Running for President in 2016…

12 01 2013

Not!  When you saw the title did you groan?  Are you sick of politics? We just finished being bombarded with election ads when we began enduring the drama of the “Fiscal Cliff.” In the midst of the drama tragedy struck in Connecticut. Our political leaders are now engaged in the discussion on gun control and access to mental health care. As I have been watching everything unfold, it struck me just how limited government’s power is from a human perspective. Because this is not a political blog, I will ignore the debate about the role of government. That is for others. I want to focus on the church and would offer that we have the ability to address the human dynamic.

What am I talking about? I am glad you asked. Can you legislate compassion? Can you pass a law to make someone love another person? Is there a form you can fill out that will distribute joy? While laws may be able to outlaw certain behaviors, they can never impact the underlying traits that govern those behaviors. To prove this all you have to do is talk to a person who experiences hate and bigotry even though they don’t experience any illegal discrimination.

There is a temptation to find the magical law that will solve those underlying traits. When the church goes down that road, we call it legalism. Legalism is simply the misguided belief that laws solve heart problems.

I was reading a philosophy book and the author did a classic move. He quoted a commentary about how the world was going downhill and how hopeless things were becoming. The author then asked the reader to guess when the commentary was written. It read like it was written today but in fact it was written during the time of Plato. Human problems are timeless and as old as … humans.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 4:18, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”

The church operates in terms such as faith, hope and love. We are God’s instrument to bring his message to the world. We have the freedom to create healthy communities not constrained by boarders, political ideology or ethnic background.  If there ever was a time for the church to engage now is that time.

Take some time to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Am I a part of a church?  We must understand the danger of individualism that says we can do this on our own. We can’t. We need each other.

2) Is my church safe and inviting? In other words, is it a place anyone can come to seek God, get help or simply receive prayer?

3) Is my church healthy? I understand this question is subjective. It will require both a gut check and time in prayer asking God. That is okay. Remember there is no rule that you will be able to pass that will make it healthy. It is a question focused on the human dynamic and our relationship with God and each other.

If you identified growth areas for your church, what are you going to do about it? Often times when we see shortcomings it is easy to pass along blame or make sure a rule is passed to make everyone become like me. We need more than that. We need ownership, responsibility and a deepening relationship with God.

Politicians will continue to debate. Discussions are already underway about who will run in 2016. Laws will be passed that may help within their limited capacity.

My prayer is the church will stand up and be counted. We will operate in our currency of faith, hope and love. We will stay true to Jesus and avoid the dangers of legalism. We have answers to the human condition. Just like Abraham we are able to hope even if there appears to be no reason to hope.





Living beyond laws

8 08 2012

I am back!  I returned from deployment at the end of June and I was able to spend some down time with the family.  To be honest it can be hard to get going after a break.  The good news is that the need to write is pushing me to the point I had to get started again.  So here it goes…

Within the last several weeks we have had two terrible shootings that have rocked the nation.  After the grieving there are a couple of normal responses the community has.  First, we try to figure out who the person was and why he did it.  Second, we evaluate our laws to see if they need to be changed or new laws need to be added.  I want to focus on the second response.

Laws establish boundaries for what we believe is acceptable behavior in the community.  In reality laws only control some behavior some of the time for some of the people.  Want proof?  Did you break any speed limits this week?

As Christians we believe that God transforms our lives.  In Galatians Paul lists the byproduct of being in a healthy relationship with God (Galatians 5:22-23).  We call them the fruits of the Spirit.  He says something interesting at the end of the list, “Against such things there is no law.”  That makes sense.  How do you legislate gentleness?  Can you force a person to be joyful or have peace?  These things have to be byproducts of something deeper.  I would offer the discussion we need to have is not about laws or the one individual but our own personal growth and how to be a healthy community.

I am grateful we live in a country that gives us freedom.  We are able to have a “market place of ideas.”  The church brings Jesus to the market place.  We offer that a relationship with him will transform us.  It gives us new life.  It results in communities built on love that are good and faithful.  Has the church ever gotten it wrong?  Absolutely.  I offer we get it wrong when we shift our focus from Jesus.

Now what?  If you are not a Christian I would invite you to consider Jesus.  Talk with a Christian you respect and explore what it means to have a personal relationship.  For those who are in a relationship with Jesus, take a peace of paper and write the 9 fruits that are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control).  Consider each one and ask yourself “Am I growing naturally in this area?”  If you are human you will have mixed results.  There will be areas you are growing and there will be areas you need to work on.  For those areas you need to work on avoid the easy answer which is to make a rule (or law) to try and change.  Instead pray and ask God to change you. Please be willing to listen.  God will open opportunities for you to grow.  It may be by talking with someone, reading your bible, getting plugged in with a church or looking for a way to get involved in your community.

The result will be transformed individuals living in communities that are vibrant and healthy.  Will we still have tragedies?  Sadly, until Jesus returns we will.  However, we will have given ourselves the best chance to avoid them and an effective way to respond.





You look like someone I know

8 03 2012

There seems to be a breakdown in how people treat each other.  In politics it gets downright ugly.  Once a person is seen as being on the other side of the issue, there are no limits to how much we can bash them.  The attacks are often personal and frankly mean.  Meanwhile, the images portrayed as normal make people worry about how they look.  The idea of beauty has become an airbrushed fantasy.  It is heartbreaking.  Does Christian theology have a response to this?  I believe it has a very powerful response.

First, you may be surprised that I used the word theology.  However, theology is why we do the things we do.  Theology is simply how we understand God.  So if your theological view is there is no God you will live your life accordingly.  If you view God as judgmental waiting to punish you then that will shape how you live.  Some believe God is present in everything…the bottom line is how we understand God and the things of God ripple into all the other areas of our life either consciously or unconsciously.

What is the Christian theology on self-image and how we treat others?  You may have heard the term Imago Dei.  It means the image of God.  Christians believe we are made in God’s image.  This has huge repercussions.

First, we have value and worth regardless of any external factor.  Society may or may not find you attractive.  However, you have inherent attractiveness because of whose image you are made in.  Many would agree that we need to have an internal sense of value and worth.  However, I would argue that value needs to be anchored in something larger than ourselves.  If we don’t anchor it the result is a tendency to earn our worth or look for worth in other people.  If I try and earn my worth I will never feel I have arrived.  I will burn myself out.  If our worth comes from another person we set ourselves up.  All of us are human.  We make mistakes and don’t always appreciate the people around us.  The Christian view is to anchor our value and worth in God.  God does not need our actions (one of the benefits of being God) and is able to be a steady rock in the midst of our human relationships.

Second, we are an image of God and not God.  This puts boundaries on me.  I need to be respectful and acknowledge there is one who is greater than me.  When I disrespect another person, I am not showing respect for the one whose image that person carries.  This means I see everyone has having value and worth not because of what they do even if they have hurt me or because of who they are.  I show them value and worth because they are made in the image of God.

Imagine if we treated everyone with respect and dignity.  Yes, even the person who we do not like or the person who has hurt us.  At the extreme we see this in how we treat prisoners.  Even though they may have done horrible things, we insure they are treated with dignity.  To do anything else opens the door for interpretation for how others are treated.  (I hope you can see the idea of people deciding to treat people differently because of the color of their skin or their political views.)  This takes Jesus commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love our enemies to a whole new level.

If I see I have value and worth because I am made in the image of God then I will have self-esteem.  If I see you have value and worth because you are made in the image of God then I will treat you with dignity and respect.  That should happen regardless if I agree with you, if you look a certain way or if you do something I think is wrong.

Confession as a Christian leader:  The Church has not always gotten this right.  The Church is made up of humans who sin.  This only reinforces my point about being anchored in God and not other people.  However, the Church’s theology is clear.  We need to allow this theology to ripple into the other areas of our lives.  You are in the image of God and so is every other person you encounter.  I pledge to act like it.  Will you?





When the Church gets it right

9 02 2012

Have you ever been reading and something leaps out at you?  It is like biting into what you think is a regular brownie and finding out it has a dark chocolate filling.  (Feel free to substitute your favorite filling…and you can also change the brownie to your favorite sweet.  I promise it is all zero calories.)  This happened to me when I read the final sentence in a story at the beginning of Act 6.  It is the story about selecting leaders in the church.  It is a great story at a lot of levels.  What I love is shows just how amazing the church can be when we get it right.  It invites all of us to consider the possibility of the church living up to its fullest potential.

The story begins in Acts 6:1 with the church experiencing conflict.  It is a great reminder that anytime people are involved there will be conflict.  I love the sign one of my professors hung outside his church.  It said, “No perfect people allowed.”  God was not naïve when he established the church.  Conflict and misunderstanding do not surprise God.  Instead of saying we should ignore problems or run away from them, God expects us to face them and deal with them in a gracious and respectful manner.  That is what we see in this story.  To be honest, I have seen what I call “nice disease” in too many of our churches.  This is where we are all really “nice” to each other and ignore problems.  (The other extreme is where we pick on everyone else because we are the ones who “have it right” which gives us an excuse to walk away from the church.)    Bottom line: the church is full of humans.  The story in Acts shows us how to be human and be the community God calls us to be.

The last line of the story says, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

I want to focus on the “large number of priests.”  This is a very significant statement and what leaped out at me.  We have to take a step back and remember the early church saw Jesus as the promised Messiah for the Nation of Israel.  There would have been an expectation that the things established in the Old Testament would continue only they would continue through Jesus.  This is why you see the early church going to the Temple and worshiping there.

One of the Old Testament requirements was the expectation of the community to take care of widows.  God was both direct and specific about making sure those in need were supported.  What was the conflict in Acts 6?  They ran into a problem caring for the widows.  They managed the problem well and those in need were provided for.  For the priest this would have been inspiring.  They saw a community doing what they were suppose to be doing; taking care of each other.  Because the larger Jewish community was made up of humans, they would have experienced firsthand the frustrations of selfishness and a lack of concern for those in need.  All communities have people in need and because communities are made up of humans there are various degrees of success in dealing with the problem.  The church stood out.  They got it right.  The priests were naturally drawn to them.  They wanted to be a part of a community that really “got it” and took care of each other.

Once again it looks like Jesus was right.  He said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).  The priests saw the love they had for one another.  It was a love that did not ignore problems and try to be “nice” or blame everyone else.  It was a love that let them deal with conflict with a focus on the best interests of the community.

How do we apply this?  We have to accept that churches are made up of imperfect humans and that there will be problems and issues.  We need to deal with those problems effectively and in a healthy manner.  When we do, the church is able to live up to its full potential.  Jesus established the church to be a tangible presence of his love on earth.  When the church gets it right, we make a phenomenal impact.  We care for those in need.  We are voice to those who need a voice.  We are not limited by geographic boarders or political parties.  We are motivated by the best interest of the people around us.  Everything flows from loving God and loving the people around us.  When we get it right, it is pretty amazing.

Please get plugged into a healthy church.  I will warn you now that it will not be perfect.  (That is a good thing otherwise I wouldn’t be able to attend.)  You will have to deal with conflict from time to time.  However, if it is a healthy church, it will deal with those issues and turn around and meet the needs of the people around it.  You will be a part of a community living up to its fullest potential.  Trust me, it will be worth it.