JESUS’S UN-AMERICAN DREAM

Michael Jordan, principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets and one of the greatest professional basketball players ever, retired from the court in 2003 as one of the game’s wealthiest contestants.

The owner of the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf, for whom Jordan played most of his career, remarked at the time, “He’s living the American Dream. The American Dream is to reach a point in your life where you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and can do everything that you do want to do.”

I do this. So do you. We like to set up our lives so that we don’t have to get involved with the world’s problems if we don’t want to. We can’t do it on the scale of a wealthy person like Jordan. But we do it in other ways. And when we do we leave Jesus’s decidedly Un-American dream for us out of the equation.

What is Jesus’s Un-American dream?

You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and place it under a bushel, but on the lamp stand; and so it gives light to all who are in the house.” (Matthew 15:13-14).

All of us are aware of the increasing darkness of western culture. We see corruption, rampant immorality, the porn epidemic, the growth of the so-called euthanasia movement, the redefinition not only of marriage but of what it means to be male and female even in kindergarten, and the increasing assaults on religious freedom.

We see it and far too many of us react in fear and withdrawal, happy to cast blame on “them,” “the culture,” or “the world,” but unable to see the Lord’s Un-American calling on ourselves.

The late Anglican cleric John R.W. Stott made a pertinent observation about this.

“If the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house. That’s what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, “Where is the light?”

“If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked. The question to ask is, “Where is the salt?”

“If society becomes corrupt like a dark night or stinking fish, there’s no sense in blaming society. That’s what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked. The question to ask is “Where is the church?”

God leaves his people – us – here for a reason. He could have said, “Come out, be separate, start a holy commune, create your own economy, your own schools, your own record companies, your own TV shows. Isolate yourselves in suspicious fear of all that is in the world.  Hide out in the holy ghetto until I come and get you!”

But that isn’t what he said. He said, “Stay there! Stay in the world! Keep it from rotting. Guide it toward that which is good!”

We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. That’s Jesus’s Un-American dream for us.

STAYING PUT: Lessons from Long-Term Ministry

“Thank you,” seems inadequate for all of the honors I received from Faith Community Church  last Sunday. The church took the morning to celebrate my twentieth anniversary as its pastor, taking me by surprise in the process.

Some themes stood out in the comments, and others came to mind later, which might prove helpful to you someday. Call them Leadership Lessons from Long -Term Ministry, but many will apply even if you are not a preacher.

Preach the Word. Expository preaching, interpreting and explaining a passage of scripture in its historical, grammatical, literary, cultural, and biblical context, demonstrating how it applies to the listener and points them to Christ, is key to the vitality of any church or believer. It is a time-consuming endeavor that preachers either have to fight for against other demands, or are gifted with by a congregation. FCC made the decision long before I arrived to give its pastor, and by proxy itself, that gift. All of us benefit from it. Find a church that values this and you will usually find a healthy church.

Decide to stay. If you want to have a deep impact on a community you have to commit to the long term. Randy Pope, Eugene Peterson, Rick Warren, and many others advocated for this in their writings as I was preparing for ministry, and I believed them then. But now I’ve seen the generational effects of hoeing one row for two decades and the fruit is sweet. Warning: You cannot do long-term work without short-term rests. Build Sabbath into your lifestyle and vacations into your years.

Speak hard truth with soft words. Speak with grace and gospel faithfulness to the difficult cultural trends of the day and do not flinch. It will force you to examine yourself, be fair to others, and rely more on Christ. It will also stiffen the spines of your listeners.

Be with people one-on-one. Love them for who they are, where they are, as they are. Grieve with them, celebrate with them, honor them, and respect them. They will do the same for you.

Make sure you have a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy; a mentor, a brother, and a disciple, or trainee into whom you can pour your life. They will coach you when you are clueless, strengthen you when you are weak, and challenge you to keep growing.

Believe in people and don’t micro-manage them. Find good people, give them the goal and the support they need, and then get out of their way. Look for and expect their best, and they will usually give it to you. Related: recruit people to your team who are strong where you are weak. I learned long ago that I was too emotional and empathetic for my own good. That’s one reason I try to surround myself what I call “concrete rational” personality types who can help me stay grounded in biblical objectivity.

Pray more than you politic. Consensus building and deal-making have their place in life. But no amount of politicking can accomplish what prayer can do.

Plan ahead and then give your plans to God.  Every leader needs to be at least five months, and preferably five years, ahead of his organization. But as in war, so in ministry, no plan survives combat. Keep the goal clearly in mind, pay attention to the dynamics of the situation, listen to His Spirit and be flexible with the details.

Offend early and often. I’m a recovering co-dependent people-pleaser. It took years to realize that people come into churches and other organizations with all kinds of expectations of the leadership, some conscious, some not; some reasonable, some silly, and some outrageous. Trying to keep them all happy was suicidal. I learned to make sure they knew what to expect, and what not to expect, as soon as possible. It felt offensive to my empathetic soul to do this, to disappoint some people up front, and anger others. Thus the motto, but the proof — the stability and harmony generated by uniform expectations — has indeed been in the pudding. FCC’s Handbook has been a great tool for this. If your organization doesn’t have a handbook, you should write one, and then require everyone to read it.

Finally, hold everything loosely. Any entity you lead is a stewardship from God, including your family. It doesn’t belong to you and he can take it from you whenever it suits his purposes. Live with gratitude and open, up-raised palms.

Phil 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [1]

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Php 1:3–6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him … Luke 24:30-31

Are you happy? If not, do you know why?

Several things can make us sad and stress us out. Illness, family problems, financial set-backs have their place in our day-to-day contentment quotient. But all things being equal are you a generally happy person, satisfied with the life you live?

Many of us would have to answer “no.”

Peter Moskovitz, in his article America’s Search for Happiness is Driving Us Crazy, reports that we have a multibillion dollar happiness industry bent on helping us find contentment, yet over forty million of us have diagnosed anxiety disorders.

We are obsessed with happiness, yet not finding it. Perhaps we aren’t finding it because we are pursuing it the wrong way.

Read Mercer Schuchardt suggests as much in a recent CT Mag article, The Future of the Church is Analog Not Digital, when he wrote, “The most important and biblical pieces of technology in a church today may not be the projector and the amplifier, but the crockpot and warming plate.”

Schuchardt’s peice struck a chord in a song the Spirit has been singing in my soul for some time. I hear it in Sunday School as Jamie Laine leads us through Ray Vanderlaan’s excellent video series, Becoming a Kingdom of Priests in a Prodigal World. I see it in the faces and hear it in the stories of friends attending our Alpha Course this fall. I read about it in books like Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered and articles like Peter Moskovitz’s interview with Ruth Whippman, author of How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.[1]

If the song had a title it would be something like: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, (but somebody already took that one). The chorus would be:

Sit at table with new friends,

Make room in your life for them,

You never know what God may grow,

By simply inviting them in.

Corny, I know, but it gathers up the power of God at work community. Let me explain.

Whippman notes that, “If there was one thing that’s consistent in happiness research it’s that the main source of our happiness is our relationships with other people in our communities (emphasis added). It kind of cuts across class, race, gender, age, and everything. But the focus in America is very much on happiness as kind of a personal, individual journey; looking deep inside yourself, about mindfulness, about your own thinking. All of that being inside your own head, and remaking your own thoughts from the inside.”

Here’s the thing, as long as we pursue happiness as strictly personal, as a goal only to be achieved as individuals, we will remain isolated, empty, and anxious. Happiness is found in community, in common purpose, in shared successes and sorrows, the great and the small threads we weave with others to create the fabric of a meaningful life.

I know the objections, “Other people rub me the wrong way!”  Indeed they do, but the point is, we need them to. Their idiosyncrasies reveal the cracks in our characters that Christ has yet to fill and force us all to pursue him higher up and farther into life in the Spirit.

More to the point, the life, the Shalom, that flows from the Spirit of God cannot be found, or lived, or shared in isolation. Technology can deliver a sermon to your “personal device” (see the irony?) but cannot include you or others in the body of Christ. Only you can do that as you commit to be there, both body and spirit, and to welcome others to the table.

[1] Whippman is the author of How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, and the interview can be found at:  https://flipboard.com/@flipboard/flip.it%2FBDcPRo-americas-search-for-happiness-is-drivin/f-869a36fce5%2Fvice.com

HEAL ORLANDO: Helping the Hurting Without Losing the Gospel

Islamofacism marches on and carries the headlines with it as Istanbul reels from yet another Muslim massacre, yet the wounds of Orlando are still fresh.

Many churches have stepped up to help heal those wounds. One is less than a mile away in fact, DISCOVERY CHURCH’S (DC) Central campus. Website: http://www.discoverychurch.org/.

I spoke with DC Central’s pastor, Ralph Howe, this week to learn what they were doing and how we could help. As of Tuesday, he explained, ONE ORLANDO, the public fund established to help the victims had raised $8M. That money, according to Orlando’s WESH News (NBC affiliate), will be distributed through area non-profits after the groups convene with the Central Florida Foundation to assess the needs, how each group plans to meet the needs, and where they have gaps in funding.

Equality Florida, the LGBT advocacy group which has raised over $4M to date, will also be distributing funds to survivors and victim’s families via The National Center for the Victims of Crime Compassion Fund.

All of that takes time and will no doubt be linked to more LGBT advocacy, which is understandable. But those of us who follow Christ and want to help can do so immediately with the confidence that our gifts will be distributed quickly, with integrity to the gospel, by giving to support HEAL ORLANDO, DISCOVERY CHURCH’S fund.

Pastor Howe reports that HEAL ORLANDO has raised $14,000 to date, and some of that money has already been used to provide rental cars and hotel accommodations for victim’s families, many of whom are from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One such family, unable to access aid from anywhere, was camping out in order to be near their loved one. DISCOVERY CHURCH members located them and got them into a hotel. Also, because of the way terrorism riders are written in insurance policies, many will find that their health insurance won’t pay and some of the survivors can expect to spend six months in the hospital. HEAL ORLANDO hopes to help with some of those bills.

Finally, DISCOVERY CHURCH recognized something that had gone unnoticed in the news. Area businesses within a three quarter mile radius of PULSE were stifled for a week as law enforcement officials cordoned the area off for their investigation. Many of these are small businesses with limited cash reserves and employees who lost wages due to the investigation. DISCOVERY CHURCH sent teams out to visit the businesses and, in some cases, helped to pay these employees so that they wouldn’t be victims as well.

WELL DONE DISCOVERY CHURCH!

If you would like to participate in this ministry DISCOVERY CHURCH’S HEAL ORLANDO FUND is located here:  http://www.discoverychurch.org/give.

WELCOME TO THE MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY

Andrée Seu Peterson, commenting in the April 30 edition of World Magazine on the Strange Sympathies of voters who supported Donald Trump over Ted Cruz because Cruz was “pompous,” wrote, “If Cruz is rejected and Trump accepted on the grounds of pompousness, then we are truly living at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

Well, welcome to the Mad Hatter’s. Cruz is out, Trump is in, and there is no one left to keep him from winning the Republican presidential nomination.

No one predicted this, and no one can predict the outcome of the November elections, but some veteran reporters are beginning to believe that Trump can, in spite of polls to the contrary, beat Clinton in a national referendum. Ben Carson believes that 2016 is, “the year of the outsider,” and if the anger in the electorate over healthcare, immigration, the economy, homeland security, and the political status quo is what I think it is he, and they, are right.

I’ve been carefully watching, and actively participating in our nation’s politics for thirty-six years, and I’ve never been so disappointed with our options. But they tell us more about ourselves than anything else. We have repeatedly chosen style over substance, corruption over character, provocation over peacemaking, and the tyranny of the few over the freedom of the many. We have become a nation so obsessed with sexual license that we rip up religious freedom with spiritual fervor, and snooze through sales of aborted baby parts. We are such committed materialists that we care not about national bankruptcy as long as cheap dollars keep coming.

We used to be a Christian culture. We are a Casino culture now.

How are Christ’s followers to respond? I’m not about to suggest who you should vote for, but I will remind you of one thing: all politics is downstream of culture. If we want to improve our political leadership we have to improve ourselves. No earthly king can achieve through policy or force what Christ can accomplish in the hearts of men and women if his people will obey him. He is our King and his agenda has always been the same: “Love your neighbor as yourself and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

American culture has been in an historic slide ever since I was born. We were never perfect. There will never be a perfect culture outside of Eden. But if we measure ourselves by the stability of two-parent families, by educational achievement, by economic opportunity, by crime rates and imprisonment, by drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease, by the number of children born to unwed mothers, and by many other metrics, we are a culture in decline.

Some of us have been politically opposing that slide for 30-40 years. It hasn’t helped. But we’ve learned something. Oppose the dominant culture, criticize and critique it, and you may be crushed. You certainly won’t fix anything. Build a better culture and, “the world will beat a path to your door.”

It is time for the followers of Christ to stop complaining and start building. We need to concentrate on being the Church, the pillar and support of the truth, in the world, and on creating good culture.

WHEN A WARRIOR FALLS

When a pastor’s phone rings late at night it is never good news. That was true one year ago this week, when Marilyn, the wife of my friend Hank called from the local emergency room, clearly in distress. I jumped in the car, heart racing, uttering the only prayer I could manage: “Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” I knew from past experience that when the nurse had me turn left, into the staff lounge, instead of right, to the exam rooms, that Hank was gone.

I have lost so many youngish friends and family like this, suddenly and without warning, that making sense of it has been a lifelong endeavor. You know the deal: a few seconds one way or the other, a decision to go left instead of right, a slight medical miscalculation, fragmentary details that tip the balance between life and death. That huge two letter word IF. Who can calculate the odds? And what does it mean?

Some things can only be understood by faith. I want to share my conclusions about that shortly, but first I want to remember my friend Hank.

Hank the Warrior
Hank gave a talk at our 2014 men’s retreat on success and told us about several occasions with various companies where he had been given the privilege to, “resign to pursue other opportunities.” He said that most of us would share that privilege and told us how to handle it: “Never lose your confidence. Get up, brush yourself off, and say, ‘Well, that was fun,’ and get back in the game.”

For that and many other reasons, I saw Hank as a warrior. Not a Seal Team Six kind of warrior. Hank was a spiritual warrior, an Ephesians six kind of warrior.

Eph. 6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Hank was the kind of guy that the world could just throw stuff at and he could stand there and take it, and not lose his cool, and not betray his Captain, Jesus, and then lead.

For me and our church he had so many of those spiritual warrior qualities that a Church and a pastor need: A cool head, sober judgment, sound theology, engaging personality, the gift, with Marilyn, of hospitality, the abilities to teach, and lead and administrate. Hank was a good and faithful steward of everything that was and is our church, and all that with the heart of a servant. Because of that he was my personal friend and mentor, a guide stone when I was clueless, and a true partner in faith and ministry.

So what do you do when you lose a man like that? What do you make of it? Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
That Hank and you and I and every other follower of Christ serve the Creator of the universe in the Great War between good and evil. Jesus is our great Captain and we serve at his pleasure, in life or by death. He chooses the day we depart.

That He loves us beyond anything that we could ask or imagine.

That He takes care of his widows and orphans. How well I know this.

That in his own life of poverty and service, and unjust and brutal death, Jesus has identified with all who suffer, with all who are taken “before their time.”

That His resurrection proves that this life is not all there is. That Hank now lives in a world more real and so glorious that when we see it, all of life on earth will seem a mere shadow.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
What the Apostle Paul wrote in the last few days before his martyrdom:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8 NIV)

Remember that he goes to a reward, to be with his Captain. Remember to long for Christ’s appearing.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Phil 1:21-24 NIV)

I know that Hank prefers his current location over this world. And I have this great fear that I’m going to outlive everyone that I love. But that is up to my Captain. Either way, I will keep doing what he made me to do.

When a warrior falls remember to keep doing what your Captain made you to do.

Hank became an elder at our church in 2005 and I wouldn’t let him resign until 2014. Our board meets twice a month and begins every meeting by praying; first for the needs of people, then the various ministries of the Church, and finally for ourselves and the things before us a board. We go around the table and pray.

It’s easy for prayers like that to become perfunctory, like saying grace at meals. Sometimes you’ll hear yourself or another man drop into a pattern and you wonder if he’s “checked out.”

Hank developed a pattern over that last year, a close to his prayer that sounded a common theme, but it was never perfunctory. In fact it was so urgent within him; it was coming from such a deep place, that it became at once a riveting call as well as a benediction from my friend. It went like this:

“Father, no matter what we are able to do as a Church, no matter what we get involved in, never let us lose sight of Christ. Always draw us back and keep us centered on Christ and his Cross; the salvation and grace that come through him alone.”

And now dear friends, we cannot tell you how much we long for you to have the same hope and to follow the same Captain that Hank now knows face to face.

KOINONIA IS SHARED LIFE

KOINONIA IS SHARED LIFE

2015

Speed skating is a Dutch sport. It originated in the 14th & 15th centuries when people figured out how to make a blade run on the ice. They began skating on their frozen canals as a form of transportation. Then, like good sports everywhere, they figured out how to race with skates.

The Dutch are true fanatics of speed skating. They all wear orange. They paint their faces. They wear funny orange hats. They even have their own band called “Little Beers” that travel with them to each event. Every ice rink is home field advantage for the Dutch because their fans go to every race in Europe. Nobody tells the Dutch that they have to go to the speed skating races. They go because they love it. They love the sport. They love each other loving the sport. They wouldn’t think of missing it.

The Dutch speed skating fans are a good metaphor for the Christians in Acts 2: 46-47 who “met together every day in the temple courts, breaking bread and eating together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” Nobody had to tell them to meet together every day in the temple and eat together from house to house. They spent time together because they loved Jesus together. They loved each other loving Jesus. They wouldn’t have thought of missing it.

The Greek word used in Acts and throughout the New Testament for the life they were sharing is Koinonia, often translated “fellowship.” Koinonia means “sharing in common.” They shared a common life: a common table, a common purse, a common set of values, and a common love for one another. Most of all they shared Christ and what he had done for them. They were eager to share what he had done for them with others.

The kind of love that builds a body of believers isn’t just a human love. It isn’t “affinity group love”, a love built on commonalities of education, income, race, outlook or profession. It’s supernatural love. It’s an affinity built on the Christ we have in common, the salvation we have in common, and the continuous life-change we are experiencing together in him.

There are some hurdles to building this kind of community. It requires vulnerability, enough transparency to talk about what God is doing in our lives. That takes trust. It also requires belief that we are just as needy before God as the neediest person in the church. That takes humility. Finally, it takes commitment, the determination simply to show up and be part of what is going on. That takes, sacrifice; maybe not as much as painting your face orange and riding trains all over Europe to shiver while others race, but sacrifice nonetheless.

As churches grow in size it becomes more and more important that they build those connections with each other. Some churches do it with small groups on week nights, others through Sunday school programs and various Bible and book study ministries. Whatever your church does I encourage you, as you gather, to build the trust that enables vulnerability, to share with others what Christ has done and is doing in your life. Acts reports that as the early church did this, “the Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved.” I believe that as you build koinonia in your church, he will do the same.