Easter Egg

God loves the thrill of discovery. It’s not that anything is hidden from Him, but that He enjoys watching those He loves more than anything else experience joy when something new is revealed to them. Have you ever considered: God hides things for us, not from us? The secrets of God are for our benefit and the revelation of God is for our amazement.

I love the mystery of Easter. Every year I’m reminded ever so clearly that God is for us not against us. What is concealed in darkness on Friday is revealed with radiance on Sunday. On Friday we mourn, on Saturday we reflect, on Sunday we rejoice. We stand amazed at the discovery of an empty tomb. The mystery of Easter never loses its wonder.

I remember when Amaya was little and we took her to her first Easter Egg hunt. She wasn’t much more than a toddler. She walked around finding eggs that weren’t hidden all that well. In fact, the eggs were hidden according age groups; each group looked for eggs in their own area. In other words, the eggs were hidden so they could be found.

She waddled around stepping over the brightly colored eggs without even noticing them at first. We kept cheering her own and pointing, and finally she caught on. Then the thrill of seeking and finding set in. Each time she found an egg she would turn to Heather and I with a really big smile. Then we would then cheer her on to find another. The Easter Egg hunt was a process of uncovering something amazing in her eyes. There is great joy in discovery: “Seek and you shall find…”

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). There have been times in my life when I wish God had spoken audibly. Times when I wish He had made Himself so clear that I wouldn’t have needed to do any searching. Yet the Bible teaches that God receives glory when He conceals Himself to some degree.

Rather than making things obvious to us all the time God takes delight in our quest to discover. He’s like the parents cheering from the sideline for us to find an Easter Egg. We’re walking around with the blessings of God in plain view, yet sometimes we need a little extra help in understanding what we’re looking for. When we find what we’re searching for we celebrate. Thus, it is more glorious for Him to hide, and for us to seek. It’s a learning process in which everyone can celebrate.

From Good Friday to Easter Sunday our hearts always yearn for the greatest mystery of all to be revealed. On Friday Jesus was concealed in a grave, but on Sunday the greatest revelation the world has ever known is revealed. The story never gets old.

On Easter we are responsible for acknowledging, proclaiming, and celebrating what God has made clear: Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Like Amaya finding those beautifully colored eggs and being amazed every time she picked one up, may we stand in amazement of what we have found: an empty tomb. The grave remains empty so that we can be filled, and that my friends, is the greatest discovery of all.

 

Repentance & Holiness

Becoming vulnerable is the first step toward freedom. Vulnerability exposes our weakness and enables God to break down strongholds. We cannot function in freedom until we become brave enough to confront the strongholds that hinder the advancement of the Kingdom in our lives.

God is so much better than we give Him credit for. I confess that I’ve done a poor job representing His goodness at times. The older I get the more inadequate I realize I am. The Lord has revealed Himself to me in new ways in recent days. I often find myself laughing and crying at the same as He makes His Presence known. These fresh encounters with God have left me more humble, grateful, and free than I can ever remember. There is so much to discover about following Jesus; it’s a never ending journey. I’ve asked God to help me become a better example of His goodness along the way.

I’m currently living in a place of great paradox. On the one hand, I’ve never felt closer to Jesus and I’ve never been more aware of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet on the other hand, I’ve never felt more burdened; I live with a constant sense of heaviness for the state of the Bride. In the midst of my burdens I’ve discovered the power of weakness and the freedom that exists when we come to the end of ourselves.

At the heart of repentance lies vulnerability. True freedom in Christ requires that I constantly confess my faults, that I lay my inadequacies on the altar. Building an altar in our lives is so important. I’m not saying that we sin everyday as in “willfully transgressing against God.” However, I firmly believe that when we fail to love well that we sin against God and others. That means my attitudes, actions, words, and thoughts matter deeply. It means the things that I should be doing that I neglect to do matter in my relationship with Jesus.

I’m convinced that a lifestyle of repentance is the foundation of holiness. The minute I don’t think I have anything wrong in my life is the moment I set myself up as God. I have so many things to constantly repent of; at the top of the list is busyness and distraction. Beyond that, I often repent for not praying enough. I repent of being impatient. I repent for not always responding to my family the way I should. I repent for making decisions, even small decisions, without adequately seeking Jesus. I repent of developing preconceived notions about other people. These are all things that I need to continually lay on the altar. Again, the altar is so important.

True repentance is the only way to break down strongholds. Being in a relationship with God is important, but being in a right relationship with God is essential, especially if we’re going to live the life He’s called us to live. Indeed, repentance and holiness go hand in hand.

Dying to self and taking up the cross daily is about killing the little hedonist that’s kicking and screaming inside of us all. The flesh is one of our biggest foes; it’s always seeking pleasure that lasts for a season. We’re called to kill the flesh every time it raises its ugly head by nailing it to the cross. And when it reappears, we have to do it again. For holiness to become a lifestyle repentance must become a regular practice.

Have you ever considered the corporate hedonist that often appears among the Body of Christ? When the church begins warring against itself Satan takes the throne. When we refuse to corporately take up our cross we take up our quarrels. The Apostle James tells us that this infighting comes from the desire to please self over the desire to please God (James 4). It’s always rooted in our inability to believe that God can give us everything we need.

Many of you know that I’ve given my life to the Church, and in particular, the Church of the Nazarene. My heritage is grounded in the Church of the Nazarene. I love the people called “Nazarenes” very much. However, at times I’ve loved her too much. I repent of ever making my denomination an idol. I repent for allowing the boundaries of the Church of the Nazarene to limit my perspective of the Kingdom. I repent for the times I’ve allowed my identity to become more wrapped up in the Church of the Nazarene than the Kingdom of Jesus. We’d all do well to remember that God is a lot bigger than our little tribe.

With that said, I am burdened for the church. I’m troubled over the lack of passion for revival and what seems to be protest against it by some. I’m burdened over the unfaithfulness and pettiness. I’m burdened over the toxic environment that exists in some places. I’m burdened over the manifestation of pride. I am praying that God break down these strongholds; and when I say break down, I mean crush.

I’m praying for people to be delivered from rigid fundamentalism because none of us are the judge. I’m praying for people to be delivered from dead religious formalism because God is alive and He needs room to move among His people. I’m praying for people to be delivered from progressive intellectual elitism because it’s opposite of the posture of humility. It saddens me to see so many places negatively affected by legalism, liberalism, antagonism, and a host of other “isms” that no doubt breaks the heart of God.

We need to become a “movement” again: one that’s led by the manifest Presence of the Holy Spirit. God forgive us for allowing the church to become a religious enterprise. Forgive us for turning the church into a business instead of a house of prayer. Forgive us for trying to climb the latter of success. Forgive us for being more concerned about what people think than we are what God thinks. Forgive us for trying to be something we’re not. Forgive us for not living by the principles of corporate prayer and repentance that You’ve prescribed in Scripture:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

It’s time to cry out to God corporately. For the anointing of the Holy Spirit to fall on us again we must repent of our failed business strategies, hollow philosophies, lack of accountability, and broken theological constructs. The Father won’t settle for being an afterthought. He desires to be intimately involved in everything we do.

I hope you hear my heart. In the midst of my brokenness, my longing to be a better follower of Jesus is increasing. Brokenness is a good place to be. There’s a lot of freedom when we learn to live like there’s nothing to lose. Vulnerability that leads to repentance is the only thing that’ll break down the strongholds preventing us from experiencing the intimate Presence of the Holy Spirit.

God is so good. He’s better than I’ve ever imagined He could be. There are parts of His goodness that’s easily noticeable, yet often overlooked. I want to spend the rest of my life paying closer attention to who He really is and what He’s really like. For that to happen, vulnerability and repentance must become a common way of life.

holy-spirit

In the late 90s on our way home from visiting Washington DC in mid-July, Heather, Jake, and myself were traveling I-95 southbound headed back to North Carolina. Lunchtime had passed and we were all hungry. Jake was around seven years old and he wanted to eat at McDonald’s. However, for some reason I was set on eating at Denny’s. I’m not sure why, maybe it was the “Grand Slam.”

When traveling our nation’s highways one doesn’t have to look far to find a Denny’s; sure enough, a few miles down I-95 and we spotted the big yellow sign. We exited the highway, parked the car, and went inside. When they brought our beverages to the table the first thing I noticed was a long, black, crusty hair hanging out of my drink and flowing down the side of the glass. Then we noticed what appeared to be a couple of eyelashes (we hoped they weren’t nose hairs) floating with the ice cubes in Heather’s beverage. We decided to pay for our drinks and leave. Jake said, “Dad, can we just go to McDonald’s?” “No,” I said, “We will find another Denny’s.”

A few exits down, and sure enough there was another Denny’s. No sooner than we had walked through the door a very loud, brassy, gruff voice yelled out, “We’re short-staffed and out of ice. So, if you want a cold drink you’d better go somewhere else!” Without a word, we walked back to the car. Jake again asked, “Dad, can we please go to McDonald’s?” Most people would’ve given up on Denny’s at this point, however we’re pretty resilient. “No Jake,” I said, “We will find another Denny’s.”

Another ten miles or so and what do you know, there was another Denny’s. The sign in the lobby said “Seat Yourself.” This Denny’s appeared to be abandoned; we didn’t see anyone. We sat at the first booth we came to and within a few minutes I noticed someone walking toward us with a slow swagger and a long, blonde, badly styled wig that was so bright that it glowed in the dimly lit room. It was our waiter.

His fingernails were so long that they curled under a few times; he was actually having trouble holding the pen to write down our order. Finally, we noticed the massive amounts of cat hair matted to his apron, which made me wonder what they were cooking in the back. Beyond that, he smelled and sounded like he’d been chain-smoking stale cigars. I ask him to give us a minute. As soon as he walked away I looked at Jake and said, “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

I’ve never been to Denny’s again. Whatever it was I was craving, I’ve since forgotten. It was so bad that the memories of this incident will forever be branded in my mind. It wasn’t a food issue; we never made it that far. So what was it? Our problem with Denny’s had everything to do with hospitality. Plain and simple, Denny’s was a bad host. This occasion has caused me to think a lot about the importance of being a “good host.”

Have you ever been to a gathering that wasn’t hosted very well? Ever been in someone’s home who wasn’t very welcoming? Maybe they were rude, or messy, or obnoxious, or a bad cook? One thing is certain: hospitality plays a significant role in our relationship with others.

No doubt, there are many churches that need a lesson in hospitality. Beyond that, as Christians, we should strive to be good hosts in every situation. And while all of that is important I think the most important thing for us to realize is that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be “hosts” of the Holy Spirit. Think about it: the Sovereign Lord, the Most-High King, the Creator and Sustainer of all things dwells in you. Walking in the fullness of God requires living with a sacred awareness that He’s always present.

Inattention to the Holy Spirit is a sure sign of misplaced affection. Without realizing it we tend to compartmentalize our lives. In doing so, we put God in a box and only take Him out when we need Him. Far too many people’s relationship with Jesus remains out of sight and out of mind. They go about their lives never giving a second thought to the fact that God is with them, every second of every day, He is present.

We like our faith to be categorized instead of personalized. We enjoy buying stuff, taking it out of the box, plugging it in, and using it. We like three-point outlines, PowerPoint presentations, and systematic theology. While these things may inform our faith, they lack the power to transform us into His image. Transformation comes in the form of continually encountering a Person.

While Scripture offers a standard for practicing faith, and Christian tradition certainly informs our faith, and reason helps us make sense of our faith, experiencing the Person of the Holy Spirit offers something the above mentioned do not: an intimate encounter with a Person. We would all agree that nothing impacts our lives like our experiences. My experience at Denny’s has forever altered my perspective.

Experiential faith worries some people because of its expressive nature. While I share their concern for the televangelist types that manipulate the masses and stir up emotional frenzies, we must not write off experience as an important part of our spiritual journey. We need to look no further than the Book of Acts to identify how the Holy Spirit came upon people and radically transformed their lives. This happened before the New Testament was complete, before the traditions of the Church had been established, and couldn’t be reasonably explained by those caught up in the movement.

If one examines what’s happening in the southern hemisphere today he or she will identify people encountering God in supernatural ways. There are reports of supernatural healing, intercessory prayer that’s changing entire cities, and revival that’s stirring the hearts of multitudes of people. Beyond the southern hemisphere, there is also a growing unrest among congregations in the United States that are experiencing authentic glimpses of revival. In fact, there is a grassroots remnant that believes the church needs revival more than anything else.

We are a church that believes in the infilling, overflowing, sanctifying power of God at work in and through us for the benefit of the world. He dwells in us for our sake, but He flows through us for the sake of others. When the Holy Spirit rests upon a person, a congregation, or an entire denomination, it’s because He’s been made welcome.

Sadly, it seems fewer and fewer people live consciously aware of their responsibility to be a good host. In fact, today the Holy Spirit seems largely forgotten, which grieves the heart of God and quenches His ability to flow through our lives. I believe the church’s greatest days will come when she rediscovers the power of hosting His Presence. We must realize that there is an experience that goes beyond emotions. It’s the atmosphere that is created by the manifest Presence of God. When He shows up it changes everything.

stench

Well, it’s that time of year again. I’ll never forget my first February in Kentucky; then last February I noticed the same thing, and now this year. Let’s just say some things never change. What am I talking about you ask? The early spring invasion of SKUNKS!

In their efforts to cross the road these poor animals get hit by passing cars and inevitably leave a smell that, as the old southern expression goes, would knock a buzzard off a gut wagon. I actually have a skunk living in my backyard. When I take the trash out at night I’m always fearful that she’s going to be standing by the garbage can cocked and loaded.

The potency of skunk stench travels a great distance. When I ride over their carcasses on the highway the odor oozes into my car and remains for several miles. The power of a skunk’s particular smell has the capacity to linger in your nostrils for an uncanny amount of time.

My friend, Eddie, once had a pet skunk named, “Pierre” (although it was a girl). He tells me that Pierre was one of the best pets he ever owned. He found her when she was 6-8 weeks old and had the scent glands removed. Pierre was housebroken and trained to walk on a leash. He kept her for two years before getting married. However, his wife-to-be put great pressure on him to find Pierre a new home. Pierre spent the rest of her days entertaining children at elementary schools as part of a traveling zoo.

If you’ve ever viewed a skunk up close (preferably in pictures), you’ll likely agree that they’re adorable little animals. I’ve pondered recently why God would create something that appears so sweet yet give it a scent that will scar you for life. A few days ago that familiar smell seeped into my car once again; as the odor lingered God reminded me of a few things.

Scripture speaks a lot about “smells” and “aromas.” When dealing with unfaithfulness among His people God says, “These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5, NLT). The Bible suggests a similar idea in 2 Peter chapter two when the Apostle writes about Believers who turn back to sin as “A dog that returns to his own vomit, and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

All of us are wonderfully made in the likeness of a loving Creator. Every one of us is a much-loved child of the most caring Father in the entire universe. Yet many of us are like the prodigal son before he realizes his need to return home: We smell like a pigsty. We are beautiful in God’s eyes, yet all of us have the capacity to stink. When we willfully choose to live in sin we produce an aroma that reeks in the nostrils of God.

For many, the smelly aroma comes from their efforts of self-preservation. We’ve learned to function in ongoing protection mode. Like a skunk, we let off an odor when we try to defend ourselves against what we perceive as a threat. Something presses in on our lives and we lash out, lie, cheat, attack another person, think we deserve something we actually don’t, justify our bad behaviors and habits, and the list goes on. In these moments we produce a scent that not only distances us from the Father, it also separates us from the people we love.

My friends, sin is a serious problem. When it goes unchecked it has the capacity to derail our lives in a way that leaves us dead on the inside. Without God, the aroma of death lingers. We’ve all been affected, which means we’ve all smelled like a dead skunk in God’s nostrils at one time or another.

Like Isaiah, our very best efforts are like filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God. In other words, we don’t deserve the goodness and mercy of God because of our stench. We often live in denial of the fact that we have the potential to smell like a skunk carcass lying on the side of the road. Denying the potential to smell like sin means one likely thinks more highly of themselves than they should. This is a dangerous way to live.

At the end of the day we all smell like road kill without Jesus. Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:14-16, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…”

Wow! In Christ, we are called to manifest His sweet fragrance everywhere we go. That means the Kingdom of God is touching down everywhere we stand. Now, when I smell a dead skunk I think about the fact that I’m dead to myself, yet alive in Christ. Without Jesus we stink in the nostrils of God, but IN HIM we’re a sweet savor unto the Lord. Let people smell the aroma of Christ being manifested through your life everyday.


(Sources: Eddie Estep)

Black Lives Matter

No life is worth more than another. God sent Jesus to die for all because all lives matter to God. If all lives matter to God then all lives should matter to us. However, we also know that some lives are more broken than others. Brokenness is the root of racial tension wherever it may be found. Some people are afraid to admit that because when they admit it they become accountable to respond, especially if they consider themselves a ‘Christian.’

Racism is a real issue. It has been for a long time, particularly in the United States.

All lives indeed matter. However, saying ‘all lives matter’ in an attempt to divert attention away from the brokenness brought on by bigotry is a cheap move. Imagine going to the doctor with a broken bone and the doctor saying, “all bones matter.” You say, “Yea Doc, I know, but this bone is broken and I need you to fix it.” He says, “You’re overreacting, all bones matter.”

Everyone knows that ‘all lives matter.’ It goes without saying. And while we should value every single life, to ignore the brokenness that stems from decades of oppression that the black community has faced is like denying the fact that your leg is broken when the bone is showing through the skin and you can’t walk.

Before you read any further know that this blog post is not an official statement regarding the Black Lives Matter or the All Lives Matter movements. I really don’t know enough about those organizations to have an opinion. However, I do have many black friends and I’ve seen them suffer because of the color of their skin. Their lives matter to me.

I’d like to share a few stories of regret that I’ve lived with for a very long time.

Carlos was my friend in 5th grade. He was black. I’ll never forget how excited I was when his mom said he could come over for my birthday party. We attended a school in a city that had a large black enrollment. My cousins also came to the party. They attended a school in the county where very few, if any, black kids attended. Carlos came home with me from school that Friday. The plan was for everyone to sleep over and go home Saturday.

My cousins arrived within a few hours. They had never met Carlos. Within the first 15 minutes of their arrival they pulled me aside to ask me why I had invited that “N!@$#&” to the party. They were angry and told me that they were not going to spend the night if Carlos stayed. I told them I wasn’t going to ask him to leave. However, during the remainder of the evening they made him so uncomfortable that he called his mom to come and get him. I stood by silently as my cousins bullied my friend simply because of the color of his skin.

My first real job as a married adult I met Michael and Mitch. Even though he was 20 years my elder, Michael and I became good friends. I wanted to learn from him because he was the best salesperson in the company; he was often named salesman of the month. Mitch was a good salesperson too. He was arrogant and not as good as Michael, but good nonetheless. Michael was a true gentleman, gracious and considerate; he was also black. Mitch was a bit egotistical and aggressive; he was also white.

After a few years an upper management position came open. Whispers among employees began to circulate. Most believed Mitch would get the promotion even though Michael had been with the company longer and had an impeccable track record. It was no secret that the owner of the company had never promoted a black man to upper management. The time came, and sure enough, Mitch was promoted. We could all sense the disappointment with Michael. Within the next year, he left the company. My friend, who deserved a promotion, didn’t get it because of the color of his skin.

I could tell many stories of discrimination mixed with southern charm. It happened at school, church, and even in my own family. No one in the south is a stranger to people being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. It bothered me then and it bothers me now. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ I say unashamedly that I stand against racism in any form.

I’m a white, middle-aged, upper-middle class, southern, conservative, Christian suburbanite and I believe that the racial hostility toward black lives should matter to all of us. I believe the black community has had more than it’s share of brokenness. We cannot turn a blind eye to the systemic oppression that our African-American brothers and sisters face.

Whether or not you are bothered by racial injustice doesn’t change the truth that it’s an ugly reality in our country. We can choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. If you’re a Christian then you’re called to be part of the solution. If you remain silent you’re part of the problem. Turning a blind eye and keeping a sealed lip is not an option for committed followers of Jesus.

If you say things like, “I don’t owe ‘them’ anything” or “I’ve never wronged ‘those’ people.” Let me assure you that you’re more racist than you realize. Besides that, you’re missing the point. We are talking about fellow human beings: real people who, by and large, have been mistreated for a long time. Our ancestors owned their ancestors. Think about that. If you don’t believe that’s a psychological impairment on an entire race of people, then you need a psychologist yourself.

Have you ever really thought about what it’s like to walk in a black man’s shoes? As a white man, a security guard in a department store has never followed me because they assumed I was a shoplifter. As a white man, I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer for driving through a neighborhood where I didn’t live. As a white man, my grandparents didn’t have to use separate restrooms, go to different schools, drink from a different water fountain, or sit in the back of a public bus.

So, to my friend Carlos, if you ever read this, I’m deeply sorry that I didn’t stand up for you with my cousins. I wish I had sent them home that night instead if letting you leave. If I could go back I would change it. I want you to know I’m deeply sorry for the way you were treated.

To my friend, Michael, you should have got the promotion. You deserved it. You were by far the most qualified. The boss was wrong. If I could go back, I would have resigned with you. I think of you often and pray that your family is doing well.

To my black friends, I love you. And although I’ll never really know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, I stand with you.

Remember, all bones matter, but the one that’s broken get the most attention until it heals. Sometimes the healing takes longer than any of us would like. Nonetheless, we nurture the one that’s broken until it’s whole again. Broken lives matter, they matter to God and they should matter to us. It’s really that simple.

Talking Heads

Recently, when visiting my hometown I got to hang out with an old friend. During our conversation he said, “I don’t have a lot of people in my life that I can talk to about anything significant. People don’t like to think about important issues.” Let that sink in: “People don’t like to think about important issues.”

Note the name of this blog site: “You Are What You Think.” Thinking is imperative to our spiritual journey. God instructs us to use our mind… “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

What we think about God is the most important thing about us. What you think about God affects everything about your life. It affects how you view the world, how you raise your children, how you interact with other people… I could go on and on. With that said, we need to be careful. There are a lot of talking heads, voices in the world, all of which want a platform in your mind. They want to shape the way you think.

The world is full of filters. When we allow the image of God to be sifted, that image quickly becomes distorted. People tend to filter God through many things, including: politics, culture, nationalism, etc. In doing so they develop a false sense of who God really is and it affects their ability to engage him on a deeper level. For example, if you filter God through the lens of American politics you will tend to view God as being on the side of the Republicans or the Democrats. He is not.

If you filter God through patriotism you begin to think that being a good American means being a good Christian, and consequently you begin to view foreigners differently, which leads to discrimination. A pastor recently shared a story with me where someone got up at a funeral and said, “I know uncle Joe is in heaven because the bible says that if you’re an American you go to heaven.” Jesus doesn’t shroud himself in the American flag, or any other flag for that matter. His Kingdom is not of this world.

If you filter God through religious subcultures, you will be tempted to go one of two routes. You might become a fundamentalist who thinks that God is only like the people who share the same views as you, often focusing on non-essentials. Or you may lean toward a Universalist perspective and develop ideas about God revealing himself through various religions.

Some people filter God through media. This ties into my theory on why people don’t like to think about important issues. They’re either afraid or they feel guilty. They’ve been silenced by what I call fear-peddlers and guilt-trippers. You see, your cable news networks are fear-peddlers. They’ve got to keep the ratings up, so they spin every story. The more shocking, the more heated the commentary, the more debate, the more “what ifs”… the better the ratings.

Then you have the guilt-trippers, those who over-empathize with every movement that comes along. These are people who guilt you into being silent. Those who say things like, “Can’t we all just get alone… shame on you for saying anything contrary to another person’s opinion.” These people would rather take the “live and let live” approach than to speak truth and risk offending someone… even so far as calling those things which are evil, good (Isaiah 5:20).

Conservatives tend to be fear-peddlers (i.e. warning, “if you don’t do this”). Liberals have a tendency to be guilt-trippers (i.e. threatening, “how dare you”). When the liberals label me “conservative” and the conservatives label me “liberal” it helps me realize that I must be doing something right. My desire is to be a good citizen of the Kingdom of God and I believe the way of the Kingdom is discovered in-between all the rhetoric and labeling.

Reducing the talking heads is imperative for a healthy spiritual life. Take a break from all the noise. Discover the beauty and majesty of silence. Learn to listen for that small still voice in the midst of all the clamor. Filtering God through our own unique preferences and leanings certainly has the ability to damage how we think about God and realizing that makes a huge difference in our walk with him.

Turn off the news networks. Turn down the volume on the fundies and libs. Refuse to allow your life to be inundated by fear-peddlers and guilt-trippers. Stop allowing negative influences to shape your thinking. Don’t allow God to be filtered. Disconnect. Find the in-between. You don’t need the talking heads of modern culture informing your every thought. Read, pray, open the scripture, and seek the wisdom that only comes from above. It will change everything…guaranteed.

american-jesus

Compassion and competition are two words that we don’t typically use in the same sentence. Compassion is the kingdom way; competition is the American way. As Americans, we celebrate winning at all costs. For us bigger is better. This is not God’s way. He calls us to sacrifice, service, and surrender. God rejoices in the laying down of one’s life. We often find ourselves trying to live in both of these realities. Yet, the longer we walk with Christ the more we feel the tension between the two.

The spirit of competition has worked itself into the place it should never exist: The Church. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I love a great ball game. Organized competition in sports and other arenas of life are fun, but when the same mindset spills over into the church it’s detrimental to the work of the kingdom. Think about it, competition puts us at odds with other people. It’s the process of trying to outshine another person. How can we genuinely serve others if we are constantly trying to surpass them?

The kingdom-life is a call to compassion, not competition. Compassion is a word that usually evokes positive feelings. We all like to consider ourselves compassionate people. However, compassion is not as natural of a phenomenon as we might think. The word “compassion” suggests: suffering with another, becoming weak, laying down one’s life. In fact, the bible teaches us to present ourselves as “living sacrifices.” The problem with living sacrifices is that they have the tendency to crawl off the altar, stand up, and start competing again.

There are two powerful narratives at work in our lives simultaneously. The first is the American narrative: a story of power, wealth, and prestige. The American story is one of competition: bigger, better, faster, and stronger. Americans don’t like limits. We like graphs in which all lines move up. This narrative tells us that limits are bad and boundaries are to be crossed. The American way is up.

The other narrative at work is called the Gospel. This is the way of Jesus embodied by his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. This narrative requires downward mobility. In Christ we don’t compete for a place in the kingdom; instead, God has chosen to be God-with-us. Jesus came down in an act of divine compassion. In turn, God calls us to reflect Christ in how we live and interact with one another. Subsequently, through us, the kingdom crashes into the world.

The way of Jesus is down. Jesus taught that the only way to find your life is to lose it. He said the first must be last… If you try and keep your life, you will actually end up losing everything. This teaching is woven throughout the Gospels. In fact, if you attempt to remove it, you would end up removing a large portion of what Jesus taught.

See for yourself: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, and the persecuted (Matt. 5:3-10). Don’t store up treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19-21). The one who seeks to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matt. 16:25). The last will be first and the first will be last (Matt. 20:16). If you want to be great, you have to become a servant (Matt. 20:26). The greatest among you will be the servant; the humble will be exalted and the exalted will be humbled (Matt. 23:11-12). Anyone who wants to be Jesus’ disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23). If you cling to your life, you’ll lose it; if you let your life go, you’ll find it (Luke 17:33). We could go on, but I think you get the picture.

The Jesus narrative and the American narrative are worlds apart. The American story teaches us that life is about success. Our worth is connected to being bigger and better. Life is a competition and the one who dies with the most toys wins. If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to switch narratives because his story is one of compassion, humility, vulnerability, and servanthood.

The kingdom invites us to pour out our lives in certain assurance that life will never run out. The Christian life obligates itself to intentionally move downward. It’s counterintuitive; it’s not natural. Nonetheless, it’s the way of Christ and it is good. The kingdom narrative calls us to devote ourselves to a lifestyle of compassion as we learn to embody the good news of a better way. This is the tale of two tales: American and Kingdom. We’re born into one; we choose the other.

(Sources: “Compassion” by Henri Nouwen, “Shrink” by Tim Suttle)

God-Isnt-Fixing-This

The 365 days of 2015 have almost passed. In those 365 days we’ve had over 350 mass shootings in this country. There is no doubt we live in a culture obsessed with violence. The callous spirit that plagues our society breaks the heart of God and should disturb any follower of Christ.

“God Isn’t Fixing This,” a controversial headline calling attention to those on the political landscape who have not responded with much more than empty rhetoric concerning the issue of gun violence. In essence, the article expressed that “prayer” is not enough. Heated online reactions illustrate just how divided Americans are on the subject.

I grew up in the South. In the midst of all the southern charm guns are the norm. All of my immediate family members are gun owners (even my sweet mother). In fact some family members own a gun store where they sell firearms, ammo, hunting supplies, and all the accessories. I am accustomed to being around guns, yet there’s still something about them that have the ability to put me on edge.

Let me illustrate: When my son was in elementary school I remember him being invited to attend a birthday party at a friend’s house. When I took him to the party I went inside to meet the parents before leaving. There were guns everywhere: propped up in the corner, lying on the counter, hanging on the wall. I was too nervous to leave him.

Another illustration: Several years ago while preaching a revival in a rural North Carolina I went visiting with the pastor one afternoon. We visited the home of an obvious proud gun-owner. There were signs in the yard saying, “Forget the Dog, Beware of Owner” (with a picture of a six-shooter). Once inside, I noticed what seemed to be a stockpile of guns. Again, guns were everywhere.

Within five minutes of entering the home the conversation turned to “If they ever try to take my guns they’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands.” I thought to myself, “Really? Would I really be willing to die over gun ownership?” This kind of rhetoric certainly isn’t the mindset of anyone following Jesus: the One who laid down his life when he could have called an army of angels to his defense (Matt. 26:53).

My objective is not to give an opinion on whether current gun laws are sufficient, obviously something’s not working. My purpose is not to weigh in on whether or not some politician’s prayers are futile, I’m thankful people are praying. However, my intention is to say that neither a prayer offered on social media nor legislation is the problem, much less the answer.

The problem is sin. The problem is that we live in a culture fascinated with violence. The problem is that the wickedness of the human heart is beyond our ability to comprehend it. The sentiments of the weeping prophet remain true, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jer. 17:9, NLT).

With popular shooter games, epic sagas on the silver screen, and even programing on standard cable channels, our minds are continually filled with images of violence. Society at large has grown numb to brutality as we stare evil in the face without interruption. To be sure, 350+ shootings in 365 days would desensitize even the most sensitive person.

People are violent because they’re angry. People are angry because the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life fail to fill the void. People are angry because they are broken and don’t know how to fix themselves. People are angry because they are scared and feel powerless. People are angry because they’ve invested in a way of life that doesn’t satisfy. Praise God for showing us another Way.

The truth about American culture is that there is an epidemic of an unchecked spirit of violence. It’s seen in the everyday deeds of thousands of people. From bullying at school to the workplace, from road rage to sexual harassment, from child abuse to rape… Violence rules our culture. And while the violence may be extremely apparent in the United States, it is not our problem only; it plagues the majority of the world.

Without doubt, we should offer our prayers. And there are certainly some positive steps we can take regarding gun control while still upholding the Constitution. But make no mistake; the heart of the matter is a culture that sleeps easy while violence runs rampant. I think the challenge is reimagining our lives in light of Jesus and not allowing culture to determine how we think about important issues.

I disagree with the headline, “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The keyword is “this,” what is the “this” that needs fixing. I believe God is fixing this, wherever he is invited. God is breaking in on this through the Incarnation of Jesus. And the this that God is fixing is us, because we are broken and he is in the business of making things new.

(Sources: Doug Hopkins, Michael W. Austin and Ron Gleason “Gun Control Debate: Two Perspectives,” James Emory White “Church & Culture,” Daily News)

jesus-our-president

Here we go again. Election year! It’s time for all the good Christians to start arguing over presidential candidates and shrouding Jesus in the American Flag. So many people genuinely believe that somehow their nominee is going to miraculously save the world (that’s already been done; that party was represented by a Lamb, not an elephant or a donkey).

Warning: aggressive political comments incoming. The following words will challenge your loyalties and make you feel uncomfortable. For the sake of clarity, I love my country, but I love the Kingdom of Jesus way more. If you’re easily offended, stop reading now.

No political party will ever legislate the Kingdom of God. Constantine tried; it was a disaster. When Christians take political matters more seriously than they do Jesus, the constitution becomes the gospel and the president becomes the messiah. The Christian icon is a bloody cross, not stars and stripes. Its emblem is not a donkey, an elephant, or even an eagle, but a slaughtered lamb.

If you’re more concerned with Republicans and Democrats than you are the Kingdom, you might be more American than you are Christian. If you spend more time with Bill O’Reilly or Bill Mayer than you do with Jesus, you might be more American than you are Christian. If you spend more time watching Fox News or CNN than you do reading the Bible, you might be more American than you are Christian. If you spend more time posting political images on social media… well, you get the picture.

Let me be clear (see what I did there): If you have more faith in Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton than you do the local church to be an agent of change in your community, then you need to find a new church. The Kingdom has already been inaugurated and doesn’t need new legislation. So, change the channel. Stop letting alarmist fear-peddling talking heads fill your mind with partisan propaganda that blurs the lines between the Kingdom and the White House. Instead, open your Bible, get on your knees, and elect Jesus as president of your life.

Being overly concerned with election outcomes demonstrates a misplaced hope. Politics serve as a distraction to Kingdom priorities. Nothing should undermine the mission of the Kingdom to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” How? By serving the least of these, by fleshing out the Sermon on the Mount, by adopting orphans, by feeding the homeless, by taking care of widows, by visiting prisoners, by welcoming foreigners, by investing in mission, and by telling everyone about the life-changing freedom discovered in a relationship with Jesus Christ. In other words, BE THE CHURCH!

If you wake up after Election Day and find yourself deeply disappointed, then my friend, you have too much hope in American politics and not enough hope in the Kingdom of God that’s breaking in on our world. If you have more faith in government than you do the Kingdom, you have pledged allegiance to the wrong institution. Elect Jesus as President of your life and see what happens. You’ll never wake up disappointed.

(Sources: “Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne, Greg Mason, Phil Simpson)

social-justice-begins-here

Social justice is a phrase that’s received a lot of attention in the church in recent years. The phrase itself calls us to a deeper awareness of the need for a “just society.” It hearkens the words of our Savior, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

As Christians we are called to be activists. Christians are not passive people. I heard a preacher say recently, “Calling me a Christian activist is a redundancy.” The point being if you’re a Christian you’re called to be an activist: an agent of change in a world full of inequality. Christians understand that life matters. What we do with our life matters, how we spend our time matters, how we flesh out the life of Christ in community matters. It all matters, and it matters deeply.

Social justice has everything to do with life. As Christ-followers we fight for the poor, weak, and afflicted. We defend those who cannot defend themselves. We give voice to the voiceless and advocate for people on the margins. We spend time, resources, and energy rescuing orphans, feeding the hungry, providing healthcare for the sick, rehabilitating prisoners, and helping widows. We fight for women’s rights, racial equality, and fair immigration laws. We care for the sick, impoverished, and those who have been pushed to the fringes of society. While doing all of this we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ as the way, truth, and LIFE.

For some reason, it seems that in conversations regarding social justice, one issue that should be at the forefront is neglected: ABORTION. The Bible is clear that life begins in the womb. “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139:13-14). If we are going to be a voice for the voiceless then we need to start speaking more loudly for those who have no voice at all.

An infant in the womb is innocent… Period. It carries no responsibility for its existence. Science has proven that in the womb we feel pain, express emotion, have dreams, and respond to sound. It amazes me how many people bring up science when speaking of homosexuality, and ignore science when speaking of life in the womb. Life is sacred and abortion is insanity, yet we ignore innocent life and justify death for the sake of convenience.

When you speak to someone who advocates abortion they always list reasons why abortion should be justified. “What if the woman’s life is in danger?” “What about cases of rape or incest?” they say. But the truth of the matter is the vast majority of abortions don’t happen because of rape, incest, or life threatening situations. The majority take place for reasons of personal convenience.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, a staff writer for Salon and vocal pro-choice advocate, admitted what we’ve known all along. She openly states that from the moment of conception the unborn child is a human life. Yet, she argues that this child must be terminated if a woman so desires. The child is a life, but in her twisted view it’s not valuable. Insanity, I know. Let me say again, life is sacred and abortion is insanity.

Scientific fact: the baby inside a woman’s body has its own DNA, blood-type, functioning body organs, and fingerprints. It’s a human being and no one has the right to take that life away. Yet, statistics show that one in four women have an abortion at some point and of course no one ever talks about the men who support and even coerce them into going through with it.

For those who have had an abortion and those who have supported abortion, you can be changed. God can take away the guilt. Don’t allow the spiritual numbness of a secular society to inform you. Refuse to allow your conscience to be seared.  God can make you new again. God is absolutely incredible in the area of life transformation.

This issue is very close to my heart. I’m passionate about it because God is passionate about it. God is the author of life. Jesus came that we may have life. Being a Christian is about life. Social justice is about life. No one deserves to die for no reason. If we are going to be socially just in doing social justice, it has to begin here.

(Sources: Matt Chandler; Shane Claiborne)