Wednesday, February 22, 2017
“Unfortunately, the survey shows that we have more than a minor gap dividing the various factions in our country. We have a canyon of epic proportions that seems to be widening each year…That gap has emerged due to an absence of strong, visionary leadership…and the gap is only going to be eliminated by the presence of strong, visionary leadership.”
This is where I had to stop and shake my head.
Really? People disagree on political issues because of a lack of “strong, visionary leadership”?
Perhaps if your goal is total indoctrination of the populace you might look at differences of opinions as failures of top-down authority structures to adequately police the thoughts of their minions.
Is that what Barna believes the clergy is designed to accomplish? Are our leaders failing to maintain control of everyone’s uniformity of thought?
If you see Christianity as primarily about having the right information about God, then I suppose I can understand a reaction like this. To Barna, too many people have a disagreement about which information is correct about God. This is a problem caused by a failure of information brokers [pastors] to pass along the information to those under their authority [those in the pew].
In this paradigm, the problem can only be solved by better leaders who are more successful at indoctrinating their flock so that everyone agrees with one another [or, more accurately, with Barna].
He does go on to say:
“That leadership does not have to come from the White House; in fact, it may be more compelling if it comes from local and state leaders. But the inescapable reality is that unless strong leaders consistently promote a common vision and introduce ways of incorporating that vision into every activity and measurement being undertaken, the hyper-partisanship that has fragmented our national unity and discourse will continue to expand.”
Whoa. It’s worse than I thought.
Barna apparently wasn’t really even thinking about Christian leaders when he spoke of a failure of leadership to align the Church in America. He was looking to political leaders to do the job.
So, Jesus has passed the keys of the Kingdom to Mayors, Governors, Senators, Congressmen and Presidents?
Christians in America should look to politicians for guidance about spiritual issues? Churches should elect political gurus to learn more about how Jesus would want them to respond to issues like same-sex marriage, transgender rights, abortion, or even whether or not capitalism is preferable to socialism?
I doubt that.
Besides, doesn’t this seem like a “Chicken or the Egg” scenario to you? I mean, if American Christians are already confused and divided about all these issues – because of bad leadership – then how will they know if they are electing good leaders?
I do agree with Mr. Barna about one thing: American Christians are certainly divided over politics. His own research confirms this.
Where we disagree is this: I don’t think the solution is to get everyone to agree.
That’s right. Agreement is not necessary for unity. Not in the Body of Christ, anyway.
When the Christians in Corinth were divided over which Apostle they preferred, Paul reminded them to focus on Jesus. [See 1 Cor. 1]
When the Roman Christians were divided over whether it was sinful to eat meat sacrificed to idols, Paul told them to make up their own individual minds and get back to seeking Christ together and encouraging one another as the family of God. [See Rom. 14]
As Paul reminded the Galatians: “…we are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Gal. 3:28]
That means we are only one when we are focused on Christ. If we make Jesus the central focus, we have unity.
But if we make politics, or theology, or doctrine, or anything else the focus, we have division.
I also agree with Barna on one other thing: Our only hope is devotion to our leader.
He and I just seem to disagree about who that Leader happens to be.
My book “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” is available now at Amazon on Kindle and Paperback.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
I couldn't be more proud of our house church family. A few weeks ago, all on their own, they took the initiative to reach out to the people living in the Tent City that has built up along the Santa Ana River next to Angel's Stadium.
One brother, David, bought a case of emergency thermal blankets from Amazon to pass out to the people there. Another sister helped coordinate the time to meet - about an hour before our Sunday gathering - and suddenly we had a little team of people ready and willing to go and serve.
That morning there were six of us standing on the sidewalk and praying for God to lead us to the people He wanted us to minister to.
Right off the bat we got to pray for a couple who eagerly accepted the blankets and a handful of batteries. We even got to pray for them as they faced the uncertainty about where they might go next, as the County of Orange had recently brought in large rocks to store for flood control purposes [and coincidentally to displace everyone living there along the river bed].
Our next tent was "Louis" who was cheerful and smiling, even though he had been hit by a car trying to cross the street a few days earlier. We got to lay hands on him and to pray for him, which he gladly received. He let us know he had just been reading the Gospel of John before we arrived. It was still sitting there beside his lawn chair on a box.
Soon, we were praying for "Christopher" who received prayer for employment. When we finished he said, "I know prayer works. I used to walk with the Holy Spirit for about 3 years, but then I messed up so I know He's not very happy with me right now."
Wendy spoke up first and said, "I think we need to pray again."
So, once more, we all laid our hands on Chris and reminded him that God will never leave or forsake his children. We reminded Chris that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We reminded him that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ - not death, or life, or height or depth, or the present or the future, not angels or demons...nothing.
As we prayed for Chris I could sense his body relax. When we said "amen" I saw a look of relief and peace in his face. "Thank you," he said quietly. I knew those words of truth had penetrated his heart and exposed the lies of the enemy.
"God hasn't forgotten you, Chris," Wendy said. "He still loves you so much," another sister said to him.
"Thank you," Chris said again.
We all need reminding sometimes, I think. We need to remember that God is for us, not against us. We need to accept that He has accepted us, and that His love endures forever, and that His mercies are new every morning.
If you know someone who needs reminding of that, please share this post with them. They might need it more than you think.
Friday, February 17, 2017
One of the hardest things for Christians in America to understand is that God does not love them more than He loves people in other nations.
God's love for Iranians and for Koreans and everyone else on the planet is equally the same. [Which is to say "Ginormously gargantuan beyond imagination"].
There's an excellent example in the Bible of when others made a similar mistake in assuming that God was on the side of their nation.
Joshua, as he was preparing to go to battle against the pagans of Jericho, encountered a soldier he did not recognize. Little did he realize at the moment that he was standing in front of the Captain of the Angelic Host. [See Joshua 5:13-15]
Quickly he confronted the soldier and asked, "Are you with us, [the people of God] or with them [those ungodly pagans over there]?"
Now, to most of us, the answer should be simple: God is, of course, on the side of those who worship Him. Right?
The answer the Captain of the Lord's Army gives should give us pause. He says, "Neither."
Wait a minute. Why isn't God on the side of those who worship Him?
Answer: Because God does not follow us. We follow Him.
The real question we should ask is not, "Is God on our side?" but "Are we on God's side?"
There's a big difference.
If we identify ourselves as "Americans" and then assume that God is on our side, we forget that God also loves China, and South Africa, and Norway, etc. That means that God doesn't take sides.
But we do.
So, are we on God's side, or are we on the side of our nation?
The truth is, we cannot chose both sides at once. Why? Because America fights for American values and American interests and American prosperity.
God's priority is to bring everyone and everything under the authority of Christ. [See Ps.110:1; Luke 20:43; Acts 2:35; Heb. 1:13]
Our allegiance is to Christ and His eternal kingdom.
Our allegiance is to Christ and His eternal kingdom.
So, let me ask you: "Are you with Christ, or with your nation?"
My book "Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb" is available now on Amazon.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Many of you are aware that our family and our house church have been serving at a motel locally for the last 17 years or so.
Our ministry is largely to those people who live in the motel because they cannot afford to live in an apartment or purchase a home in Orange County, California where affordable housing is hard to come by.
We also minister to a lot of people who are actually homeless and either sleep outside, or in their vehicle, or in a local shelter whenever they can find a vacancy.
Last month I happened to see a witnessing tract that one of the people at the motel church had picked up during the week at one of the Christian shelters or ministries to the homeless.
I picked it up and flipped through it and what I saw really angered me. In fact, I decided to confiscate the tract and later tossed into the trash can.
Why? Because this "Good News" was anything but. As an example, near the end it said this:
"You are filthy, disgusting, hateful and offensive to God. If you are not a Christian, this is how He sees you."
Really? Is that what Jesus tells us? Is that how the Apostles share the Good News of the Kingdom with people?
What about the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus shares to let us know that the Father is longing for us to return and eager to welcome us with open arms?
What about the declaration from the mouth of Jesus that "God so loved the world..."?
Even for those who are far away from God, He does not see them as filthy or disgusting or hateful people. He sees people made in His own image whom He longs to draw nearer to Himself.
As Paul reminded the pagan Athenians: "[God] is actually not far from each one of us. For, 'In Him we live and move and have our being.'" [Acts 17:27-28]
That means those who are near and those who are far away both remain in His presence and are surrounded by His enduring love.
Then, later in the week, I listened to a worship song that said, "There is nothing good in me" and I had to stop and ask, "Is that true?"
Maybe before I came to Christ it could be said that there was nothing good in me, but now that I am in Christ, there IS something - or SOMEONE - very good in me: Jesus!
Jesus tells us that "I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." [John 14:20]
He also says:
And later Jesus says:
"Remain in me and I will remain in you." [John 15:4]
So, we should never say: "There is nothing good in me" ever again as long as we are in Christ.
There is someone good in me - and in you - and His name is Jesus.
Rest in His goodness. Trust in His transformational presence. Rely on Him to make you like Jesus.
"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." [1 John 4:16]
God's view of you is better than you think it is. He sees you as someone worth dying for. That means everyone around you is loved by God as well.
Don't buy the lie that God hates you, or is disgusted by you. Stop talking as if Jesus does not live inside you by His Holy Spirit.
There is SO MUCH good in you if you are in Christ and He is in you!
Do you believe it?
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
John Fischer has been one of my inspirations for years now. His column at the back of CCM Magazine kept my subscription going for years after I had stopped reading the rest of the magazine.
Then his books challenged me to rethink what it means to follow Jesus, and later I was overjoyed to meet him in person and discover more about his life, ministry and sincere dedication to Christ and His Kingdom.
So, it is my high honor and great privilege to share this conversation between John and myself about my new book "Jesus Untangled:Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb".
I hope you're blessed by what we talk about. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you haven't picked up a copy of the book yet, you can do that at Amazon.
Monday, February 13, 2017
Over the weekend a friend on Facebook questioned me about this issue of illegal immigration and the refugee crisis.
My original post was a link to an article that highlighted the inevitable clash between churches that offer amnesty or sanctuary to those fearing deportation, and the Immigration Enforcement Agencies that are tasked with finding, arresting and deporting these people.
His question was this:
"I am curious to hear your defense of someone illegally entering a foreign nation, and following that up with repeatedly violating multiple other laws of that nation while simultaneously illegally receiving a variety of monetary benefits...Surely you aren't going to argue that the mere "existence" of immigration laws represents an "unjust law" that - as a believer - can be morally ignored? I'm just trying to establish a 'baseline' for your argument, here. Where does 'just enforcement' begin, in your view? Or is there no such thing?"
It's a fair question and one that that I myself have wrestled with over the years as someone who has tried to reconcile my faith with everything else in my life.
In the past, I might have tried to do exactly what he asked me to do: Justify the legality of immigration laws in our country, or seek to directly balance the words of Jesus with American immigration policy.
But that's not what I do anymore. I have a different perspective now.
Here's how I answered my friend:
"Do I need to justify prostitution to care for a prostitute? Is it 'anti-criminal justice' to serve in prison ministry? Am I pro-drug use if I serve someone who is addicted to drugs?
"No. We show mercy and grace and the love of Jesus to everyone."
See, we don't need to limit our ministry to those who are "righteous" and "law-abiding". In fact, to do so would be completely pointless.
If someone is already "good" then who needs Jesus?
And Jesus was quick to point out that it was only those who were sick who need a physician, and it's only those who admit they are blind that receive healing for their blindness.
The greatest blindness, of course, is not recognizing our own blind spots. If we fail to see ourselves in the outcast, and the poor, and the broken, then we also fail to see Jesus in them as well.
"Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done it unto me," Jesus reminds us.
So, we really only love Jesus as much as we love the people around us who are poor, and weak, and hungry, and thirsty, and naked and in prison.
What's more, we are reminded in the New Testament that we ourselves are equally in need of Jesus and His mercy and grace and healing as anyone - and everyone - else we see:
So, do I support illegal immigration? No, I don't. But I do support loving everyone around me. If those people happen to be illegal immigrants, or refugees, or Muslims, or anything else, my job is to love them as much as I love Jesus.
If you're following Jesus, it's your job too.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
So excited to share this amazing conversation with everyone.
Brandon Andress is the host of my favorite podcast "Outside The Walls" and it was such a blessing and an honor to be invited to talk with him about my new book "Jesus Untangled".
The call almost didn't happen, with technical glitches and unexplained difficulties threatening to derail this interview at every turn. But we persisted and I am so glad we did.
Take 20 minutes and listen to this podcast. Unlike all the previous interviews I've done so far, Brandon takes inspiration from my book and presents his own perspective on entanglement and I know you'll be challenged and blessed by this one.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.