Spirit of the AgeThe “world” is a spirit or a force that opposes, attacks, and outright rejects the Spirit of Christ. Don’t be fooled by the spirit of this present age, it’s not good. In fact, Scripture teaches that the spirit of the world is antichrist: “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

When a society becomes addicted to comfort and consumed by wealth, it enters into a state of self-indulgence where its citizens are overcome with the spirit of the world: pride, lust, greed, vanity, violence and the likes. The current condition of America affirms the truth of Jesus’ words, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

When feeding the flesh becomes the primary ambition of a given society, individualism replaces any real sense of community. In this state, God is essentially forgotten. This is what’s happening in America right now.

Our corporate conscience is seared. We are desensitized. Nothing’s shocking. Bloodshed doesn’t faze us. We live with a sense of entitlement. We don’t believe in boundaries. Nothing’s off limits. We demand privilege. We fight over politics as if we can legislate righteousness. We offer shallow condolences and “prayers” in light of tragedies like the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the worst in our nation’s history, yet after a few days life goes on as usual.

We have everything we need; we actually have a lot more than we need. In our attempts to gain the world I’m afraid we’re losing our soul (Matthew 16:26). Evidence of this is an increasing lack of satisfaction. We medicate our emptiness with drugs, alcohol, porn, shopping, gambling, sex, cutting, overeating, television, video games, work, and various other addictive behaviors. Looking for fulfillment, we become ever more empty. Some end up so empty that their last resort is sitting in a hotel room with an automatic machine gun opening fire on people before taking their own life.

In all of our alleged enlightenment, the fabric of American society is being stripped away. The spirit of the world is deceiving the masses. Our insensitivity to sin and unwillingness to confront it has left us near reprobate. We believe if we pass the right laws that “love” will become the chief expression of the human heart. We think we can end systemic evil with never-ending conversations about human rights. We believe fighting for social justice will bring real change in people’s hearts. We’re delusional.

It’s impossible to legislate depravity. Sin is the condition of the human heart, and it’s a spiritual condition. Outside of leading people to a personal life-transforming relationship with Jesus, there is no hope. No amount of dialogue, reasoning, legislation, protesting, or social justice will ever eradicate the sin that feeds on the spirit of this present age. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be involved in these things, it’s only to point out that they don’t offer a solution to the sin problem.

There’s only one answer, and we don’t like to talk about Him very much anymore. In fact, we’ve all but kicked Him out of the country. We’ve disguised self-righteousness with political correctness and made it near impossible to invoke the name of Jesus in the public square.

Conservatives think if they create wealth and economic growth then everyone will be happy because money makes people happy, right? Wrong. Liberals live under the illusion of legislating a sense of equality because passing the right laws will erase the lines that divide us and bring peace, right? Wrong. Neither of these imaginary utopias can remedy the problems of our nation.

In fact, the current Republican Party is so far removed from conservative values that many have labeled them the “new liberals.” And the Democrats are nothing more than social elitists who don’t even speak the language of common people anymore. They’re socialists at best and communists at worst.

Without a deep sense of repentance all of our marching, protesting, propagating, tweeting, posting, politicizing, and debating is waste of time. We can create imaginary enemies all day long, but the real enemy isn’t flesh and blood. Remember, Lucifer was also a social justice warrior fighting for his rights in the heavenlies.

The power of the Kingdom comes in the form of a person. Yet, in America, we’re forced to pray publically without citing His name. Even in times of tragedy, we play the political-correct card because we don’t want to upset those who practice other religions. Think about that, we claim to worship the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, yet we’re afraid to invoke His name in the presence of those who bow down to idols, demons, and false gods.

As long as the spirit of this present age continues to gain ground our words, condolences, and prayers mean nothing. If they aren’t directed to the One who holds the keys to life then they’re vanishing in the air as soon as they leave our lips. We know the truth, yet because of the hostility of this age, we’re afraid to speak.

Beyond the social and political spheres, the spirit of antichrist has also invaded the ranks of the church. By and large, the progressives within the church align with the liberal political agenda of the day and call it the gospel, and the conservatives do the same with the Republican platform. No political party will ever change the spiritual climate of this nation, that’s the church’s job.

Revival is our only hope: A Great Awakening. An authentic move of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that’s going to heal our land. Until we become courageous enough to look the world in the face and proclaim: “Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, and nothing changes until we turn back to Him,” our dilemma will only worsen.

Make no mistake, the spirit of the age steers the ship that is the United States of America. Revival is the only hope for a better tomorrow. Let’s unite, humble ourselves, and pray for the Lord of all Creation to heal our land.

“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).

PC

Political correctness in and of itself is not a bad thing. In the simplest of terms, it’s a way of treating people with respect regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, religion, socio-economic status, and other things that have the potential to divide. According to that definition, Jesus was politically correct. He treated everyone with dignity because God’s love does not discriminate; Jesus knew that God loves everybody as much as He loves anybody.

Scripture instructs us to be civil in our conversations: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up… that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). However, what if charitable discourse in Jesus’ day was nothing like what we consider civil today. If we’re being realistic we have to admit that we live in a pampered society. Our sense of entitlement causes us to reject anything uncomfortable.

Yet without discomfort, there is no cross. Without pain, there is no discipleship. Without offense, it’s impossible to live the life Jesus calls us to.

People groups of the world have distinctive understandings of what “civility” really means. I’m not sure overindulgent mainstream Americans should be the ones setting the bar for what’s considered offensive, especially if God is more clearly identified in the margins. Marginalized people want the truth; they need the truth. They long for the only thing that has the power to set them free. I’m thankful to be part of the Church of the Nazarene: a church that has been intentionally taking truth to the margins from the very beginning.

For many cultures, passionate disagreement is not only normal but also expected. There’s a great deal of biblical evidence supporting fervent dialogical disagreement. The Prophets, the Apostles, and Jesus himself spoke harshly at times. Their language wasn’t set-aside only for the religious leaders as some might say. Jesus had heated words for His followers, adversaries, disciples, and general audience. Peter, Paul, and other disciples also expressed themselves very matter-of-factly in many situations.

When Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers it wasn’t a charitable act. The moneychangers were common folk that had set up a spiritual flea market in the temple. They had taken something meant for one thing and turned it into something else. Jesus obviously thought the situation warranted a strong correction. In the Palestinian culture of that day, and in many cultures around the world today, confrontational dialogue wasn’t, and isn’t, considered offensive. In fact, it was, and still is, commonplace.

Postmodern America has an inaccurate understanding of political correctness. It’s become a new form of intolerance disguised as tolerance. The current cultural climate makes absolutes almost nonexistent; any claim to truth disturbs people’s sensibilities. I’m uncertain how we arrived at this place when one of the foundational blocks of American society is freedom of speech. It’s impossible to live in a society of free speech and never be offended by what others are saying.

Remember, “To those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word…” (1 Peter 2:7-8).

The gospel is offensive… period. The gospel confronts people; it makes us uncomfortable. It leaves us with a difficult choice. It forces one to admit that his or her way is the wrong way. Challenging people to completely reorder their life is a radical and evasive concept, particularly in postmodern America.

When a church becomes more concerned with political correctness than the power of the gospel it quickly becomes ineffective.

Let me explain how this has affected me personally. Often I have reservations about saying things in conversations with other Christian leaders, from the pulpit, and on social media. I’ve identified these reservations as a condition imposed on my thinking by the current state of our society. If the Bible speaks to an issue, I believe with grace and truth, I should be able to speak to the issue as well. In fact, as a minister of the gospel, I feel obligated to speak.

The old adage, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean,” has become an increasingly difficult task. People take offense where none is intended, which causes pastors and Christian leaders to be guarded. People presume the act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant and intentionally hurtful; this is especially true in the digital world. Therefore, an insistence on greater civility has emerged. Failure to engage by the arbitrary rules of cultural civility results in charges of ignorance and bigotry.

If there’s ever been a society where no one has the right to live unoffended, it’s the United States of America. In fact, we should expect to hear things that challenge our worldview. Dealing with what others believe is a small price to pay for living in a free country. Yet being easily offended has become fashionable. One can hardly exist on a college campus without being inundated with progressive points of view, and it’s not much different in Christian universities. If you refuse to drink the cool-aid then you’re labeled close-minded and lack critical thinking skills.

The paradoxical outcome of insisting on greater civility often goes beyond frequent offense to the realm of “outrage.” When this happens the PC police come after their opponents with no holds barred. They will shut anyone down at any cost that constantly disagrees with their views. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s exactly what the religious leaders did to Jesus when they put Him on the cross. The rules of political correctness get tossed out the window when the PC crowd becomes convinced that they’re right on any given issue.

The problem with the postmodern understanding of political correctness is that it focuses primarily on people’s feelings, not on being gracious and truthful. And when progressive thinkers assume places of greater influence in the church the focus shifts from what God declares as true to how people feel about what God declares as true. When the church starts focusing on how people feel about truth more than truth itself, God quickly gets extracted from the conversation.

We have arrived at a place where one cannot caringly confront cultural deception without upsetting the applecart. When this happens the spirit of offense protests. Again, they believe their cause is greater than anything anyone else has to say. Their rhetoric causes those who don’t agree with them to back down because they feel intellectually inferior. Of course, if it’s coming from the university it must be intellectually informed, right?

This, my friends, is the influence of postmodernity’s version of political correctness.

Now might be a good time to remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Col. 2:8).

Instead of allowing scriptural truth to speak to modern-day concerns, the spirit of political correctness is causing many to impose contemporary cultural issues on scripture. They insert a version of the truth and spoon-feed it to the masses until it becomes uncharitable to say anything contrary.

Paul tells his young protégée, Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

That’s good advice for all of us.

Remember, it’s impossible to speak truth without rocking the boat. Don’t stop speaking. Speak gracefully, but boldly. Don’t cave to the pressure of the current cultural stream of political correctness. When we do the gospel loses its effectiveness. Once that happens, like the builders of old, we reject the “chief cornerstone.” When the foundation is stripped away everything else falls apart and that’s not good for anyone.

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General Assembly is the quadrennial gathering of the global family that is the Church of the Nazarene. Every four years delegates from all over the world come together to celebrate what God has done, discern how the Holy Spirit is leading, and make decisions about how to faithfully advance the mission of Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations in the years ahead.

The Church of the Nazarene has always been theologically and biblically conservative, yet progressive in practice. In other words, we believe the Bible is true and we take the message of holiness seriously. Nonetheless, we’re willing to stop at nothing to reach people with the life-transforming message of the Gospel.

From the beginning, the distinctive doctrine of the Nazarene movement has been “entire sanctification,” which teaches that after one becomes a Christian there’s a deeper work to be experienced. When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit (entirely sanctified) his or her devotion to Jesus becomes the essence of life. Entire sanctification is the doctrine of “love made perfect,” lived out as the Holy Spirit empowers us to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

At General Assembly, we make decisions about resolutions that have been submitted by districts and committees from around the world. These resolutions affect the theology, polity, social positions, and overall governance of the church and are incorporated into the Manual (book of discipline) if passed by the global delegation. I am thankful for the growing delegation from the Africa, South America, and Mesoamerica Regions, as I believe they will keep us on track theologically.

After reading the resolutions for the 2017 General Assembly, I decided to elaborate on a few that are categorized in the “Christian Action” grouping. This category informs our identity more than any other as it pertains to who we are theologically and where we stand biblically.

While administrative matters need to change as we discover better ways to faithfully steward the organizational structures of the church, theological distinctiveness should only be strengthened, never diluted. In a world of pluralism, relativism, moral decline, and social injustice, if our theological distinctiveness is not reinforced the church’s influence in the world will diminish.

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CA-700: Affirmation and Declaration of Human Freedoms – The United Kingdom British Isles South District submitted this resolution. It calls for us to “confess our complicity” as it pertains to the enslavement of human beings. That statement alone makes this resolution a bad idea. With that kind of wording, this could become a legal issue in some world areas. It reads as an admission to a crime against humanity. This resolution is not necessary because our involvement in “setting captives free” is a given by nature of the holiness message (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18).

CA-701: Human Sexuality – Resolution 701 was created and submitted by the Board of General Superintendents. It is the best choice of the three submissions on “Human Sexuality.” There is unquestionably a minority looking for loopholes as it pertains to same-sex marriage. While we need to be gracious in our response, we must also remain committed to biblical orthodoxy concerning sexuality. The Board of General Superintendents engages this topic with a deep sense of compassion, yet they also remain clearly grounded in Holy Scripture and Wesleyan-Arminian theology. This resolution lovingly speaks to the various nuances related to the doctrine of human sexuality.

CA-701a/701b: Human Sexuality – The Netherlands, New England, and Kansas City Districts submitted these two resolutions. They remove any language pertaining to homosexual behavior. Without such language being supplemented elsewhere, these resolutions weaken the biblical doctrine of sexual purity and potentially opens the door to homosexual behavior becoming acceptable. It’s impossible to remain biblically responsible, yet remove language pertaining to homosexuality from our doctrinal statements.

CA-708: The Christian Life – The Mid-Atlantic and Northwestern Ohio Districts, and the General Assembly Resolutions and Reference Committees collectively submitted this resolution. The new wording offers a much-needed global perspective. Without it, this entire section of the Manual is established on paradigms employed primarily in western culture, especially the U.S., and is not reflective of the fact that we are an international church. This resolution is a great addition to our Manual.

CA-709: The Use of Social MediaWhile I appreciate the efforts of the Mid-Atlantic District and the Reference Committee, to say that all social media activities should be affirming and uplifting to all people is biblically inaccurate (Jer. 1:10). There would be large portions of the Bible that couldn’t be quoted on social media if our activities must continually be uplifting to all people. This would also deny anyone the ability to speak prophetically about the difficult issues facing the church. Beyond that, who decides what qualifies as “respectful” when it comes to social media interaction? Various personalities speak, write, and communicate differently. Interpreting online interaction becomes an impossible task if we attempt to judge one person’s written expressions based on what another person considers respectful and/or offensive. Being gracious and forgiving to one another on social media should be a given.

CA-710: The Use of Intoxicants – The Nebraska and Mid-Atlantic Districts, and the Reference Committee submitted this resolution. While we could certainly work on the wording of this Manual paragraph, this particular submission weakens our position on the use of alcohol to the point that we might as well remove it altogether. I struggle with the missional implications as it pertains to something as addictive as alcohol consumption. We certainly realize the devastating effects it’s had on the poor and marginalized. We should consider rewording these paragraphs our Manual. However, I’m not comfortable with this resolution as it’s presented.

CA-714: Sanctity of Human Life – The Mid-Atlantic District submitted this resolution. I struggled more with this submission than any other. The suggested change weakens our current stance and actually devalues human life beyond what we presently affirm. It’s a slippery slope that we should avoid at all costs. When we arrive at the place in our theology where we view the sanctity of human life as a “political” issue we fail the most innocent human beings among us: those still in the womb. If anything, we should make a stronger statement on the sanctity of human life, especially as it relates to abortion.

CA-717: Covenant of Christian Character – The Netherlands District submitted this resolution. The Covenants of Christian Character and Conduct are designed to give additional direction to members of the Church of the Nazarene concerning what is beneficial to the Christian life. They are not exhaustive, but they are helpful. They serve to strengthen believers in the pursuit of holiness. Eliminating these details deprive us of our distinctiveness. When we lose the things that make us unique we ultimately ignore the distinctive call of God on our movement, and in turn become generic and ineffective.

CA-718: The Christian Life – The New England District submitted this resolution. Rewording this Manual paragraph to include the Great Commandment and the Sermon on the Mount would be extremely helpful. However, removing the reference to the Ten Commandments when Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law…” (Matt. 5:17), only weakens the statement. I agree that focusing exclusively on the Ten Commandments centers primarily on rules and lends itself to legalism. The teachings of Christ should be highlighted in this paragraph. Rewording this resolution slightly would strengthen our theological position.

CA-721: Christian Marriage – The Southwest Indiana District submitted this resolution. This amendment strengthens our theological and legal position on marriage. As society continues to change at a rapid pace there will be more and more groups attempting to redefine marriage in light of cultural shifts based primarily on human reasoning. One recommendation: if we are going to change the word “biblical” to “Christian” in the last sentence, we should also change it in the second-to-last sentence.

CA-724: Gender Identity – The Board of General Superintendents submitted this resolution. In a day and age where gender identity is surrounded by controversy, we desperately need a statement that provides direction on an issue that is predominantly driven by culture and politics. This resolution is rooted in biblical doctrine and Christian tradition and affirms that gender identity reflects God’s divine plan for humanity.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of the resolutions submitted to the General Assembly. This article only speaks to resolutions that some feel could have a significant impact on the future identity of the Church of the Nazarene. These particular resolutions are what I describe as “identity declarations.” When we amend the Manual paragraphs concerning what we believe and how we practice what we believe we are reinterpreting how to apply biblical doctrine, which cannot be done lightly.

The sentiments expressed in this article are based on conversations with various leaders in the Church of the Nazarene, analysis of the negative impact that secularized culture is having on the church, application of Scripture in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, and personal convictions as it pertains to how the church can best move forward in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.

Please feel free to contact me at kynazds@gmail.com with any questions or comments. If you have more insight as to how we can better discuss these issues in the future I’d love to hear from you.

gotcha-day

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

“Gotcha Day” is a term used in the adoption community. It refers to the day when adoptive parents finally get their child. It’s the climax of months of praying, waiting and preparing to bring a child into their life, of which they’ve usually never met. Imagine deciding to adopt a new son or daughter and working for many months toward bringing him or her home. Finally, the day arrives when you wrap your arms around that child. That’s Gotcha Day!

September 15, 2014 was “Gotcha Day” for Kacey. We committed to adopting her eight months prior. We spent thirty-five weeks praying, reading about her, looking at pictures, preparing her room, and filling out paperwork, and more paperwork, and more paperwork. But mostly we anxiously awaited the day we were going to fly halfway around the world and bring her home. We did all of this because we felt like God said, “rescue her.”

We flew out of Chicago in the early morning hours on Saturday, September 13, 2014. Once in Guangzhou, we spent a day adjusting to the time difference, then another day receiving final instructions for what the process would entail. On Monday morning we boarded a bus with eight other couples and headed to the civil affairs office to meet our daughter.

There were over fifty couples picking up their children from all over the Guangdong Province that day. We walked in with the group from our agency. Once inside, everyone found a seat, and family-by-family they called people forward alphabetically by last name. When your name was called you proceeded to the center of the room and your child came from another room. In those few seconds, families were united with their children.

It seemed like forever before they got to the “P’s.” Finally, they called our name. From behind another door, Kacey emerged. There she was, scared to death, yet trying to smile. The picture at the top of the blog post captures this moment. Most families were adopting younger children who really didn’t know what was going on. However, Kacey was thirteen years old, and although she wasn’t that old emotionally or physically because of her blood disorder, she was old enough to know that her life was about to change forever.

She came out of the door with her orphanage director and one of her caregivers. None of them spoke any English; we knew minimal Mandarin. She was being very polite, but it was obvious that she was afraid. Who wouldn’t be? She’s lived her entire life in an orphanage. She’s been told that she wants to be adopted, but she really doesn’t know what it means to be adopted. She has no context for understanding what a “family” really is. She’s heard the words “mother” and “father,” but doesn’t understand what it means to have parents.

As the room started clearing out, Kacey became more apprehensive. Finally, her caregivers told her goodbye for the last time. Remember, these are the only people she’s ever known and they’re leaving her with two Americans with whom she can’t even communicate (other than with the iTranslate app on our phone).

A few minutes after they said their final goodbyes tears started streaming down her little face. She was trying so hard to hold them back. Her effort to smile was causing Heather and me to cry. After a few more minutes Kacey was sobbing. Then she walked away from us and began roaming the hallways yelling out for her orphanage director.

Eventually, she found him. As they spoke in Mandarin we had no idea what they were saying. Our director told us that he was explaining to her that she had to go with us for at least one night. The law in China says an orphan over ten years old has to ‘agree’ to be adopted. That means they have to sign their name in front of an attorney stating that they willfully choose to become the child of their adoptive family. However, even though they get that choice, the law also requires that they stay at least one night with the family seeking to adopt them. Kacey was fighting even going with us for one night.

The director of our adoption cohort, who also translated for us, took Kacey by the arm and gently tried to explain the rules. However, she wasn’t having it. Eventually, they begin forcing her to walk out of the building with us. They literally pulled her down the hall, onto an elevator, and out into the parking lot kicking and screaming. Along the way, our director kept trying to explain to her that she had to go with us for one night.

In the parking lot, Kacey spotted her orphanage director’s car. She ran toward it, but the leader of our group wouldn’t let go of her arm. Kacey is relatively strong and extremely strong-willed. She was hard to manage and would’ve been very difficult to drag for two city blocks. The fatherly instinct rose up inside me. I looked at our director and said, “Can I pick her up and carry her?” She said, “That would be the best solution.” So, I swooped her up and carried her kicking and screaming, against her will, for two city blocks.

All the people in our group were crying for us, we were crying, and Kacey was squalling and fighting simultaneously. It was quite the scene. As the others in our adoption cohort carried their toddlers and infants to the bus with no problem, I was literally forcing our little teenager to go. It felt strange. People on the busy sidewalks looked on with concern as this white man carried a little China-girl down the street against her will.

In all of the confusion, Kacey didn’t realize that something very important was actually taking place. In the midst of the struggle we were literally trying to save her life; this was a rescue mission. You see, at fourteen she would have aged-out of the adoption program. The China government doesn’t care if you show up at midnight on a child’s fourteenth birthday; they will not let you take them when they reach that age.

She was aging out of the adoption program soon. Beyond that, she was very sick and needed a lot of medical attention. I wanted to give her a life she’d never experienced. I wanted to take her from the orphanage to the castle, so to say. I wanted to treat her as a good father would treat a much-loved child, but fear was standing in the way.

When we finally got to the bus, I carried her straight on, down the aisle, to the very back seat, and sat her in the corner. I blocked the aisle so there was no chance of her getting up and running. She crossed her arms, looked up at me, and if looks could kill, let’s just say I’d be a dead man. I felt terrible, however, I did what needed to be done.

The ride from the civil affairs office to the Garden Hotel was over an hour long. On the way Kacey saw things she had never seen before; her countenance began to change. Once we arrived at the hotel she was astonished. The Garden is a five-star hotel that provides special deals for adoption agencies. Many adoptive parents stay in the Garden while they’re in China. As Kacey walked through the doors of the Garden she was amazed. She kept saying, “woooow.” It was literally a rags-to-riches story coming to life.

When we got to the room on the 15th floor she looked out over the city in amazement. Then she discovered a jetted bathtub; she had never had a bathtub. She wanted to know if she could take a bubble bath (she ended up taking one every night of our stay). I had brought some beef jerky on the trip; she loved it. In fact, she ate the entire bag. We took her to eat at a fancy restaurant. She wanted to know what she could order. I told her “anything you want.” Soon the table looked like a banquet fit for a queen. She had never eaten that good before.

That night, Kacey Xing-Yu Powell fell asleep on a king size bed between a mom and dad on the 15th floor of the five-star Garden Hotel after taking a bubble bath and eating a fine meal. She fell asleep lavished with the love that only a mother and father could give. In one day her entire world literally changed. What a difference a day can make.

We got up early the next morning. After breakfast, our adoption cohort loaded the bus to return to the civil affairs office to sign the legal documents for the adoption. Once we arrived everyone was again sitting in the same room as the day before. We were apprehensive that once she got back in that element she would become anxious again.

The process included going to two different offices, sitting before attorneys, signing documents, and promising to take care of the child for the rest of her life. Again, once a child is over ten years old they have to agree to go with their adoptive parents. Therefore, she also had papers to sign.

While in the attorney’s office Kacey began to have a conversation with the official. It was in Mandarin; we had no idea what she was saying, but it was obviously serious. Our director came over and joined the discussion. The attorney sent us out of his office to work out whatever it was Kacey was talking about. After about five minutes of conversing with Kacey, our director filled us in.

“She’s negotiating,” our guide told us. I smiled and ask, “What’s her terms?” The guide smiled back and said, “Kacey says you have to promise to take her back to visit the orphanage before you leave China or she will not sign the papers.” I almost laughed. “Deal,” I said, then Kacey signed the documents knowing there was no turning back.

We made plans to visit the orphanage the next week. I paid a driver to take us back to the little village where the orphanage was located, which was a couple of hours from Guangzhou. In the days leading up to the visit, Kacey kept asking to buy small items, mostly snacks. When the day came to visit the orphanage she had filled two large bags with all kinds of food, snacks, and toys. We quickly realized what she was doing. She wanted to give these gifts to her friends before leaving them forever.

When we arrived at the orphanage, I followed her with the bags. She walked into the main office, gave specific instructions as to who got what and left the bags with the workers. Then we followed her up the stairs and through the halls of this building where she had lived. We passed so many children on that short walk, many crying and reaching up to us. Heather and I were again in tears.

We arrived at Kacey’s room. Her friend that she shared the room with was there; she had aged out of the adoption process and was now looking for a job. Kacey started collecting items that were stashed in various places. Once she gathered all the things that were important to her, she placed them in the luggage bag we had bought her, then she looked up at me and in plain English said, “Let’s go!”

I can hardly type this without tears. The rest is history. Kacey now has a family and a future, but most importantly, she has a Savior. You see, a few months after she arrived back in the United States she watched the “Jesus Film” in Mandarin. In our driveway, using the iTranslate app on my phone, I led Kacey to Jesus with tears streaming down her little face.

Fourteen years before, Kacey Xing-Yu Powell had been left on the steps of a hospital at eleven months old. She’d lived her entire life with a life-threatening blood disorder that had never been properly treated. She resided in a poor orphanage in an obscure village in southern China. She would have aged out of the adoption process five weeks after we arrived. However, that didn’t happen.

Everything changed because eight months earlier God said to two strangers on the other side of the world, “rescue her.” Kacey was an orphan for over a decade, but now she’s a princess for life, and will forever be a daughter of the King!

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.

Refugees

Jesus was a refugee. Born on the run due to intense persecution, he entered the world with no place to call home. He was executed as a leistaí (λησται). This Greek word implies that he was accused of being a bandit, a rebel, and an insurrectionist. Jesus was none of these things, but make no mistake, to the Romans Jesus was a religious fanatic who would no doubt try to overturn their social order if allowed to gain too many followers. Get this in your mind: Jesus was a refugee.

The Apostle Paul was a terrorist. He promoted Roman ideology and intentionally persecuted the church, killing Christians in order to prevent an uprising. After he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road everything changed. The message of Christ’s love was branded in his mind through the response of the very ones he was persecuting. After his encounter with Jesus instead of the persecutor, he quickly became the persecuted. Get this in your mind: God can save terrorists.

There’s a lot going on in our world today that parallels early biblical times. Refugees are fleeing their homeland because of extreme persecution. Terrorism has become a part of modern life in an attempt to promote social, political, and religious change. Terrorists are killing people because of misled and evil ideologies. Don’t misunderstand; I think we should relentlessly fight terrorism. We must stand against the injustice that’s plaguing our world and fight to protect the innocent.

With all that is happening in our world it’s easy to respond with fear. In doing so we forsake the good news of Jesus Christ. He teaches us a different way. Love is always Jesus’ response, not fear. I wonder about the innocent refugees. Should we let them die as we cower in fear? Should we refuse to care for the hurting because it would be uncomfortable for us? Should we ignore them so we can sleep better at night? If so, the terrorists have won. In the tradition of the Apostle Paul, we must risk all for the sake of the gospel. And then there are the words of Jesus:

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~Matthew 5:44

Christians are not called to live in fear. Instead, we are called to love the Muslim (our “enemy”), and I hope Christians will step up with love and not hate for Muslims regardless of their view on immigration. We can lead Muslims to Jesus. ISIS is evil, but there might just be another “Paul” among them who will become an ambassador for Christ. We have an opportunity to be the church among the refugee crisis as people flee a land of violent persecution and enter a place where we are free to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would dare say many people who call themselves “Christian” are more American than they are Christian. They are more interested in saving their life than they are losing it. They are more interested in safety than they are the gospel and more interested in comfort than they are the cross. Period.

Following Jesus isn’t safe. If you want safe you need to pick someone else to follow. Following Jesus is scary and dangerous. It takes you places that make you uncomfortable. Following Jesus isn’t simple. He asks us to balance loving our enemies and protecting the innocent.
 If you want simple you need to pick someone else to follow.

Following Jesus requires us to welcome the stranger as a friend and be wise about who we associate with. Following Jesus means rising above fear and responding with Christ-like love. God gives us the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
 If you want safe and simple you need to find someone else to follow… because Jesus is not safe, but he is good!

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” ~Emma Lazarus, Poem on the Statue of Liberty

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” ~Hebrews 13:2

Stop and thank God today because you get to go home tonight and sleep in your own bed, in a house, with your family, in a place you lovingly call home. And remember that on the other side of this globe are a whole lot of people who have no bed, no home, separated from their families, and driven away from their homeland. Just like Jesus, we call them refugees.

(Sources: Jared Henry, Jonathan McClure, Jeremiah McClure, Eric Frey, C.S. Lewis, Don Burrows)

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)

Missio Dei starts with God, not with something we decide that we are going to do for God. Mission does not start by implementing a new program or starting a new class at church. God’s mission starts with God himself. We too often assume that it begins when we discover a felt need and respond by giving money or doing a service project.

The “sending” Jesus speaks of in John 17 is plural. This means that we do not merely send people and funds out of the church to solve problems in the world. In other words, the church is not just a “sending agent.” The church is “sent” itself: as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One, when we participate in God’s mission to the world we are one on mission with God.

The church has no mission apart from its participation in God’s mission. As God expands the kingdom we either participate in what he is doing or we do not. To be missional means that the church actively engages kingdom-expansion by identifying where God is working and joining him in his activity. God is always working, but we must have eyes to see and ears to hear.

God is not just working in the church. Instead, he is always working in every part of society and culture. God is at work in the margins, in the places where no one is looking. God never starts in the center and works his way out. It’s his nature to start on the fringes and work inward. “Participation” means that we intentionally look for ways to join God in his mission. When we share in the life of God for the sake of the world, by default, we participate in the mission of God.

In Philippians 2 Paul uses the Greek word kenosis. Literally, it indicates Christ participating in the act of “self-emptying.” It demonstrates the out-poured love of God for the world. Emptying oneself is what being incarnational looks like. If you really want to take on the mind of Christ, if you really want to follow him… it requires kenosis.

How is this relevant for the church? Missional means moving away from attractional models of ministry to incarnational ways of existing with God for the benefit of the world. Only as we identify with the suffering of humanity can we identify with the suffering of Jesus.

God lives on the fringes. That’s where the story of the mutilated Body of Christ begins. This is where we see redemption being established. When we enter the margins intentionally and incarnationally we become the hands and feet of Jesus. Through this participation the kingdom of heaven is revealed.