No Fear

Fear

While I will be the first to admit I kind of lost my mind during and after the 2016 election, I was genuinely upset by what was happening to the Republican party in it’s choice of Trump. You may really like him, or you may really hate him, but this is an important book that you should read. Bob Woodward is a highly respected journalist who became famous for breaking the Watergate story on President Nixon. Since then he has written many books about the presidents and the government. I’ve also read “Bush at War” when it came out.

While I believe that character matters, especially when it comes to our leaders, this book shows exactly the opposite with what is going on in the White House. Democrats dismissed President Bill Clinton’s moral indiscretions back in the ’90’s, while the Republicans seem to be doing the same with Trump.

I believe pretty strongly that we are living in a time where we have a lack of leadership in the government as well as the church. Morality and character seem to have been replaced by power and control by any means. I personally miss the days when the two parties, while having their differences, seemed to have enough respect for each other that they worked together for the common good of the country.  My belief in where we have failed was in the creation of the 24 hour news cycle. News transformed to be more commentary than factual reporting, thus creating news that tailors to your specific politics. If you are conservative, you have Fox News. If you are liberal, you have MSNBC. Truth has been hijacked to become truth AS I SEE IT. Facts don’t matter anymore. I just interpret things as I want them to be. We are truly living in post-modern times where truth is relative. Truth is what I make it to be, regardless of actual facts. And this is one aspect of Trump that deeply concerns me. He defines his own truth regardless of facts. And the scary thing is, his base (not saying all Republicans) eats it up. This concerns me. Again and again in the book, people in his own cabinet claim that Trump is incapable of the truth. Instead, he creates the narrative he wants.

The interesting thing here is that I grew up in the evangelical church that warned me about post-modernism and truth becoming relative. What is shocking to me is how 80% of the evangelicals embraced Trump. So what were Christians to do? Vote for Clinton? I don’t know what the answer was but I can say when it came to character, both parties picked candidates with glaring character flaws which made this election difficult for a lot of people. I have a relative that made the decision to not vote at all, and I have to say, now that time has passed, I have more respect for that decision. In every election I have been a part of, I always hear the phrase, “I am voting for the lesser of two evils.” Well, this election might have been the epitome of that more than any other election.

While there is a lack of character, integrity and truth from those in government, this presents an opportunity for the church to rise up and lead in these areas. Instead, you have a large percentage of evangelicals identifying themselves with Trump, and there are incredible moral failing playing out in the evangelical and Catholic churches, and many denominations are not leading in the way of Christ because they are too enamored by the “way of Caesar” with power and control.

My hope is that we as a church, the Bride of Christ, wake up to the history of when the church tried to identify itself with political power. Every time it failed. The church lost in a big way, again and again. It is time we find our main identity with Jesus and the kingdom of God more than any other system. It is that which should unify us above the mess that our country finds itself in.  Truth matters. Character matters. Jesus matters.

If we want to have any hope in reaching younger generations we need to show them the way of Christ lived out through the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Jesus. We need to be able to talk about what is true and false in both political parties allowing the Bible to be our standard. We need to model what it means to serve the least and the lost. We need to lead through servant leadership, empowering others to live lives of community, love and respect. The church needs to be counter-cultural in this respect. So my encouragement to you is to tread lightly when it comes to politics. It would be nice to have moral leaders who live out character that you would want your kids to look up to.  Unfortunately that is not the case. So instead of finding our main identity in political parties or leaders, let’s get serious about finding our main identity in Christ, and Christ alone. And let’s be honest, Jesus would not easily fit into either political party. My fear is that we would not recognize him if he were to appear and we would crucify him all over again.  Let’s get back to the business of the church being the bride of Christ and live such counter-cultural lives that actually ATTRACT people to Him instead of repelling people away from Him because of our political affiliations. We must rise above this.

 

Restaurant Work and the Church

 

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When I think of visiting New York City I often think of Broadway productions I want to see. But after reading Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table” I now want to visit NYC just to try out his restaurants. Unbeknownst to me, the last time I was there I did go to a Shake Shack not realizing the story behind the restaurant.

I first heard Danny Meyer at the Global Leadership Summit back in August of 2018. He struck me as a very dynamic and inspiring speaker which lead me to buy his book. This should be required reading for anyone in the hospitality business as well as churches. My grandmother used to have a cross-stitch frame that said “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This book hammers that point hard. Churches need to consider what a visitor’s first impressions might be upon visiting the church. If there is no initial hospitality, chances are that person may never return again.

There was so much in this book that I enjoyed, but I also felt that, although the church does not fall into the restaurant business, there is a lot to learn here about hospitality and leadership and how we can apply it to our context.

One thing that impacted me was Danny’s use of the 51% rule. What he meant by that is that he would hire people that were 49% skills and 51% character and people skills. Danny states that “far more important to me than a friend’s skills was always his of her goodness as a person. . . . I want the kind of people on my team who naturally radiate warmth, friendliness, happiness, and kindness. It feels genuinely good to be around them. There’s an upbeat feeling, a twinkle in the eye, a dazzling sparkle from within. I want to employ people I’d otherwise choose to spend time with outside of work. Many people spend a large percentage of their waking hours at work. From a selfish standpoint alone, if that’s your choice, it pays to surround yourself with compelling human beings from whom you can learn, and with whom you can be challenged to grow.” (pp.142-144). In the context of the church, I believe that this is true for those on staff and leadership. Skills can develop and be taught, while heart and people skills are at least 1% more important.

Danny believes in servant leadership as a bottom-up manager. He makes the point that “An organization puts itself in grave danger when it permits integrity to be compromised.” (p. 198). While this may apply to management, waiters and cook, I believe that this is essential for the church. It is imperative that a church staff and leadership have integrity and a servant-leadership model toward the rest of the congregation. In modeling this, we hope to empower the congregation toward love and good deeds!

Another great chapter in Danny’s book dealt with how you handle problems. Danny comments that “the secret of the game is anticipating mistakes, harnessing them, and addressing them in constructive ways so that we end up in a better spot than if we had never made them in the first place.”  (p. 221). He gave a lot of great illustrations in which costumers had a mistake occur, and then how the management of the restaurant didn’t allow the mistake to define their experience, but found a way to go over and above in creating a positive outcome that would overcome the mistake. This can be done in the context of the church with a simple phone call, visit, or letter.

In the context of church it is important that we are hospitable, that we empower people to live into being a child of God, and that we lead with integrity.  Granted, in a good church, this will not necessarily apply to the sermon because the job of the pastor is to teach the Bible within the context of our lives today and I know sometimes that can leave a person feeling really good, or convicted, or angry because they are not ready or willing to receive the message. But in the context of first impressions, we should absolutely have a hospitality team that helps people feel recognized and important. We should expect high moral integrity from our leaders which should inspire the rest to live better lives. And we should look to make difficult situations better with real conversation, warmth and kindness.

John Perkins and the Lives that Really Matter

All LivesDo all lives matter? The answer seems easy. All of us would say that all lives matter. And the fact is, you would be right. But the reality that we live in today does impose a hierarchy signifying that certain lives matter more than others.  Throughout American history we have seen many times in which certain people’s lives were seen as less significant than others. This is the heart of what John Perkins is getting at in his book “Do All Lives Matter?” John states early in the book that “if we are going to make progress with regard to behaving as if all lives matter, we need to make a genuine effort to understand others and the realities and struggles they face.” (p. 25).

This is not a book advocating for violence to advance it’s cause although we need to be sympathetic to why someone might act out from a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Although John has faced a lot of discrimination in his life he reasons that the solution is not to fight violence with violence but to fight it with love. He says that “We need to work together to create a climate that clearly acknowledges that all lives matter. All people have inherent dignity but many don’t know it, feel it, or believe it.” (p. 32)

John goes on to illustrate within our history when indigenous lives, women’s lives and black lives have been and still are being treated as lesser than others. It is important that we understand our history and the ripple effects that are still being felt by our treatment of the marginalized. In making the case for the continued marginalization of black people, John states that “Yes, African American people – as all people – ought to take personal responsibility for making the right choices, even in the midst of an uphill battle. But this is easier said than done. To relegate the slavery era and subsequent generations of racist legal and social policies to the past is not just logically absurd but is at the least insensitive if not immoral. Centuries of discrimination continue to shape the lives and limit the choices of African American people in our country today.” (p. 43)

The goal that all of us essentially wants is to live a life of peace and love knowing that justice is fair and balanced for all people. Instead of causing more reasons to fracture and splinter us as a society, we need to strive for wholeness, equality and reconciliation for all. And the majority should not sit back and ignore the problems of the minorities and marginalized but instead, work together so that everyone has hope and equality. Do all lives matter? Absolutely! Is it a reality in our country though? No. So we have work to do to build bridges and unity between groups so that we can eventually say that all lives really do matter. And might I add that the church should be the leader in modeling what this looks like to the society and helping to implement change in the larger culture.  Perkins reminds us that “Laws might change behavior but they cannot change hearts. A true revolution in our country – one that claims victory over violence and eliminates all exclusions to the proclamation that all lives matter – will come only as hearts are changed and as we recognize who our neighbors are and learn to truly love them as ourselves.” (p. 71) It is the church’s responsibility to live this out as kingdom believers recognizing and living out our unity in Christ. Jesus made a regular habit of identifying with the marginalized by bringing hope, healing and restoration into their lives. It is up to us to do the same.

It’s Time to Repent

Crisis-Ahead-rIf anybody is paying attention to the news in politics and faith it is quite certain that we are in a crisis right now. I wasn’t old enough to remember the Nixon administration but I believe that we are in a much more critical point in our history right now. Our government is caught up in one scandal after another. And this is not just typical politics. This is a crisis of integrity, leadership and ethics on a scale I have never seen before. But then we look at the church and in several pockets we see the same type of crisis playing out. Willow Creek, a very influential church to the global church community, is in one of their own scandals as well as the Catholic church having yet again another pedophile ring that was covered up. This is not about being a republican versus a democrat or a protestant versus a Catholic. Instead, what I am seeing is a massive failure of leadership on a national scale. Our government is a mess, (and if you don’t believe that your ignoring facts and labeling it as fake news), and I would say the church in America is a mess also.

So what are we to do?

Take sin seriously. The first thing we need to do is to understand how our sin can be a major factor in not only harming ourselves but in harming others. Our culture is rampant in creating a culture of fear. We see this in immigration, we see this in our idolatry of the gun, we see this in politics, and on and on. We must be afraid of “the other”. If they infringe on our rights we demonize those who disagree with us. Jesus states in Matthew 18:6-9 that:                                                                                               

 If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

This passage is not necessarily endorsing killing perpetrators or self-mutilation. Instead Jesus is making the case that we need to take sin very seriously. What we do will have ripple-effects and consequences. I am reminded of the incident in which King David took it upon himself to rape Bathsheba then cover it up by murdering her husband. He suffered the consequences for those action when the prophet Nathan confronted him, but little did he realize his children were watching all this play out. The very sins of David impacted his children as they too became complicit in rape and murder. We need to take sin seriously by realizing the importance for us to be examples for the next generations. And if all we do is harm others through hate, fear, violence and division then it would be better to have a large millstone tied around your neck and drowned in the sea.

Also when we see sin taking root in our own lives Jesus doesn’t mince words in that we need to CUT IT OUT. By all means take it very seriously and get help to stop it in it’s tracks so that it doesn’t lead to destruction.

Now this may seem contradictory, but the second thing we need to do is humble ourselves and realize we are sinners in need of the mercy of God. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a parable about two people in the temple. Here is what happened:

 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All to often we want to look at ourselves as better than others. With social media it is even easier now to compare and contrast everything about you in relation to others, hoping that you will get more likes than you last post. Many of us portray the perfect image of ourselves. We like to think that we are basically a good person. But when we look at this parable we see the Pharisee gloating in his own self-righteousness while the tax collector begged for God’s mercy because he understood the heart of his problem, he was a sinner. Imagine if the church made it a practice, just like many say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, if we also said the tax collector’s prayer, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” First of all this prayer does not shy away from the root issue: we are sinners. But also, it is a merciful God that takes care of us. We need more humility and more mercy. We also need to be people who show mercy to those affected by sin, especially victims of sin.

And finally, we need to be people of unity and peace. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14-18

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Jesus has brought peace and unity creating within us a new humanity. We need to stop giving into generational categories or political categories or any categories that separate us and cause us to judge others. Jesus came to unite the Jews with the Gentiles thus creating a new humanity that demonstrates peace. We are called to be people of peace. The church of all places needs to be a place that people know they can receive mercy and grace. Yet too many feel that the church today is too judgmental, and too political, and too self-righteous. This should not be who we are. Those who are struggling with sin and those who are victims of sin need to find a safe place for confession, repentance and restoration. We must get back to the roots of who we are as the people of God, people of grace, mercy and peace where there is no more division but unity among one another.

May God have mercy on me, a sinner.

Where Does Science Fit Into Faith?

 

AndrewRoot

Whenever I read something form Andrew Root, I know it is going to be deep and I am going to learn a lot. His latest book “Exploding Stars, Dead Dinosaurs and Zombies: Youth Ministry in the Age of Science” did not disappoint. Andrew begins the book with a story about a youth pastor and his teens who ask some deep questions about trying to relate faith to science.  Andrew makes the case that Science and Faith are not diametrically opposing fields. Instead he shows how Faith sometimes oversteps its boundaries by forcing the Bible to speak for Science, and how sometimes Science oversteps its boundaries by making Faith claims. So Faith and Science are not opposed to each other but they can not take over one from the other. Instead, Andrew Root sees a significant overlap where Science and Faith can learn from each other.

Andrew makes a case for theistic evolution throughout the book. He shows how Creationists are forcing science into the text of Scripture and misreading it for how it is supposed to be interpreted. But he also shows how some scientists use their field to make comprehensive faith claims that overstep what science is supposed to do. Andrew also shows how many of the sciences were birthed out of Christianity as Christ-followers wanted to study different aspects of God’s creation and discover how it expands and complements our faith.

Andrew also tackles an interpretation of Genesis 1-2 in light of other pagan creations stories that Israel would have been familiar with. Israel took these stories and crafted their own which showed a personal God who wanted to have  a relationship with us as opposed to a Zeus-like god who created humanity to serve the gods.

Much of what this book tries to do is show how, with a proper understanding of what science and faith are about, they can complement each other. Too many teens are taught the Bible as if it were science, only to leave for college, take their first Earth Science class, and walk away from the faith seeing many of the contradictions that they were brought up to believe as “Science”. We need to have a better understanding of the sciences and how they can help us have a stronger faith. And we need to allow our faith to speak when considering what we can learned from the sciences. Throughout history there have been several times where the church believed something as fact because of how they were interpreting certain passages in Scripture only to have science show that that particular view was wrong. An example was that many believed that the earth was the center of the universe and everything else revolved around it, until Galileo came along and proved that the Earth actually revolves around the sun. This rocked the world of the church and it caused them to eventually rethink how their theology speaks to the truth of the cosmos. I believe we are in a similar time where science has discovered that the earth has actually been around for billions of years and we have evolved over time, yet there are those in the faith community who oppose that based on their view of a literal translation of Genesis 1-2.

This was a fantastic book and I would highly encourage anyone who is curious about the relationships between faith and science to read this. If you are a Young Earth Creationist my bet is that you won’t like this depending on how firm you are in interpreting Genesis 1-2 as literal science. But this book may help you to see a different perspective in how faith and science can live in harmony with each other and actually complement each other.

The Global Leadership Summit 2018

gls

Typically every year I sign up for the two day conference called the Global Leadership Summit. It always inspires me and fires me up for the new year ahead. This year I wasn’t sure what to do though because of all the fallout happening at Willow Creek centered around misconduct from their Senior Pastor, Bill Hybels. As a result of what was going on I noticed that some of the speakers I was really looking forward to were pulling out. So I was having second thoughts about going. But then some of my fellow staff members said they were going to go at the last minute so I signed up to go too. Part of what I wanted to know was how the conference leaders would address what exactly was going on with the situation at Willow Creek. Thankfully they addressed the “elephant in the room” immediately at the beginning of the conference. What was said I believed was done with truth, justice and grace. In the era of the #MeToo movement this could not just be swept under the carpet. My heart breaks for the church, but I feel like this situation is a very big cautionary signal for all of those in ministry. We need to recognize that sin is real and we need to be aware of our own temptations and have people we are accountable to. There have been many instances throughout my life in which I have seen people who have gotten caught up in sin and it has destroyed all that they have worked for. It is truly sad but I must also have the humility and caution to know that it could happen to me too if I am not careful.

With that said, it ended up being a really great conference after all. My hope is that Willow Creek and the Global Leadership Summit end up being bigger than the person who created it all. The world is starving for leadership, integrity and hope. This conference always finds a wide spectrum of voices that inspire, encourage and uplift.

Now I want to just jot down some of the highlights of some of the speakers so I don’t forget the lessons learned.

Craig Groeschel started and ended the conference. Both talks were extremely powerful. In his opening talk, he hit home that fact that leaders needed to have a profound humility and a furious resolve to speak up for those with no voice. He also stated that everyone wants to follow a leader who makes people feel valued, inspired, and empowered. He showed how Jesus did this through showing grace, serving others and empowering others to expand the mission.

It was the first time I ever heard T.D. Jakes and boy what a great preaching voice he has. He talked about having a big vision beyond what you can imagine. He also hit home that we must learn from our failures and not give up but soar.

One of my favorite presenters was Danny Mayer. He is a big restaurateur. He talked about 6 emotional skills that are celebrated but not learned: 1) being kindhearted / optimistic; 2) being a person of curiosity; 3) strong work ethic; 4) empathy; 5) self-awareness; and 6) integrity. These character traits and valuable to have.

Danielle Strickland was another amazing speaker who emphasized that men and women are better together. We can not give into despair but we must be aware of how power and sex can be used to create violence and damage to relationships.

While familiar with the writings of John Maxwell, I have never heard him in person. He did a great job in emphasizing that we need to put ourselves in places with people who will inspire your heart and mind.

Then there was Erwin McManus. While familiar with the fact that he is a pastor and an author, I have never heard him speak either. He gave a powerful talk about how he came down with cancer and how that experience changed his life. It was the “Seize the Day” talk about making the most of every second that God has given you here on this planet. Excellent and very moving.

Simon Sinek was another speaker that I really enjoyed. He talked about the 5 things for an infinite player: 1) a just cause; 2) trusting teams; 3) a worthy rival (not a competitor but someone who exists to make me better); 4) essential flexibility and 5) the courage to lead.

Craig Groeschel wrapped up the conference. He talked about anticipatory leadership where we anticipate what is going on instead of just reacting. Anticipatory leadership helps us to 1) develop awareness, 2) discern future threats and possibilities and 3) disrupt, lead with healthy skepticism and bold optimism.

Overall, I would highly recommend this conference for everyone in ministry or business. All the speakers are incredible and inspiring. I always come away from it fired up for a new year of ministry.

So I Heard This Switchfoot Song

PerkinsI am a big Switchfoot fan. I have loved their musical throughout the time I have been in ministry. It has been fun to see them evolve as artists. But there was one song that stuck in my head called “The Sound”. The reason was because of this lyric:

The static comes alive
Beneath the broken skies
John Perkins said it right
Love is the final fight.

I remember at concerts wondering who this John Perkins guy was that they were referencing. Well the time has finally come where I did my research and got some of his books and I am now diving into his story. The first book I started with was his biography. It is titled “Let Justice Roll Down”. And wow was this an incredible read. I finished it in two days. I could stop reading it!

The story began with John’s childhood and teen years in rural Mississippi back in the 1940’s and ’50’s. He was a witness to his brother being wrongfully shot by a cop. As his story unfolds it is clear how racism has affected his family. He states that “prejudice in the South is both paternalistic and antagonistic. What most Southern whites what is for blacks to be part of the Southern system, to have a ‘proper’ relationship to the white Establishment. That’s why independence for a black in the South is a worse crime than merely being illegal.” (p. 34)

At one point in his story, he ended up moving out to California where things were much different. He became a Christ follower and fully gave himself to practicing the faith. He eventually believed that God was calling him back to Mississippi to help the people he knew who were still living under a system of oppression and racism. John helped to build up the community by investing his time in starting faith groups, better quality education and local businesses that would help to employ African Americans. John says that the problems rest in the fact that “Two-hundred years of slavery, followed by two or three generations of economic exploitation, political oppression, racial discrimination and educational deprivation, had created in black people feelings of inferiority, instability and total dependency. The implanting of such negative values in a people deprives them of any true sense of self-worth, or any real sense of self-identity. And the end result of negative values is negative behavior that is self-destructive in its effect. Dehumanizing values only and always produce destructive behaviors.” (p. 101)

John goes on to explain how he took a stand to get many of his black community to get involved in being registered voters. The local law enforcement did not take to kindly to what they were seeing so they set up John and his friends to be arrested and brutalized by the cops. At this point in the story I could see how easily it would be to want to become violent back at the aggressors. It would be so easy to succumb to hate and want to fight back. Instead John reflects that “I couldn’t hate back. When I saw what hate had done to them, I couldn’t hate back. I could only pity them. I didn’t ever want hate to do to me what it had already done to those men.” (p. 158). Not surprisingly John and his friends who were brutalized by the police did not receive the justice they deserved.  But as a result of his faith, John learned to forgive those men and give it over to God, not giving into hate and violence. Through it all he came out stronger than ever as a force for good, continuing his efforts in evangelism, Christian education, justice reform, social action, and economic reform.

John concludes by claiming that “if sin can exist at every level of government, and in every human institution, then also the call to biblical justice in every corner of society must be sounded by those who claim a God of Justice as their Lord” (p. 185). We must not turn a blind eye to what minorities are struggling with but instead, we must engage within the system to fight for justice, equality, and fairness for all.

This book was excellent in helping me to better understand racism, social injustice, and how the system is stacked especially against minorities within our country. But it also showed a compelling view that, as a result of having faith in Christ, we need to take a stand against corruption and injustice and create a better world for ALL, where everyone can have dignity, respect and worth simply for being a human being created in the image of God.

Reflections on The Prophets

prophets1I just finished reading through the prophets in the Old Testament. What made an impression on me was the way in which God held whole nations accountable for their actions. He held them accountable for their violence, their greed, and how they treated their own people as well as other nations. Special care was directed at the people on the fringe: the alien, the stranger, the poor.

Reflecting on this, it scares me how God must view America right now. What we have done at the border separating families and abusing kids is reprehensible. Nationalism has risen it’s ugly head and become it’s own religion. The idea of “America First” flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching that the first will be last and the last will be first. The idea that we are a “Christian Nation” is really laughable. America needs prophetic voices to call out injustice and hypocrisy right now. Unfortunately over 70% of evangelical Christians approve of where we are politically. Then there are churches who do not connect the dots from Scripture to our modern day problems as a nation. Instead they preach a Gospel devoid of justice. To show any type of criticism toward our nation could alienate you from a percentage of your audience. But we need prophetic voices that call out the injustices that are happening right under our noses. A church that just preaches a feel-good message without ever calling for justice is the very thing that some of the false prophets throughout the Old Testament were called out for and were held accountable.

I worry about the American Church. It has become seduced with political power and has mixed religion with nationalism. This is just out-right idolatry. We are guilty of some of the very same sins that Israel was guilty of and were held accountable for throughout Scripture. And to think that there are those who believe that our religious freedoms are under attack. Once again, we need to look at all the examples throughout Scripture and history of those who were really persecuted and executed for their faith. That was real persecution. Yet story after story you see how God brings beauty out of the ugliness of Christian persecution. They were willing to suffer and be executed for their faith. Yet in our country we are told we can now say “Merry Christmas”. Really? Was that really a thing?

It is time for an Awakening. For a new generation of Christ-followers who love God and love people, but are also willing to call out injustice and seek ways to mobilize the church to be more prophetic. These are dark times we are living in yet either we are oblivious to it or we are complicit as we praise our national leaders, demand our rights, and demand that we are first. I honestly wrestle with what I am seeing with our nation as well as the contemporary church. It is ironic that we live in the information age yet the church is becoming more and more biblically illiterate. We want our own personal Jesus that makes us feel good about ourselves but we ignore the God who holds nations accountable for their sins. It time for the church to revisit the Prophets and realize that we have a responsibility to care for the alien, stranger, poor, outcast, the people on the fringes. We need to get back to reaching out instead of protecting the base. The church ought to be the consciousness of the nation, not a complicit partner with the nation.

There is a reason why so many people are walking away from the American Church and I believe that one of those reasons is that we have become irrelevant. We are not seeking justice, we are not offering mercy and we certainly are not acting humble. We have drifted a long way from what Scripture teaches us. May God have mercy on us and may his Spirit awaken us to the truth.

Do We Really Believe That God is Love?

SinnersDo we worship a schizophrenic God? A flat reading of the Bible seems to suggest that.

When we look at the God of the Old Testament He seems violent, vindictive, angry and wrathful. But then when you get to the New Testament we see God in Jesus forgiving sinners, loving the lost, and forgiving his murderers. Did God change? Traditional Christian theology claims that God is immutable. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. If that is true then why is it that a flat reading of Scripture seems to suggest that God does change?

Brian Zahnd in his book “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News” lays out his interpretation of Scripture in that Jesus is the climax of the story of God and the full revelation of who God truly is. God is LOVE. Brian begins with this premise and then goes on to show how this fleshes out in his theology. He tackles such topics like: Did God kill Jesus? What is the significance of the cross? What is the Kingdom of God and how is it relevant to the present? What is hell and who goes there? How do we interpret Revelation?

I found this book to be incredibly refreshing. I have often struggled with how to understand the God of the Old Testament in relation to the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Any thinking Christian must wrestle with this. Brian offers up a well-thought out theology that sees Jesus as the full revelation of who God is: He is sacrificial love. And Brian does not just isolate one or two verses but he heads right into many of the questions and struggles people have with trying to understand the true nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. This would be a great book to study as a group and have a dialogue with friends as you read through it. You may not agree with everything he is saying but boy would it be a great discussion.

There were three times in my life where I came to a realization of who I thought God was and what He wanted me to do about it. The first time involved getting the crap scared out of me watching a 1970’s movie version of “Left Behind”. So fear was my first experience.

My second spiritual awakening was when I came to the realization that I was a sinner. This happened when I was in my early 20’s. It was a powerful experience and it set me in the direction of going into ministry.

But my third spiritual awakening was in my late 30’s when I attended a weekend retreat called the “Walk to Emmaus”. This was the most powerful of the three. I truly felt like no other time in my life that God really did love me. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. And it is with that experience that I really fell into what Brian Zahnd was writing about in this awesome book.

Being White in America

I recently read “White Awake: An honest look at what it means to be white” which helped to bring much clarity to issues within our country related to race. Author Daniel Hill begins by telling his story on how he wanted to create a multi-ethnic church in Chicago. While he had good intentions, the results for diversity were abysmal. Much of his congregation was just as white as he was. In attempting to find out why he was unable to attract a multi-ethnic crowd he decided to visit with a hand full of local non-white clergy. In doing so, he was humbled to realize how little he knew about culture that impacted people of color. His mentors exposed the fact that almost every possible influence in Daniel’s life was from white culture. Daniel realized quickly that people of color have many different experiences as a minority culture in contrast to the dominate influence of white culture in America. What seems normal to most white people is not necessarily what people of color experience. All throughout our 200+ history people of color have been judged as “less than” in comparison to white culture. Daniel states that “When the journey begins to feel like any combination of scary, confusing, disorienting, or even painful, we have a privilege that people of color do not: we can walk away; we can go back to ‘normal,’ if we choose.” (p. 38)

The author then takes us on a journey to process the reality of white culture in contrast to the experiences and culture of people of color. Daniel Hill goes through the various steps of understanding as we go through encounter, denial, disorientation, shame, self-righteousness, awakening and active participation. As you go through these levels you become aware of the fact that what seems normal to white people is not the same as people of color in America. Daniel says “I don’t believe slavery ended in 1865, I believe it just evolved. It turned into decades of racial hierarchy that was violently enforced . . . through acts of racial terror.” (p. 57). While the institution of slavery was defeated, the effects and ideology continues to live on throughout American history to the present. The author articulates the importance of seeing ourselves, as well as everyone else, as image bears of God. As children of God, we are of equal and extraordinary value and we are all apart of the kingdom of God.

But we must begin with denial and recognize all the ways in which white culture has harmed people of color. We all too often sugarcoat our history and do not face up to the reality of how people of color were negatively impacted by white culture. A recent example of that is in the fact that if a person of color commits a crime against Americans it is typically labeled as terrorism. But with all the white guys committing acts of gun violence rarely is it labeled as terrorism. Instead we learn about how troubled their past must have been to commit such a crime and that they must have suffered from mental illness. Daniel hammers away in saying that “our citizens do not share a common memory. People of white European ancestry remember a history of discovery, open lands, manifest destiny, endless opportunity, and American exceptionalism. Yet communities of color, especially those with African and indigenous roots, remember a history of stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, boarding schools, segregation, cultural genocide, internment camps, and mass incarceration.” (p. 79)

I remember my first history classes at college. My professor prided himself in telling us that he was going to expose us to the history that our parents and schools hid from us. I took a class on the American Indians and another one about African American history. Needless to say I walked out of those classes feeling shame and anger for how people of color have been treated by the dominate white culture. But in “White Awake” the author doesn’t stop with just an awakening to the truth but he moves us to feel lament in solidarity with people of color. Daniel says, “Lament gives us resources to sit in the tension of suffering and pain without going to a place of shame or self-hate. Lament allows us to acknowledge the limitations of human strength and to look solely to the power of God instead.” (p. 112)

The author then goes on to caution the reader against feeling self-righteous towards those who are not at the same level of understanding as you might be. If we fall into this trap we are as guilty as the Pharisees. Instead we need to repent when we fall into the trap of categorizing people into us vs. them.

The final chapters explain the importance of seeing ourselves as kingdom people created in the image of God. It is the kingdom of God that is at war with the powers of this dark world (Eph. 6:12) and we need to fully realize this. The hierarchies of race and categories we put ourselves in to feel superior over others is wrong, demonic and not of God. We need to see how our present culture implements these to separate and divide us. And our response needs to be to live as kingdom people knowing that we are all created in the image of God. Through Jesus we can find redemption, forgiveness and unity as kingdom people.

I highly recommend this book. It’s time we awaken to the ways in which our history and culture has divided us from people of color. We need to step out of our white superiority and live into the kingdom of God with all people. We need to acknowledge how sin has divided us, and through repentance and reconciliation, we can find true restoration as kingdom people.