Not of conquest. If Jesus had wanted to be a king of conquest, of war, of establishing a kingdom on earth, He would have never entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He would have ridden in on a war-horse. But He very purposefully did not. 

It all seemed orchestrated to be in direct opposition to the desires of the people. We are told they laid down blankets and branches in front of Him, which is why the day He entered Jerusalem is often called Palm Sunday. It was meant as more than mere honor. Palm branches represented Jewish nationalism, Jewish pride, Jewish victory. Coins that were minted during that time would have pictures of palms on them because they were understood to represent nationalism in general. So a palm on a Jewish coin signified Jewish nationalism; a palm on a Roman coin signified Roman nationalism. By spreading out palms in front of Jesus, they were welcoming Him, inviting Him, wanting Him, to become their political and military liberator. The one who would restore Jerusalem to her greatness.

They didn’t convey that hope simply through palm branches. They famously met His arrival with “Hosanna!”—a Hebrew expression that meant “Save us!” or “Save now!” This was followed by shouts about the restoration of the kingdom of David. 

It made sense. Jesus had healed people, fed people, even raised people from the dead. That was power!  And power was what they wanted. Power to defeat the Romans and make Jerusalem great again.

But they didn’t pay attention to what He was riding. The triumphal entry they gave Him wasn’t the one He was making. He wasn’t there for Jerusalem or any other nation. He was there to triumph over sin. He was there to bring salvation. He was there to sacrifice Himself on a cross. 

There were two kingdoms in play that day. There was the kingdom of men – of nations and power and politics and economies – and the Kingdom of God – which was about souls and spirits, sin and forgiveness, peace and justice.

They should have known.

In the Old Testament, Joshua, the great leader of the people of Israel and successor to Moses, was leading the people into the Promised Land. After crossing the Jordan river, the very first city they encountered was the city of Jericho, a city hostile to the coming of the Israelites. It soon became clear this was going to be an armed conflict.

God had something else in mind.

To demonstrate that the Promised Land was going to be His gift and His doing, He told Joshua through an angel to march around it seven times, blow his horns and then the fortified walls of the city would miraculously fall down. But something happened just before the angel delivered that message. When Joshua first engaged the angel, before being told of the marching plan, they had an interesting discourse.

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” (Joshua 5:13-14, NIV)

The angel put Joshua and the people of Israel in their place. The Kingdom of God was larger than any one people, or nation, or the petty affairs of human conflict. God’s work on this planet, His redemptive plan, His movement throughout all of history to call human beings into relationship with Himself – ultimately through the cross-work of Christ – that is His side.

Jesus understood this better than anyone.

One of the more well-known miracles that Jesus performed was what has been called the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two small fish. Less discussed is what happened afterward:

When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself. (John 6:14-15, NLT)

The people of Jesus’ day knew to hope, pray for and expect a coming Messiah. But in many of their minds, he would be an earthly king. A national leader. A political force who would sweep Rome off the map and establish Israel as the preeminent nation and force in the world.

Jesus was not that kind of Messiah. 

His was not an earthly agenda, but rather a heavenly one. 

His was not political in nature, but rather spiritual.

Fast forward to the end of His life as He stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate:

“Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.

Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:33-36, NLT)

Jesus makes it clear He is a King and He does have a Kingdom—but not one with soldiers or maintained by military might. It is not a national or political kingdom at all. It is a Kingdom that is not even of this world. 

In fact, making His mission about the kingdoms of this world – about ruling and nations and politics – was one of the temptations Satan put before Jesus at the start of His ministry.

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4:8-10, NLT)

But Jesus knew that the Kingdom of God was so much more than the kingdoms of men.

And so should we.

James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

40: God’s Number for Life Change (2024)

  • 2024Feb 15

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. For reasons unknown to us, the length of 40 – whether 40 days or 40 years – has been significant throughout biblical history: 

  • The great flood lasted 40 days.
  • Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days before he brought down the Ten Commandments.
  • The establishment of the Kingdom of Israel was founded on its first three kings – Saul, David and Solomon – and each ruled for exactly 40 years.
  • The prophet Elijah fasted for 40 days.
  • Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for 40 days.
  • Jesus walked the earth for 40 days following His resurrection before returning to heaven.

The common thread tying all of these together is that each period of 40 days or years was associated with something new—a new development in the history of God’s activity or new beginnings. In other words, God led people into various seasons of “40” – usually days, but sometimes years – for the purpose of inaugurating a new era or a new season in their life. Forty days to turn things around. Forty days to change. Forty days to have one chapter of life end and another begin.

In the Bible, every new chapter of God’s work was marked, at the onset, by some period of time related to 40:

  • The cleansing of evil from the world through the flood
  • The journey of the people of Israel out of bondage and into the Promised Land
  • The entire prophetic era
  • The beginning of the public ministry of Jesus
  • The birth of the Church

It’s a fascinating thing to explore. In each chapter of God breaking out anew – of seeing life change raging through a person, a community, a nation or a world – you find that the number 40 has always been at its heart. This is why throughout Christian history, 40 days has taken on a special significance, particularly through the season of Lent.

The word Lent comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word that simply means the Spring season of the year. In Christian history and tradition, it is a period in the Spring set aside for fasting in some way (giving up something for spiritual reasons) in preparation for Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Traditionally, it starts on Ash Wednesday. The purpose for Lent has always been clear: to get spiritually ready. To use the time for life change by taking 40 days to turn away from something or turn towards something that will allow your life to honor God more deeply and to live the life you’ve been called to live.

In other words, take 40 days and use it for your resurrection.

Traditionally, churches have served people by offering some type of service or experience on Ash Wednesday where they are able to come, reflect, and receive the mark of the cross in ashes on their foreheads, reminded when receiving that they should remember that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are often made from palm leaves.

There’s nothing unique or special about doing something like this only during the season of Lent. What is special is the number 40 itself—the length, the time period. Have you ever done a “40” focus before? Have you set aside 40 days to be sure you’re doing what God wants, to prepare yourself to do what God wants, or to address something in your life so that you’re living the way God wants?

Have you ever taken 40 days to fast from something, to turn toward something, or to pray about something you know is critical to who you are and who you are becoming? Have you ever taken 40 days to become a different person, to set a new path, to chart a new course? Forty days to end a bad habit or to start a good habit?

If you spend some time digging into studies of human behavior, you’ll find that 40-day periods have begun to surface all over the place. It’s as if human behavior – or at least our understanding of it – has finally caught up with the Bible in terms of the studies now being done. For many years, research found if you wanted to change something in your life – to end a habit or start a new one – it would take just three weeks. So, all of the marketing strategies were focused on the number 21 to break a habit or form a new one.

But we’ve learned that’s not really the best number to get something to stick. For whatever reason, 21 days simply isn’t enough. In fact, research has now found that it takes twice that length – not three weeks, but more like six weeks – which comes out at right about… you guessed it… 40 days.

Studies now show if you stick with something for six to eight weeks, that somewhere around the 40-day mark it will set in. You will have established a new habit for your life. Research seems to be showing that 40 really is the key to life change. So, whether the goal is to start something or stop something, reflect deeply on something or remove something harmful from your vision completely, 40 days is what it will take.

It could be 40 days without eating carbs. Forty days off of social media. Forty days without online games. Forty days without reading anything about anyone tied to the latest “it” celebrity. Forty days without alcohol. But it’s not just about going without something. It can be about something that you add to your life. Forty days with exercise. Forty days of reading. Forty days with prayer. Forty days of trusting God financially.

No matter what it is, if you want to experience life change – real life change – give it 40 days.

Did I mention yesterday was Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent?

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

This blog was originally published in 2021. The Church & Culture Team thought you would enjoy reading it again as we mark the season of Lent.

Sources

This is an adaptation from the eBook by James Emery White, 40: God’s Number of Life Change, available HERE.

Ben D. Gardner, “Busting the 21 Days Habit Formation Myth,” UCL London’s Global University, June 29, 2012, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on X, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age, is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.