if a man is without faith, he must serve someone and if he is free, he must believe.

“When a nation’s religion is destroyed, doubt takes a grip upon the highest areas of intelligence, partially paralyzing all the others.  Each man gets used to having only confused and vacillating ideas on matters which have the greatest interest for himself and his fellows.  He puts up a poor defense of his opinions or abandons them and, as he despairs of ever resolving by himself the greatest problems, presented by human destiny, he beats a cowardly retreat into not thinking at all.
Such a state cannot fail to weaken the soul, strains the forces of the will, and shapes citizens for slavery.  Not only do the latter allow their freedom to be taken from them, they often give it up….. Being unable to recover their ancient beliefs, they find a ruler…..if a man is without faith, he must serve someone and if he is free, he must believe.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835).

As I read these insightful words penned by Alexis de Tocqueville over 170 years ago, I was reminded of a few other inspired words written almost 2000 years ago.

land-of-the-free

photo by brooklyntyger

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (Romans 1:20-22, NASB95)

Sadly, as Americans, we have the ‘opportunity’ to see this truth found in God’s word made ever more clear in our nation.  Fortunately, God is still on His throne and His promise of freedom is still resounding throughout the earth, even while so many within our nation are willingly opting for chains.

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:20-23, NASB95)

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36, NASB95)

May our hearts turn back to Jesus, the only Name under Heaven able to save that we may be free!!!  May our desire be that America Bless God!  That she may remain the land of the free.

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Brothers or Brothers-in-Law?

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted said “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law”.    His quote goes far in describing much of our current cultural dilemma.  Whether you agree or disagree with Eric Holder’s recent remark contending that we are a ‘nation of cowards’ one cannot deny the truth in his observation that we continue to self segregate and that dialogue on the subject of race is often no less contentious.  I do believe our focus on ‘political correctness’ has driven us further apart in fear of ‘offending’ rather than bringing us closer together for honest evaluation and conversation.

That’s always been the problem with the law – it does not produce right behavior, it merely establishes a minimum acceptable behavior.  We all too often mistake minimum acceptable behavior for right living, to all of our detriment.  I am not about to accept D’s or even C’s from any of my kids, whether it is ‘technically’ a passing grade or not.  I won’t accept B’s for that matter if I believe they can do better.  God isn’t pleased with our settling for ‘technically’ passing.  I am also certain that He is not impressed with our excuses for self segregating His body either.

The church, Christ’s body in the world today, is called not to simply ‘follow’ the lead of the surrounding community, but to lead the community with regards to true brotherhood.  Sadly, in regards to ‘self-segregation’, for too long we have been all too content to passively follow at best, and to justify it at worst.  As followers of Christ, we have been called into one family.  And that should not be distant and estranged family.

48 But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”
49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!
50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 12:48-50.

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brotherhood

photo by lorenia

I grew up an only child but through the blood of Christ, I have had the privilege and blessing of knowing true brotherhood.  Not only have I experienced brotherhood, but I have been further blessed in the fact that those who are my true brothers and true ‘kindred spirits’ come from different ethnic backgrounds than my own.  That rarely plays a major factor in our relationships though, who we are in Christ, far transcends who we are in appearance or background.  This is the power of Christ in us.  We are not brothers-in-law.  Christ has made reality what the law could never achieve.

And yet this powerful witness to the power of Christ in us goes unrealized in so many churches.  Why?  By catering to cultural styles, we self-segregate.  No there are no laws requiring segregation anymore, nor are there laws requiring integration in church.  We have been freed through Christ but are so slow to seek true brotherhood.

The current distance between me and my ‘brothers’ has caused me to appreciate those relationships all the more.  As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Perhaps it’s time our ‘homogenous congregations’ find out what they are missing and how true life in Christ was meant to be lived.  Our Father is calling us home, together.

God’s Grace in the Midst of Decadence

“Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the Lord’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death. And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” (1 Samuel 2:22-26, <!–[endif]–> The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.)

1 Samuel 2-4 is shows an amazing contrast.  Like in a movie, the narrative flashes back and forth between the epitome of decadence (Eli’s sons blatant sins of comission and Eli’s own sins of omission) and a child humbly serving and ministering before the Lord.  Here we find every parents hope and every parents nightmare.  The hope is that our children would grow up to lead our world toward justice and righteousness, our nightmare is that they would harden their hearts, towards both and reap the consequences for themselves and others (34000 die as a result of their unfaithfulness).

future-leader

photo by BrittneyBush

Our nation bears the reputation a “Christian” nation.  Of course the followers of Christ know how far from that we are.  We are at times simply awestruck by the decadence that surround us, even penetrating the church.  But in God’s grace, He is still raising leaders for times such as these.  I wonder how many we will miss though.  For I am convinced that many of our most dynamic leaders are being raised up in the multitudes of bilingual, bicultural second generation immigrants that our current policies often have relegated into the shadows (a generation without a country).

To my friends who fell for the idea that our current president would do better on immigration policy, yo les dije, no pasara.  They’ll take it up…when it’s the right time.  I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting.  Look for the slogan change: ‘No, no podemos!’  But I digress.

My real concern is that we are not doing much better in our churches.  We are missing out on countless future world changers because our outreach methodologies (churches based upon homogenous unit principles) simply DO NOT cut it.  There are few if any churches that truly allow them to keep one foot planted in the english world they are growing up in and one foot planted in the spanish language and culture they also are growing up with.  The spanish language works tend to center around the first generation and often become enclaves that serve to ‘preserve’ the parents culture as much as they are missional to the surrounding community.  Meanwhile, the english congregations often have not adapted their culture to the needs of the community, content rather to plant a mission for them.  There simply are no appropriate ‘boxes’ for them.

When those second generation kids reach adulthood they have to choose between the spanish language church of their parents (and it really belongs to their parents) or find an english congregation that has yet to adapt to their unique culture.  Fallout rate from the church is high for all groups but in this particular demographic, it is compounded by this unfortunate choice we have forced upon them.

We must pursue bilingual (or multi-lingual), multi-ethnic missions and church bodies.  The reason we don’t – ‘we don’t have leaders’.  It’s a circular thing.  We’ve got to do it first, to produce the leaders we need to produce more.  But as I mentioned before – we usually have a lot invested in the status quo.  It is no different in church politics.  It’s time we stop propping up the status quo and start pursuing intentionally multi-ethnic ministries.

Defending the Status Quo against all odds… or God(s)

Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.When the men of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god.”” (1 Samuel 5:2-4,7, The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.)

You know as I read this passage, I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘what were they thinking?!’   I mean come on – their statue god Dagon falls face down in front of the Ark and they prop him back up – then it falls down and breaks.  Don’t worry Dagon, we’ll get you fixed back up so you can, you know continue being our god.  You would think the reaction would be to throw Dagon out with yesterdays trash and come to terms with the God of Israel!  But no – what do they conclude – this God is picking on us and our god – we must send Him away!  The status quo with its predictable, propped up god was preferred to acknowledging the living God.  Can you believe that?  Of course you can.  Fast forward 3,000 years – Yeah, human behavior towards God hasn’t changed much.  We still prefer that God not ‘mess’ with the status quo!

expelled

Evolution is one of the most ‘propped’ up ‘gods’ of our day.  Evolutionists will cling to simply bizarre explanations to avoid the possibility that the world we experience may have actually been designed.  In fact the holes in the theory are so weak that it must be protected from any and all opposing ideas.  Even when shattered by the laws of probability, evidence, and just plain common sense, the status quo is preferred to acknowledging there is a divine being that not only might but WILL demand an account from us.  Soochinan our motto will be ‘In Dagon We Trust’, we sent the Ark of the Living God away.  I hear China has interest taking it off of our hands – over 150 million baptized followers of Christ  (about half the U.S. population) and still baptizing!  I once heard history goes where the gospel hasn’t (or is soon to go).  Hmmm, makes you think doesn’t it.

Well, human behavior hasn’t ‘evolved’ much in the last 3,000 years.  But neither has the Living God!

Pragmatism giving theology the backseat?

I just finished the book “Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts“.  It is filled with lots of practical wisdom for church planters and their teams and is written by a couple of guys with lots of experience.  One thing that rubbed me though was the standard pitch for the homogenous model that has dominated North American outreach strategies.  In this book it basically says that you are most effective at reaching people like yourself, so do that.  In broader terms it is the idea that people like to be like people like themselves so you don’t need to or even shouldn’t try to plant or grow a church that ‘reaches’ to everyone.  Very pragmatic.  But is pragmatism what guides us in pursuing the Great Commission – giving whatever works top priority?  As Southern Baptists our answer would be of course not, theology leads.  In theory at least.  Unfortunately, our local strategies usually fall far short of this.  And to be honest, don’t always work.

The book tells church planting teams that when the work grows it actually needs more outside financial help rather than less and exhorts them to view this work similar to an overseas mission in which you don’t expect financial return.  My heart leapt to read those words as I have often contemplated the contrast in our methodologies for overseas missions and those here at ‘home’.  I must clarify here that my focus is specifically on those methodologies that either do or should involve multi-ethnic communities.  The pride and joy of the SBC is the International Missions Board.  There is no finer, more effective sending agency.  Here our theology clearly leads.  We devote most of our budget to sending and supporting missionaries into the mission field knowing there is NO financial return on investment.  We pour out resources so that the gospel may be proclaimed and disciples made.

Then we turn to the North American Mission Board where the theological model of the IMB is replaced by an economic model.  Here money is devoted to ‘new works’ which involve a business plan and a goal to be a self sustaining autonomous work in usually 5 years.  The rational – we do not want to be life support for church ministries.  On the surface this makes sense – very pragmatic.  But North America has become as much a mission field as the rest of the world and many of those who need to hear the gospel are not in ‘groups’ that will easily reach financial autonomy in 5 years or sometimes even 10 years.

The unintended consequence of our current pragmatic, economic model is that millions here in North America are going without meaningful gospel witness.  How long will we allow pragmatism to be our guide here at home.  Isn’t it time we live up to what we believe and submit our practice to what we profess?  It’s time for theology to lead again.  Our home mission field demands it.

It’s the end of the world as I know it…but I feel fine.

in-the-doldrumsMoving to Iowa, clearly the worst financial move I have made yet.  And yet, I feel fine.  Why – some existential or stoic abandonment? – No.  It seems that a number of ingredients have all worked themselves together to to give me the most wonderful taste of fatherhood.  No, not my being a father, but God’s.  Although, my being a father certainly has been an essential ingredient.

It is no wonder at all, that at the same time I have been contemplating the pure love and worship that has been filling my heart these days that Pastor Troy would, after stripping the box away from the parable of the soils (Matthew 13), describe the ‘crop’ of the good soil in a new way.  Not in ‘souls’ harvested nor spiritual fruit exhibited.  Actually, I’m not sure I heard exactly how he explained it – but I knew the spiritual ‘return’ I have been experiencing of late – growth unprecedented since Jesus pulled me up from the grave (Psalm 116), now exactly 20 years ago.  The same day I decided to start the book ‘The Ten most common mistakes made by new church starts’ (before finishing the other 3 books I have also started!).  The first chapter: ‘Neglecting the Great Commandment in Pursuit of the Great Commission’ (Matthew 22 & 28).  OK, while pastoring, I made that first mistake made very well!  Seems simple enough and makes perfect sense.  I know I surely have been guilty – busy doing for God and neglecting the ‘act’ of simply loving God.

First ingredient: Dabbling between cultures (American and Mexican) since 1996 and truly living in them (married in 2000), has been a rewarding, challenging, and often isolating experience.  To live above poverty, below prosperity and yet with both clearly in sight and in family.  Always letting go of the past and forging anew (Philippians 3) with one foot in each world (yet in a world that seems to want to pull those cultures further apart rather than growing them closer together – as we are).  Pressing on knowing that the only true culture that matters is Christ’s culture – all else is transitory and fading.

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 4).

Second ingredient, in 2004, I very reluctantly resigned my bi-vocational pastoral position.  It was clear to me that God has called me to be a pastor and He has given me a pastor’s heart, but it was also clear to me that He would be setting the priorities and to continue would be putting a church mission before the welfare of my marriage and growing family.  Of even greater concern, it would be putting the mission before God Himself.

He was in the whisper that would wake me in the night and tell me quietly and clearly – to let go.  Letting go, surrendering, giving up, are all things quite foreign to me.  Ask anyone who knows me well – tenacity, even stubbornness is a very strong characteristic handed down to me from both sides of my family.  Each morning I would awaken to the conviction – if I simply have more faith – that’s what I’ll DO, I’ll have more faith.  Letting go would surely be a lack of faith!  Just a test – just a test indeed (I had no idea its extent).  And again, that voice in the middle of the night when the body and mind are finally in a state of almost catatonic defenselessness – Let go, I am the one who lifts you up, or brings you down.  You will take up what I tell you take up, AND you must put down what I tell you to put down (1 Peter 5).  You must let go of what you cannot hang on to.  But I just need more faith – yes, just more faith – to let go now could be costly – I have been counseled that it is better to get somewhere from somewhere, meaning it may be difficult to find a pastorate, without one.

Well, teaching me to follow Him even when it seems foolish or will certainly leave me looking foolish (1 Cor 3), has been His favorite lesson so this wasn’t necessarily new.  But I’m a slow and stubborn learner, and this is an essential lesson.

Letting Go.

In clearly one of the most difficult decisions, of obedience, in my life of following Christ, and there have been some biggies, I resigned.  Yet naively, with full confidence that God would open the door for a fulltime pastorate, very soon.  Yes, very soon.  But the months turned to years.  Graduation came and went (after seven years of study!).  I watched as peers found their ‘niches’, albeit not without their struggles, but in their niches nonetheless.

Third ingredient, while I floundered, withered, wrestled with anger, and all the while with nowhere to call home much less a ‘ministerial’ home; my ‘career’ drifted just as aimlessly – with my focus set solely upon ministry.  Alas, in desperation really, the green pastures of Iowa beckoned.  No, not to a pastorate, but for an opportunity to gain some ‘new experience’ (always good to diversify!), pay off debts and achieve a level of financial stability that would better allow us to enter ministry.  Or maybe just try to forget the burden on my heart.

The housing crash dashed those hopes on the rocks, decidedly.  It has turned out to be an accelerated year of letting go.  Letting go of what retirement I had grown (my plan c for being able to fund a future mission ministry) and soon letting go of our home in Phoenix and what had been excellent credit (only matters if you are wanting loans I guess – and I’m not).  Had I simply listened to counsel and let go of the latter earlier – we might not have had to let go of the former.  But that again goes against my nature though (see above) and as I am coming to see, against what God has been doing in my life.  No, He is not against me (although a few times I have wondered).  He is not against me, just against anything and everything that would keep me from Him.

Fourth ingredient, I have lived in Midian for a number of years now.  No, not geography for me.  It was for Moses though (Exodus 2).  I am sure hoping it will be less than 40 years for me though.  No, Midian was a desert (God forsaken I’m sure as far as Moses was concerned).  Moses was a man burdened with a pastor’s heart also – but nothing he could DO worked out so well.  Nonetheless God provided for him a beautiful wife, children, wise counsel, and not his dream job, but a job nonetheless.  I am certain the burden of Moses heart never left him and he often wondered if his choices had led God to discard him for use (not eternally, just for use).

It’s ironic that I left the arid southwest to find myself deeper in the desert desert-springwilderness than ever before!  But it is here that I have set myself down exhausted, next to a small spring to drink (Psalm 63).  And drinking deeply I have been.  I mentioned that my being a father has been an important ingredient and it has.  There is nothing like experiencing the well of love that seems to overflow for our own children – that love that would lead one to readily give up everything, even life itself for your children to be able to experience life, and love.

Lifted Up.

Final ingredient, the spice of life, there is nothing like being a father to show a person, the love God the father has for us.
It has been tremendous to have a time of inner reconciliation with several past chapters of life and to have them unchained in a sense.  But nothing has compared to truly drawing close to my heavenly father who has looked down and called me son.  A son in whom He is well pleased.  A son who can DO nothing to get closer to Him but stretch his arms upward and say ‘Daddy, carry me!’  (Romans 8).  There is no greater high, no greater freedom, no sweeter exhilaration, than that (and I have searched diligently in my day!).  Be still and know that I am God.  It took so much ‘letting go’ to find out that He would never let me go, never.  He doesn’t let go (John 14), and he routinely lifts me to speechless heights I never thought possible.  There are no words for the joy found there in Him.  None.  So simple, and yet so overlooked.

No, circumstances are tough and not what I would have chosen.  I would not have chosen to enter the doldrums (to change metaphors yet again!) that place on the ocean where there are no waves and no wind – the place that drove many sailors mad.  But in the middle of these circumstances and the stillness of the air I have rediscovered my treasure – God Himself.  And wait – is that a breeze I feel?  Yes it surely is…

created-for-worshipLet those who have ears to hear.

Hear – that the Kingdom of Heaven is here now (Matthew 13) if you will simply let go of your sins and yourself and let Jesus Christ take hold of you and free you to be the person He created you to be.   So much more than simply a repentant and saved sinner!  So much more!

Yes it is the end of the world as I know it, but I feel fine….yes, indeed, never finer!

On Weighing Words and Gushing Forth Evil

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguelyartistic/146562970/

In a previous post, I gave full vent to the fury the ideas presented in Juana Bordas’ book provoked. In Spanish I would say I wrote con mucha rabia.

In hindsight I realize that I failed in my communication as is all too common today. I failed not in the errors I pointed out, but in the failure to balance the ‘diagnosis’ with a proper ‘prescription’. Merely pointing out what is wrong is not helpful. I am reminded of this principle in God’s words to Jeremiah:

Then the Lord reached out his hand. He touched my mouth and spoke to me. He said, “I have put my words in your mouth. Today I am appointing you to speak to nations and kingdoms. I want you to pull them up by the roots and tear them down. I want you to destroy them and crush them. But I also want you to build them up and plant them.”” (Jeremiah 1:9-10, NIrV) [1]

That being said I here offer a brief postscript. The book provoked rabia primarily because in its attempt to ‘affirm’ communities of color, it uses the very principle that has caused the problem in the first place – race. It is a sugar coated poison pill. The sugar coating is its politically correct good intentions, while the poison is the underlying racism that it establishes. There is no more scrutinized group than white Americans when it comes to race. However, as I have previously stated, it infects us all.

In attempting to vindicate groups from the consequence of past racism, Bordas sets out to define inherent characteristics of these groups or ‘communities’ and to then exalt those characteristics (stereotypes) over those of ‘mainstream’ America which she uses synonymously with white Americans (and Europeans). The old adage two wrongs don’t make a right is especially appropriate here.

If one community (here based upon race by Bordas – I believe in only one race) has inherent characteristics that are ‘better’, than the same can hold true for every other community and the competition begins. That competition is called racism. In the end, we all lose!

Michael Frost wisely wrote,

“Those who love community destroy it, but those who love people build community.”

If we are truly to help people and overcome racism, we must begin to see people for the individuals they are, and not merely members of a group, racially based or other. We are all unique individuals, just like everybody else. And just like everybody else we want to be affirmed for our characteristics and not those assigned to any group. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt we would be judged “not by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character.”

To Juana Bordas, I trust you had good intentions with this book, but you know what they say about good intentions…. I am sure with your sincere desire to help others, that you can offer much more to the whole community than the subtle but nonetheless destructive ideas presented in this book.


[1] New International Reader’s Version. 1st ed., Zondervan, 1998.

One Life lifted up and 660 Superbowl Crowds Lost

one-child-lifted-upI came across this image within this excellent post on the Black Informant and have not been able to get it out of my mind.  I ‘happened’ to be reading the 1 Samuel account of Hannah and the birth of Samuel one of Israel’s most influential leaders the same day.  Hannah had been tormented cruelly for her inability to have the one thing she wanted: a child.  Hannah begged God to the point of tears and God, at the perfect time (as always) granted her request.  Samuel was truly a gift from God (as are all children from conception) and I cannot begin to imagine the joy overflowing that Hannah must have felt.  What is amazing is Hannah’s one desire was for a child and yet Hannah was able to give him back, or lift him up, to the Lord.  We as parents surely should do the same for our ‘gifts’ daily.  Samuel was dedicated to the Lord’s service and left at the temple for training under the priest Eli.  No doubt Hannah continued to pray for this ‘gift from God’ and continued to help in providing for his needs.

What a contrast from today when in the U.S. alone almost 50 million ‘gifts from God’ have been slain, dismembered, and discarded.  Large numbers are difficult to comprehend so to put it in perspective take 660 full Raymond James Stadiums (site of today’s SuperBowl) and eliminate them.

660 Superbowl Crowds Aborted

660 Superbowl Crowds Aborted Since Roe vs. Wade

That is how many unborn children have been sacrificed on the altar of convenience since the legalization of abortion in the U.S.  You can imagine Nancy Pelosi’s relief of the burden lifted on our economy!  Almost 50 million, that is 1/6th of the current U.S. population.  Take six of your best friends and eliminate one at random – because they weren’t convenient!  Sorry, the number of abortions performed because of risk to the mother, rape, or incest is minute.  No, the overwhelming majority of these lives were destroyed for convenience.

We are already moving to destroying lives on the basis of desirability.  One small step in a hospital and one giant leap downward for humanity.  Al Mohler has just finishing a 6 part series on why abortion should be unthinkable – you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.  Another great resource for considering how to speak to others about abortion can be found on the Stand to Reason Blog here.