Friday, February 28, 2014

Rethinking the “Culture War” – Becoming Servants of All – Part II

“It’s the economy, stupid!”  For those who remember the 1992 Presidential Election, we remember those famous words of Bill Clinton. Simple, short and successful toward helping Clinton become President. 

It’s time for another simple, short and hopefully successful saying - “It’s the Gospel, saints!” 

If you follow the news, you know this week that Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, typically a staunch Conservative, vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples and avoid lawsuits if they refuse services.  This is no doubt a complex and divisive issue, even among Christians.  

Many Conservative Christians responded with alarm, while Liberal Christians applauded the decision. Many others no doubt just avoided the sticky subject. Some probably prayed “Maranatha!”  Certainly, I’ll agree with that prayer but I’m challenging myself again to rethink this “Culture War.” 

In response to Brewers decisions, the Conservatives spoke out about how Jesus would not have “baked the cake.” Some pointed to the women caught in adultery to whom Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” Some railed against the fact that Christian business owners should not be forced to go against their conscience, because same-sex couples are “living in sin.” 

Other used slippery slope arguments that this opens the door to all kinds of other decisions. Why that is a result I’m not sure but slippery slopes arguments are typically logical fallacies. In this case I think they miss the point of what this decision was really all about, which I’ll get to in a moment.

On the Liberal Christian side, Jim Wallis weighed in with this statement: 

“But the perception of Christian faith is in grave danger when Christians try to use the law to publically discriminate against those who don’t adhere to their point of view. I am a deep believer in religious liberty, but it must not be used as an excuse for discrimination in the public square or the public marketplace against people with whom we disagree.”

Jan Brewer said of her veto, "Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard one example where business owners' religious liberty has been violated."

I know my Conservative friends are not going to like what I’m about to say next but it needs to be said - Wallis and Brewer are right. 

Wallis is most certainly right about the negative perception of Christians. Even if we are living by the Gospel and loving our neighbors as ourselves, the “world” will still hate Christ followers (Matthew 10:22). But we don’t need to give them more reason to do so (Matthew 5:44).

Wallis is also correct that it’s not serving the public well by seeking to pass laws that discriminate against anyone on the basis of religious liberty. In fact, and while I’m no Constitutional attorney, it seems to me to fly in face of one of our most cherished American values - the 1st Amendment. Asking the government for the right to discriminate, on the basis of religious liberty, sets the government up as an overseer of religion - certainly never a good thing and not very Conservative. 

Jan Brewer is right that by serving same-sex couples a business owner’s religious liberty has not been violated. No one is saying that a business owner cannot believe what they want and practice their religion. But doing business is not a religious practice. The only thing that may be violated is the business owner’s conscience - not their religion - and there is a difference. 

Strongly held personal convictions are not what Christianity is all about. Jesus is! We need to draw a distinction between our religious liberty to follow Jesus and our values that inform our conscience. It’s not about our conscience. In fact, we may have to violate our conscience, or at least recalibrate it, to live our faith publically, because all that we do should be about one thing - “It’s the Gospel, saints!”

The Apostle Peter needed to recalibrate his conscience so that the Gospel would go forward. Peter didn’t need to agree with what the Lord would reveal to him but he was compelled to obey it. We read the account in Acts 10:9-23: 

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’
The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’
Peter went down and said to the men, ‘I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?’
The men replied, ‘We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.’ Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”

For a faithful Jew like Peter it was a cultural sin to eat anything impure or unclean. Moreover, it was a cultural sin to enter the house of or entertain a Gentile. But we see Peter here recalibrating his position. We don’t know if Peter’s conscience found acceptance with what the Lord was doing.  Peter seems to struggle with the idea at first. What we do know is that Peter obeyed. 

Obedience is better than sacrifice!  (1 Samuel 15:22)

Apples and oranges some will argue, comparing eating to doing business with a same-sex couple. Not really. The point is that our conscience is not greater than the love God has for the lost. If what we believe erects a barrier to the Gospel it needs to be torn down. 

As one commentator said, “It’s hard to witness to people that you won’t serve.” We can agree that the same-sex couple is “living in sin.” We can agree that God will judge them for their “sins,” apart from Christ’s forgiveness. But we should also agree that what this couple needs is a loving witness of the power of the Gospel. 

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV). The Lord calls us to be “servants of all” (Mark 9:35). Perhaps that is the real issue, the crux of the matter, not wanting to or knowing how to keep Jesus command properly. But that’s what we’re called to for Living Sent Today.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rethinking the Great Commission: Reclaiming Disciple Making Everywhere

Jesus said, “Everything has been given to me, therefore, as you live your life, make disciples, teaching them to go into their world and demonstrate the Good News of who I am to all whom they come in contact with, baptizing those who believe, so that repentance for the forgiveness of sins will come to all people everywhere, and teach them to live their lives in the same way I did, so that many will witness to my life in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. You can do this, for I am with you always, everywhere you go, to the very end of the age” 

Well not exactly in those word, at least the way it's recorded. 

This is a compilation of five Great Commission statements taken together. Did you know there were five Great Commission statements in the New Testament? There are others in the Old Testament but that for another post

When you think of the Great Commission most of us probably think of the passage in Matthew 28:18-20. Some might know Acts 1:8 but do we know what Mark 16:15 or Luke 24:47 say and if you read this blog hopefully you are familiar with John 20:21 (if not, look at the banner). 

The other day, I had one of those “ah ha” moments when I heard a statement to the effect that there are five Great Commission statements given in the four Gospels, plus Acts, and that they run in sequence that when considered together shines a greater light on how Jesus was instructing his disciples to live. 

The above is my attempt to synthesize Jesus statements starting in Matthew 28:18 and ending in verse 20 , which sandwich Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47 and John 20:21 and Acts 1:8. 

All that Jesus wanted us to know about the assignment he was giving his disciples, needs to be considered between these two “all” statements Jesus makes in the Great Commission. 

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus begins the commissioning by stating that “all” authority had been given to him. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus concludes by stating that he would be with us for “all” time.  In between and in conjunction with the other statement of the other 3 Gospels Jesus instructs us on how we are to live. By living this way, Jesus message of repentance and forgiveness would flow everywhere people live. 

The problem we have however is that too few actually live this way, so many are left without this knowledge. How do we reclaim the life Jesus meant for us to live? 

It’s vital we understand the beginning of the Great Commission is in Jesus. By telling us that all authority had been given to him, we can know that the assignment Jesus gave us can be accomplished. 

It’s vital we know that Jesus wasn’t giving us a task that was too difficult, something we couldn’t do. His presence makes the assignment not only possible but practicable and profitable – for God’s purposes. It is after all God’s mission! 

What the Church has focused on, with respect to the Great Commission, has been primarily two things. First, there are those who understand the Great Commission as a call to missions, which primarily is defined as overseas or “frontier” missions to the “nations.” It is that but more.

Others see a call to teaching, “teaching them to obey” a moral standard or at least attempting to do so. To become better people is the goal. The result is we dismiss God’s mission in the world, thinking we simply need to live “right.” Missions is for others "called" to forsake all and follow Jesus. 

These understandings set up a false dichotomy between missions as a special calling and the life of the average Christian. Neither of these, alone, is what Jesus was commissioning his church for. 

Last week I blogged about the Great Omission of the Apostles Creed, about how the Church Fathers who gave us this Creed missed a vital part of the life and ministry of Jesus. 

Another problem you will note in the Apostles Creed is that it doesn’t mention making disciples. But making disciples is what the Great Commission is all about, for every Christian, everywhere, all the time, as we follow Jesus in what he began doing. 

In his book, “The Great Omission – Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teaching on Discipleship,” Dallas Willard has this to say (I’ll be blogging more through this book in future posts): 

“We need to emphasize that the Great Omission from the Great Commission is not obedience to Christ, but discipleship, apprentice to him. Through discipleship, obedience will take care of itself.” Then it’s not about teaching them to obey, to become better people, but rather to do just what Jesus taught.

And, the Great Commission is not only about being on God’s mission to the “nations.” While it is certainly that, the point of the Great Commission is to make disciples of Jesus in all that we do and everywhere we go, as a natural outflow of who is with us. Jesus designed his movement as an ‘organic’ growth process that would be self-perpetuating as new disciples were taught to “obey everything” he commanded – and then taught others. 

The problem is, as Professor Willard redirects our attention, was that the Church omitted this discipline, of making disciples, which necessitates we reclaim it.  Willard tells us…

“…the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciple – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom on the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

Professor Willard suggests that, “on its own scale, there is no greater issue facing the individual human being, Christian or not…” then to become disciples, apprentices and practitioners of Jesus Christ.  

My friend Darrell, who I mentioned in my previous post, stresses this point of learning, becoming students, to live as disciples. I stress this point in my ministry of mobilizing workers for reaching the nations among us, through what I call a Prayer-Care-Learn-Share lifestyle. Others might call it “missional.” Whatever we call it, it's time to GO do it! 

If you want to know how, click here.

The good news is there is a movement taking shape toward that end, right here in the USA. But it’s not just about learning, it’s about living and helping others live like Jesus. It's time to reclaim making disciples, wherever we are, the way Jesus did - for Living Sent Today.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Rethinking the "Culture War" - Becoming a Servant of All - Part I

My friend Darrell challenged my thinking again this past week. I love it when that happens. Darrell is a fourth generation Nazarene pastor who gets it. He gets what it means to be a "servant of all." He would never say he has perfected the art but he sets an example I want to follow.

I first invited Darrell to teach one of our Perspectives classes for Spring 2012. I had heard him share at a workshop in August 2011 about the organic church he had planted in his neighborhood and the success he was seeing in bringing his neighbors to faith. I thought his story would be great for Lesson 5 of Perspectives – “Unleashing the Gospel."

What I didn’t know about Darrell, at first, was how radical for Jesus he really was. I mean that in only a very good way. Sometimes we can think we are being radical and turn people off. The only people Darrell may turn off are some Christians – but that’s also good.

Darrell approaches life from a place of radical obedience to the love and grace of God that is so refreshing. That's not to say my friend is perfect, but then again who is? He does understand something more of the love of Christ for all people that is inspiring and has little fear of crossing the boundaries of our Christian sub-culture to share that love with others.

Because Darrell's tries to do his best at radical love, not only are his neighbors coming to faith but so are drug addicts, prostitutes, strippers and others who so often feel alienated from the Church. It can be said of Darrell, he is a friend of “sinners and tax collectors” - the lowest of society. But then he is only following the example Jesus set (Matthew 9:10-11), as should we all. What Darrell understands, just as Jesus did, is that broken people need Jesus – not judgmentalism, condemnation, nor the false face of religion - simply Jesus.  

If we want the homosexual, the drug addict, the prostitute, the down-trodden and broken set free from their sin, the only way that will happen, as Darrell teaches and lives out, is by entering their world. Darrell is simply doing what Jesus did, what every Christ follower is called to do, the best he can. That's what being a disciple is all about. 

What I really wanted to begin to discuss in this post is the “culture war.” Have you noticed we're losing that "war"? Darrell's example, for me, represents the only way the culture war could possibly be won, or at least the culture decline slowed. Not by fighting for laws and rights, which changes nobody and erects barriers to the Good News. Rather, the “culture war” will only even begin to be positively swayed by complete and utter surrender, on the part of Christ followers, to the mercy, grace and love of Jesus. 

That is why I am challenged. Can I let go of the comfort and convenience of my life to enter into the messiness of the broken world? As American Christians, most of us lead such sanitized lives that the muck and mire of the real world rarely enters - at least on the surface and in our suburban churches and homes. Sure, we may go on short-term "mission" trips to messy place but then we return to the comforts of home, with fond memories of "serving the Lord." And that’s the way most of us like it. 

All the while, people are dying without Christ all around us. The unchurched population is growing quickly. If the unchurched of the United States were considered a people group, they would be the third largest Unreached People Group on the planet – over 100 million people in the U.S. will not enter a church. But what is our response? 

Too often the unchurched hear, “clean up your act, get your life right, and come to church.” Often, if and when they do enter a church, they feel unwanted and unwelcomed. But people don’t need to come to church, they need to come to Jesus! They don’t need to meet your pastor, they need to meet Jesus! 

How can they do that when we erect barriers, build walls, and place requirements on them that obscure the pure and unconditional love of Jesus? We must become like Jesus, enter their world and live among them (John 1:14). They may be just across the street. We must become incarnate in our neighborhoods and communities.

What got me thinking about this was a recent article by Kirsten Powers. You may know Miss Powers, a Democrat strategist, from her frequent appearance on Fox News. You may also know that she recently made a public profession of her decision to follow Jesus. 

Kirsten was responding to a new Kansas law that passed the State House but was defeated in the Senate. The law would have protected the rights of Christian businesses to discriminate against gay couples seeking services for their weddings. The fear is that by serving gay-couples, Christian business owners are affirming their lifestyle. As a new Christian, Kirsten writes:
 “Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn't prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation.” 

Kirsten also quotes Pastor Andy Stanley as saying, "Serving people we don't see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn't see eye to eye.” 

The article is here. 

When Jesus ate with “sinners and tax-collectors” he wasn’t affirming or seeing eye to eye with their lifestyle choices. As we know, for doing so our Lord was called out by the Church folk, sorry that should read Pharisees. 

When Darrell decided to help some of his church's ladies start a church inside of a strip club, he wasn’t affirming the strippers lifestyle or seeing eye to eye with those working in the club. Rather, just like Jesus, these lady missionaries were entering their world, extending God's mercy to those who were in desperate need of mercy. The very people Jesus came for (Mark 2:17). 

Isn't it time that we lay down our rights to what we think is important, for Christ's sake? Waging a culture war against those of other sub-cultures is not what we are called to do. We are called to let our light shine, our love be on display, to make God's mercy known and enter the world as "servants of all." (Mark 9:35). 

We are called to a life of surrender as Christ followers. Our rights may make us feel comfortable but if they get in the way of others coming to Christ, we have no right to hold them. The Apostle Paul put it like this, “We put up with anything to avoid causing an obstacle to the Good News of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12b). 

One story, among many, Darrell shares is of an atheist his home church befriended in their neighborhood. This neighbor was antagonistic toward anything to do with God, the Bible or church. One summer day, his AC went out in his home. Darrell’s home church prayed about it and desiring to be a “servant of all,” decided to use the funds they had been collecting to purchase their atheist neighbor a new AC unit. A door was opened for a Gospel witness. Over the next weeks this atheist became a Christ follower and now leads a home church.

What would happen if a Christian business owner decided to be a “servant of all,” displaying the love and mercy of God, and did business with a gay couple to provide services for a wedding ceremony?  

What we can pray would happen is that this gay couple would know they are loved, see the light of the Christian business owner (Matthew 5:14) and come to Christ. Then the Holy Spirit can do his sanctifying work in their lives, as he chooses. What we should pray would not happen is that other Christians would "judge" this business owner for being a "friend of sinners."

Questions we need to ask ourselves, that I am asking myself are: Am I willing to be a "servant of all?" Or, do I simply want my rights to my comfort?  Answering these questions are vital for Living Sent Today.

I’ll blog more about this topic in future posts. Please feel free to share this post with others or share your thoughts. All comments are moderated.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Toward a Gospel Movement

This post features only the beginning of a document written as a follow-up for Greater Dallas Movement Day.

On January 23th, at the Dallas Convention Center in downtown Dallas, an estimated 1,400 leaders gathered for the inaugural Great Dallas Movement Day. It was only the start of a five-year process. These leaders represented many different local churches, denominational affiliations, mission agencies, and local ministries. It was an unprecedented gathering for our city/region that I have now called home for the last 8 ½ years. It was an answer to years of prayer by many long-time Dallas intercessors. 

To continuing reading this document download "Toward a Gospel Movement."