Are you pursuing unity or something else?

God has placed a burning desire to talk about unity on my heart. A desire so great that preaching every Sunday isn’t enough. If only I had another forum where I could do that. Oh wait I have a blog. I had forgotten and I’m betting you had too.

This looks nice but do you think you could rearrange it so it looked better if I asked you to? That actually seems really simple doesn’t it. I’m going to amaze you with my ability to read your mind through the Internet. I bet most of you think it would look better like this.

What would you say if I told you that you were wrong? More importantly what do Legos have to do with unity? Be patient with me while I explain why.

See I’m convinced of three things when it comes to God’s will for our lives. One, that God’s plan is amazing and beautiful. Second, that the vast majority of believers want to see God’s will fulfilled in their lives and on this earth. Finally, we are lazy and so we will always look for a shortcut that cheapens God’s vision for the church and fails to impact the world in the way He wants.

When it comes to God’s plan for unity, I think we have found that shortcut. We know that God calls us to be unified with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that when we do that we become a picture of the perfect bride of Christ that we see in Revelation 21. We also know that this will be difficult but we desire to do it anyway. So we surround ourselves with brothers and sisters that look and act exactly like us. Then we pat ourselves on the back and say look at how we discovered unity together. In reality all we have discovered is homogeny.

Online dictionary.com defines homogeny as similarity of structure of individuals or parts. It elaborates that this similarity is often by race or by kind. See we live in a world where for most churches the name and the door doesn’t accurately describe who we are. We say things like, “I go to Randomsville Christian Church” when instead we should say, “I go to the all white, NIV using, casually dressed, pre-trib and pre-Millenial believing, contemporary worshipping, Christian church that just so happens to be Randomsville.”

Don’t believe me? Go to a different church for their worship service. I guarantee you will feel uncomfortable. Not because they do things wrong but because they do them different. We have conditioned ourselves to fear diversity.
We have taken God’s lofty goal of unity and replaced with the more easily attainable of goal of sameness. Our fear of diversity, of ‘differentness,’ is preventing us from obtaining real Christian unity. However if we want to live for the vision that Christ called us to then we will strive to put aside our love for homogeny and embrace diversity. We will learn to love our brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of what they look like.

I’m convinced there is a better way to display unity. I’m convinced it looks like this.

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What Christians can learn from Trump and Sanders

     We are finally into the full swing of the election season and love it or hate it one thing is undeniable this year: there are two candidates whose campaigns are clearly unlike the rest. Their rallies look more like rock concerts with screaming groupies and adoring fans than stately gatherings of voters. Whether you “feel the Bern”, are caught up in Trump mania, or just burned out on both maniacs you have to respect both Trump and Sanders for the excitement they are able to generate.      So what is it that makes these two candidates different and what can the church learn from them? That is something I hope to look at in this post and a following one. 

     The first thing that makes both candidates stand out from the rest are the bold promises that they make. Trump has vowed to “make America great again.” His plans involve building a giant wall on the border, taking a hardline stance in foreign policy, and giving the boot to anyone he doesn’t feel is working hard enough. Unlike most politicians when faced with controversy Trump doubles down instead of back pedaling showing he is committed to his vision no matter the cost. 

     While Sanders may not be as fiery or confrontational, his vision is just as bold. Sanders has built his platform on championing the common man. His plans involve mass reform in social justice programs along with campaign reform. While Trump declares that he has no peers when it comes to his leadership prowess, Sanders relies on his ability to project himself as just one of the common people who has risen up to defend the average joe. 

     Both Trump and Sanders have come up with wildly different solutions, but both have shown that they are willing to make big promises despite the fact that it might ruffle the feathers of the peers. While candidates in the past have offered voters what the government was willing to deliver, Trump and Sanders are building a following by declaring they will go and get what the voters actually want. You could argue that both have built their campaigns upon Obama’s successful slogan of change. While our current President vowed to bring change to the political process, Sanders and Trump have arrived to show us what that change looks like. 

     I have to wonder if the fervor surrounding their campaigns is similar to the scene in Matthew 5-7. As Jesus delivers his sermon on the mountain, he begins by making bold promises of blessing for the poor, the meek, the persecuted and others. He declares that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough, that they should love their enemies, and the way to heaven was not easy but instead was difficult. Furthermore, he made sure to separate himself from the religious teachers of his time in how he taught. His audience even declared “he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”(Matthew 7:29)

     The promise found in the gospel message is more wild than either Trump or Sander’s hair on a windy day. Why then do we not present it as such? Is it possible that we do not believe the promises ourself or maybe they seem to big for our local church to deliver. Joy, peace, and unity among believers seems out of reach and so instead we promise a slight uptick in the quality of life if you attend our services.  

     The world today hungers and thirsts, not always for righteousness but for something that is bigger and grander than themselves at the least. If we desire to connect them to the Christ we have to stop watering down the gospel to what we believe is palatable. Instead of marveling at the promises of presidential candidate, they can marvel at the ruler of all of creation who inspired John to write this, “And this is the promise that He made to us – eternal life.”(1 John 2:25)

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Thank you to our Veterans

I always feel inadequate on Veteran’s day. What can I say that will fully express my gratitude for everything that they have sacrificed for me?  October is pastor appreciation month and I’ve received great thank yous and poor thank yous.  What makes me feel most appreciated though is the realization that everything I’ve sacrificed as a pastor made a difference. So for Veteran’s day let’s remember the difference our soldiers make every day. 

1- The United States of America is an amazingly blessed country.  As we gear up for our next Presidential election one of the hot button topics has been poverty in America. While I don’t want to make light of the injustice of income inequality in our country the reality is most countries would love to live at poverty level in America. My family is not well to do but I type this on my iPad(we have three in our house) a device that would radically change the life of a child in a third world country. This blessing is directly related to the protection and freedom that we have received from our veterans. 

2- We are an amazingly free country.  Again we have injustice in America.  I won’t deny that. Compare it to other countries though. There are many parts of the world where it is still possible to be executed for your religious beliefs, race, or sexual orientation. Forget jail, discrimination or media bias the consequences in other countries for a lack of freedom is very real. 

3-  We are an amazingly protected country. My generation was profoundly impacted 9/11 and the war on terror that launched from that.  That is status quo for many other countries where terrorist acts are a daily occurrence.  Some of our veterans have experienced acts of great violence. While it breaks my heart that they have I am so grateful that violence isn’t normal for me and my children.

So thank you Veterans for making America an amazing place to live.  Thank you to your wives, children, and parents for sharing you with your great calling to defend our nation. 

What about you? What are you most grateful to our veterans for?  Do you have any veterans that you want to thank specifically. Share in the comments. 

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Why young adults might be more mature than you are. 

Before becoming a senior pastor I did youth ministry for 10 years so I might be a little biased when it comes to the younger generations of the church. One of my biggest pet peeves though is hearing mature believers trash the faith of young adults.

If you are in the ministry you know what I am talking about. It is often done subtly much like gossip. Maybe somebody in your Sunday School class will say something like “I’m really concerned(this word doesn’t mean what they think it does) about this younger generation and their morals.”  Other times it is more bold, “If this is what the future of the church looks like we are in big trouble.”

As a member of Generation X who has worked with Generation Y(or Millenials) I have noticed a big difference between the two. My generation is very good at doing church things. The next generation is very good at being the Church. The millennial generation often appears messy and messed up but it is usually because they are attempting to live authentic lives instead of asking what others expect them to do.  I have long said that this generation of believers would make a huge impact on the world with their passionate faith.(Don’t believe me ask my former students.)

Today I saw two trending articles on Facebook that I feel backs up my belief. The first was Emilia Clarke was named the sexiest women of 2015 by Esquire.  She is famous for playing Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, a show that some people watch simply for the nude scenes it has become infamous for. However Clarke has made headlines and faced backlash for refusing to bare all.  Interesting then that she would be considered ‘sexy’ after taking a more modest stance than other actresses.

The other was even more surprising, Playboy announced that they are no longer publishing nude photos  in their periodicals.  This follows their website which has already removed all nude images.  Even more interesting this decision has increased their business and lowered the average age of viewers from 45 to 30.  This is telling for several reasons.  The first that a more modest Playboy would have greater appeal to a younger generation.  The second that they have done what was considered impossible which is to motivate Playboy to be more modest. Let’s be honest if so many Christian men and women of my generation and earlier hadn’t been supporting Playboy they would not nearly be the giant in the industry they are today.

Or perhaps I should say the giant in the industry that they were yesterday.  One thing is for sure the times they are a’ changing. Looking at the future of the church and the almighty God we serve I have faith they are changing for the better.

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Follow the Leader

What does successful leadership look like?

We have a leadership problem in our culture.  It is evident in more than just Capitol Hill.  Walk into any bookstore and go to the section on leadership.  It is overflowing with best-selling books on how to be a better leader.  Christian bookstores are the same they just simply place the word ‘Christian’ before ‘leadership’.  All of these books, principles, and steps are all focused on teaching us how to lead other people.

What if the secret to successful leadership was following instead of leading?

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Before we can lead others we must first learn to follow Jesus Christ.

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My Daddy Made Me A Promise

I love Christopher Nolan movies and I love movies about space so I knew I had to see Interstellar.   The movie received mixed reviews when it came out in theaters. It was fun to watch as several of my friends who saw it before me struggled with whether the movie was genius or pretentious.  After seeing it last night, I feel I’m just as unqualified of a movie critic to tell the difference. I can tell you that I enjoyed the movie. I can tell you that the movie is emotional. Most of all, I can tell you that the movie reminded me of the gospel message.

If you don’t know the basic plot, I can sum it up very quick. In the future humanity is stuck in a dying shell. Our own planet, Earth, is becoming uninhabitable and there is no hope of recovery.  A team led by Matthew McConaughey’s character, Coop, is sent through a wormhole to look for a life-sustaining planet for everyone to migrate to.

John Eldredge, in his book Epic, says that God has crafted The Great Story.  All other great stories simply borrow from elements already found in the great story. The same could definitely be said for Interstellar.  Elements such as man’s desire for relationship and our need to rely on a greater power than ourselves feature prominently. There were two themes that I felt more powerful than the others though.

The first was the idea of the undiscovered country. Interstellar could be mistaken for Star Trek as Coop and his crew go where no one has ever gone before. The difference being that for them it is more than just the excitement of new frontiers, they are seeking a new home. As Coop and others explained the importance of their mission to others I was reminded of Jesus and his disciples.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (‭John‬ ‭14‬:‭2-3‬ ESV)

As humanity we war at the dichotomy between fear and curiosity. The desire to know what lies beyond the veil mixed with the fear of the unknown. How blessed we are as Christians that Christ has gone before us!  The joy John must have felt as that undiscovered country was revealed to him and was able to reveal it to others in the latter part of Revelation!

The second and more emotional theme throughout the movie is the relationship with Coop and his daughter. Their relationship is troubled by disagreement and the vast gulf of separation of galaxies and time. Yet the love between them is the most powerful part of the whole movie. At the end of the movie, she recounts how she was able to hold on to hope despite everything. She remembered that her daddy had made her a promise.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  I don’t know how or when I will be called to travel to that undiscovered country. I still have hope because my Daddy made me a promise.

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What does real religious freedom look like?

This post was supposed to go out several weeks ago but didn’t. It may have died down in the public spotlight, but the idea is still as important today.

If you are anything like me Indiana’s religious freedom act has been all over your Facebook feed. It is clearly a hot issue that has gotten response from political organizations, media outlets, and, of course, blog writers like me. Let me say two things right off the bat.  First, I’m not attempting to address the morality of the LGBT lifestyle.

Second, as a pastor, I think about religious freedom a lot.

I think as Christians in America we are unbelievably spoiled. America was founded on Christian principles and it was founded on freedom and we often think those two things go hand in hand. After all don’t we have freedom in Christ? The problem is that most of the freedoms that I find Christians defending I don’t ever find in God’s Word.

For example, the freedom of speech.  As Americans, we think we should be able to say whatever we want as long as long as we don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Paul says, however, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”(‭Ephesians‬ ‭4‬:‭29‬ ESV)  In other words, we only have the freedom to speak when it is helpful and pointing to Christ. Think about that the next time you open your mouth after someone cuts you off.

The whole situation in Indiana is concerning the right to own businesses how you see fit. Interestingly I didn’t find the right to run your own business listed in the many freedoms found in Romans or Galatians.  I didn’t find the right to do as you want with your property anywhere in scripture. Scripture is focused not on our rights but on  pointing people towards Christ. 

The closest correlation we have comes from tradition and history.  As early Jews converted to Christianity they often found their businesses boycotted.  Their problem wasn’t choosing their customers but a lack of customers to choose from. Many lost their businesses and the ability to provide for themselves. One of the reasons you see so many poor Christians in Jerusalem is because so many people were dependent on the support of other Christians.

Interestingly, outside of financial provision, we don’t see the church championing their right to own a business.

I wonder how those business owners would have reacted if a gay man walked into their shop. Would they have been more overjoyed at the opportunity to show someone the love of Christ or the fact that they had an actual customer?  Even when Christians were being fed to the lions in the Coliseum they didn’t cry out about their right to life, but instead loudly praised the honor of dying for their God.

In light of that testimony, it is hard for me to take seriously the question of who we have the freedom to deny service. When Jesus washed the disciples feet did He leave out Judas or did He wash everyone’s feet?  I’m concerned that as Christians we worry more about practicing religious freedom than we do practicing the love of God for our fellow man.

I know that some of you right now are thinking, ‘You are so naïve.  If we don’t defend our religious freedom we won’t have any left.”

I do worry about what the future holds but I don’t worry about someone taking away my rights. I gave them up long ago that I might glorify Christ. (Matthew 16:24)

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