Sunday, October 19, 2014

Freedom Riders for the End of Christendom

This week in Texas, I mean Texas of all places (for the love of the Bible and big hair); five pastors have been subpoenaed to turn over their sermons, I’m sorry, their “speeches” to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.  Why, you might ask?   Because their sermons (which is a speech, people) touched on specially-protected topics like homosexuality and gender.  In Georgia, a high school has to pay to remove a sculpture on the football field that contain words from the Bible that says, “If God is for us, who can be against us.”  An atheist group found out about the sculpture and lodged a lawsuit against the school.  In Oregon a woman is losing her bakery for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple because of her religious conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Chick-fil-A has been boycotted and smeared all over the news because one of its owners gave a personal opinion to a Christian magazine, chaplains are asked to not mention the name of Jesus in their prayers because it might offend someone in the crowd, and my daughter is told in her third grade class that she cannot talk about God, not even on the playground. 

Christendom in America is dead.  Let that sink in.  Let that really, really sink in.  You see, the church is still operating like it is 1950 and Christendom is alive and booming, but it’s not.  We have a president who announced to the world that we, the United States of America, are not a Christian nation.  The time of Christendom is over, the sun has set on that age in our golden history and the post-modern world of relativism is upon us.  So the question is….What now?

I have been turning this around in my mind for the past two months.  What now?  How does the church live and thrive in what is now, a hostile environment?  A couple of years ago I was in St. Vitus Cathedral in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Prague.  It was more than lovely, it was heavenly.  After I walked around and marveled at its beauty, I saw a small piece of paper pinned to an even smaller cork board at the back of the church.  It read, “Church Missional Statement, How do we, a generation born of a generation estranged from God, reach this generation?”  You see the citizens of Prague have been under rule since the Nazi’s rolled in during World War II.  After the war, the communist replaced the Nazi’s.  Both of these horrid governments had a very special rule.  No God.  Government was to replace God.  So the Christians of Prague are now faced with this dilemma.  How do they, a generation born of a generation estranged from God, reach the generations?  I stared at that little piece of paper for a long time.  Not because it was written so well, but because it held so much truth for my American generation as well.    We are a generation born of a generation estranged from God…and now the consequences are flowing. 

There is a war on our religious freedom, on our first amendment rights that began a few years ago and is now snowballing in this country.  The government is using intimidation, smear campaigns, and bullying tactics against Christianity in order to keep Christianity under its thumb. We are being pushed more and more into the corner, asked to use the right newspeak and doublethink.  If you do not believe me, try typing into your Facebook status an opinion that does not sit with the status pro quoi.  Or bring up an opposite point of view that is not held by the liberal left.  You will be attacked immediately as using, “hate-speech” and be called, “ignorant, unintelligent” for not seeing their ideas as the right ones, regardless of how eloquently, intelligently, or lovingly you present your argument.  Why?  Because anything against the accepted line of thought is no longer welcome in America.  Tow the politically correct line or shut-up. 

 This is not a new thing.  This goes all the way back to Jesus and before Jesus to Daniel and so on.  This is what the world wants.  This is what the culture around us will always do to true Christianity.  It will try to silence it when it can and snuff it out when it cannot.  ISIS,  anyone?

So, I am back to my original question.  If we are here, if  the age of Christendom is over in the United States, and we are now living in a Post-modern Relative America what can we, the church, do?  Here’s what we do. We must ride the bus.  The Freedom Riders of the 60’s were not only some of the bravest men and women to ever walk our streets; they were also brilliant minds who thought alike.  The Freedom Riders upheld the Judeo-Christian theology of suffering in order to build their framework for initiated change in America.  It was an inter-denominational, inter-racial, joint effort to ensure that the rights of all Americans were not only observed, but upheld through peaceful civil disobedience.   It was their right to ride on the public bus systems in America, regardless of what state that bus was traveling through.  So they did not fire guns in the streets, or try to start fights with their neighbors, they simply rode the bus.  They sacrificed themselves for the cause they believed in, for the rights they were given by God because they knew that all men where created equal by God regardless of color.  We, the American church, need to do our research.  We need to take up the banner of the Freedom Riders and learn from their movement.  We can through peaceful demonstration make a difference.  We do not have to be obnoxious, we don’t need to stand on the side of the road and scream through a bullhorn, or push our Bibles into our neighbor’s faces, but we need to take a stand for the rights we have been given by God in this country while we have them.  When they are gone, they are gone, and we will change tactics.  But for now, we have our rights and we need to embrace them. 

To start with, we the church, has to vote.  When good people choose to do nothing, choose to say nothing, choose for the sake of “peace-making” (not peace-keeping that is totally different), not to vote or speak-up then we are literally giving our rights away while we talk in angry voices at the dinner table about the condition of America and pray that Jesus will change it all.  He has given us hands and feet to be His hands and feet.  To build the Kingdom, and we need to start now. 

Most of our problem is that we act like our 90 year old great-uncle who can only yell about the state of things as they are, who constantly acts like it is still 1953, and who yearns for the good old days.  We cannot accept the change that is occurring around us so we are becoming obsolete as a church.  We have to embrace that America has changed, and we must rise to the occasion.  We must be as the Freedom Riders and make a difference through the love of Jesus Christ while we can.  We must be useful in this ungodly culture by being problem solvers, not just people who can talk about problems.  If we want abortion to end, we have to stop making little pictures to share on Facebook and start voting for change in our politicians.  We have to start caring enough to open our homes to the orphans and to the young mothers who need our help.  We have to stop depending on the government to give out aid and be the church in our communities that Jesus was talking about when he told us to care for the least of these. 

If we want to protect our freedom of speech, we need to stand behind these pastors, bakery owners, and high-schools by writing and calling our representatives, congressmen and any newspaper that will listen.  Write an opinion piece for your local paper.  But write it well.  Do not use hate, do not be angry, do not use scary statistics that cannot be verified or over-generalizations.  Do your homework, be informed, and be ready to answer the hard questions.  Do not be afraid of the word, “hate”, that our culture will inevitably throw at you.  It is a sledgehammer used to knock the wind out of truth.  It is used as an end all, be all to every opinion that does not line up with theirs.  It is belittling on purpose.  Don’t let it get to you.  Remember Jesus said they would hate us, because they hated him first. 

In this Post-modern culture we have to stop allowing the world to silence the gospel through fear and intimidation.  We are accountable to God, not to men.  This is happening church, and sticking our head in the sand and pretending that it is a nice sunny day in 1951 will not stop it.  We must embrace the time that God has granted us, exercise the rights God has given us and be the change we want to see in this world. 

-A Freedom Writer

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stumbling Over Our Own Two Feet

Stumbling Over Our Own Two Feet

I have grown up in church.  Like many of you.  Growing up in the church has amazing, life-changing pro’s as a result of having a relationship with the Lord for so many years, but let’s get real here.  If I was to show you my “I’m Down with the D.C. Talk” shirt, you would immediately know that growing up in the church also means that I have some major issues to overcome that come from having a relationship with the church…for good and for bad.

This paradox became evident to me when we moved to Korea when I was 21 years old.  It wasn’t the kimche that started to get to me (although that will get you “clean” quickly), but a Bible study of Korean women who met in my house each week.  The study was taught in Korean and one sweet woman translated the words into English for the multi-language-challenged (me).  It was there, sitting on a tea-pillow, listening to Hawang-Song’s words of wisdom that I realized how much culture had mixed in with my doctrine.  When women from a completely different walk of life, an Eastern mindset instead of a Western read the words of God and interpreted things just slightly differently….something began to crack inside me.  It was a good cracking, a breaking of my religious ties that kept me chained to tradition instead of relationship.  But even more amazing was this…they viewed some of the teachings of Jesus totally differently than I did…they had a different take on this story or that story, but it didn’t change the message.  They loved him, they knew him in a way that was different than the way I knew him, but it was still the same Jesus. 

Let me go ahead and give this disclaimer, because I know some of you starting to narrow your eyes and wonder if I am about to walk over a doctrinal cliff here.   You are wondering if I am talking about the things “that matter.”  Let me set you at ease.  I’m not.  I am not talking about those things that we will call “salvific,” i.e,  those things that are necessary for salvation.  The salvific things are not open for personal interpretation.  I am talking about the things that the Bible clearly left open to interpretation…because I believe there is a beauty in interpretation that has been lost on us. 
It has been lost because it has been abused.  It has blended into something, morphed into the proverbial square peg trying to fit into the round hole.  Interpretation is not the enemy.  Changing the gospel, misinterpretation, and taking the word out of context and character…that is the enemy.  But we seem to have blended these two into one.  We fear allowing someone to have a different opinion than we have because what if…what if they are wrong?  Well, my answer is….what if?  What if we allowed others to search the Word, to wrestle with it like Jacob and the Angel, and trust that in the end Jesus will set them straight, even if they limp a little afterward?  What if we pray and walk along side each other as we wrestle with the Word and help sharpen each other in genuine love (remember the iron sharpens iron admonition?) instead of closing the book and taking our toys home because we don’t agree on predestination or once-saved-always-saved? 

Divisiveness in the church.  This has become, dare I say, the number one stumbling block to the American church.  The fact that we cannot sit side by side together in church because we differ on things that are not salvific in nature.  Often, when we talk about a stumbling block and of Romans 14:21 which says, “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble,” we lean heavily on the word drink.  We focus in on it like it’s in red in a red-letter Bible.  It’s not.  I checked.  And in Alabama, no one ever mentions the meat part…we like our ribs and steak too much.  And Famous Dave’s BBQ sauce…cause man, oh man, that’s good stuff.

Alcohol, not drinking, we focus in on this verse when we talk about stumbling blocks so often.  But, here is the thing…Romans 14:21 is talking to the church, because we create more stumbling blocks for ourselves through our hard-earned, hard-taught lines in the sand than anyone else does.  Our greatest stumbling block is the fact that we are a divided church in America.  We do not work well with each other.  We judge each other for not having the same convictions, for not seeing the picture exactly the same, for wanting to use red in the sanctuary and not tan or using loud music or great hymns.  We divide ourselves over baby food and forget that we are suppose to be eating meat…that we are suppose to be building the Kingdom of God together. 

“Do not for the sake of food, destroy the work of God” Romans 14:20. 

The entire chapter in Romans is talking about not dividing over things that don’t matter.  Not passing judgment because we do things a little differently, not getting so upset about the little things we build into mountains that stop us from walking the path of righteousness.  What do we most often refer to in this chapter?  The one word drink.  We are missing the point.  We have to stop being concerned with doctrinal differences that are dividing the body of Christ and start working together to remove the stumbling block of division.  Because, while we worry over alcohol, or predestination, or age of accountability, or levels of modesty, or cessation, or transubstantiation, we have become a very real stumbling block to the Kingdom of God by wasting our time arguing  with our brothers and sisters and not doing.

So I ask that we will start this conversation.  How are we being a stumbling block to the church, by arguing over non-salvific matters?  Are we, the church of America, destroying the work of God for the sake of food…of things that do not really matter in the great plan of the great commission? 

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Romans 14:17

Friday, August 15, 2014

Awaken...the Sleeping Giant

I saw the streets of America look like the streets of war last night.  I watched as crowds of angry, frustrated people threw molotov cocktails into gas stations and stole everything they could get their hands on while shooting at police officers.  I saw an old man stirring the crowd with his old manipulation tools, which were thinly veiled by words such as peace, justice, and personal rights.  Because…evil must be repaid with evil.  That is justice…

Then I watched the plight of many in a desert place.  Children covered in their own filth, mothers who looked as if they would drop dead of exhaustion if it were not for the tiny hand that held onto their skirts, fathers who had no answers, no way to protect his beloved family.  And behind them…in hot pursuit of the hunted were angry men with guns, screaming of religious cleansing, of a war for Allah, and holy jihad.  Because their god calls for it, their god demands it.  That is justice. 

Then I saw the crushed stones that used to be houses.  Bullet holes in the sides of buildings.  Bombs flying through the air when a time of truce was supposed to stop them.  War on a people because they have the wrong blood, the wrong God, all in the name of Allah.  All in the name of holy jihad.  Because their right to life supersedes all others’ right to life…that is justice.

We, the sleeping giant of America, the church, have become a cowardly thing.  We have somehow adopted the lie that our greatest days are over, that we are no longer relevant to this world.  This world is at war, this world is hurting, this world is on fire and we cannot play our fiddle while it comes down around our feet. 

I hear the drums in the distance; I hear the calling of the Lord.  Rise up, O sleeping ones!  Rise up and be the church I called you to be before the foundation of the earth was laid!  Walk the ancient path of truth…Seek Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly before Me! 

Our greatest days are not behind us.  Christendom might be coming to an end in America, but Christ is not!  He is once again standing in our churches, reading from the sacred scroll as he did that day in Capernaum…

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed

We must do our part.  Bring the good news, comfort the brokenhearted, proclaim to the captives his truth and SET THE PRISONERS FREE!

Rise up…O Sleeping One.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My two dead friends

Because it’s Read from the Great’s Thursday….(If you are thinking I just made that up…you are right…and you should stop being so cynical)

I wanted to recommend 2 ladies who would be my very best friends.  Who would sit and talk for hours over a hot cup of coffee or a delicious glass of Red with me.  Who would laugh at all of my funny jokes (cause they are Hil-AR-i-ous…to my mother and myself), and who would undoubtedly want to do brunch…every Thursday.  These two ladies would do all of this with me…if they weren’t dead.  Having dead friends is hard, and could get you a very special bed in a very special closed-off wing of a mental hospital.  So…here are two dead ladies that still have the power to move my spirit and bring me to the deeper places of life where God’s mysteries are found. 

The FIRST lady in my dead best friends club is Amy Carmichael.   Amy was born in 1867 in Ireland.  She lived her entire life as a servant in India.  She  worked for 55 years in the trenches without any furloughs.  She was a woman who followed God into her calling without anyone behind or beside her.  She lived her last days after a terrible fall in immense pain, but choose to write and glorify the Lord during that time as well.  She rescued women and children from temple prostitution in India; she fed the poor and loved the least of these.  This woman had grit and perseverance.  I like a woman who gets her hands dirty and sees her hands better for it.   

 Here are some of my favorite quotes from this amazing woman.

“We profess to be strangers and pilgrims, seeking after a country of our own, yet we settle down in the most un-stranger-like fashion, exactly as if we were quite at home and meant to stay as long as we could. I don't wonder apostolic miracles have died. Apostolic living certainly has.”

“God’s way of passing by, of letting His “hem” come near us, is to take some single word in His Book and make it breathe spirit and life to us.”

“Have you lost your reputation?  To lost it—and to keep on being willing to lost it daily for His sake and for the sake of those for whom He died—means this: To take up your cross daily.”

“A crucified life cannot be self-assertive.  It cannot protect itself.  It cannot be startled into resentful words.  The cup that is full of sweet water cannot spill bitter-tasting drops, however sharply it is knocked.”

Her Books:

I Come Quietly to Meet You  (excellent collection of her writings put into a daily devotional…good meat for breakfast)

IF (will ROCK your world)

Plowed Under

Candles in the Dark

(any many many more!!!  Go look her up online)

SECONDLY, I want to introduce you to my dead friend, who seems so alive on paper that she might just jump up and slap yo’ grandma.  Not really…she was a nun…so she probably didn’t slap a lot of people.  Spiritually, yes she still slaps me each time I read her.  

            Meet St.Teresa of Avila.  Born in 1515 in Goturrendura, Spain, she was committed to nunnery after a scandalous relationship with her cousin.  Which could have been scandalous or could have been as innocent as talking without a proper escort around.  Praise the Lord for women’s freedom in America.  I would have been put in a nunnery by the time I was five with all my sassiness. 
            Teresa, (we are on a first name basis), not only flourishes in the nunnery she does something amazing.  She finds and cultivates a relationship with the Lord that is so deep, so inspiring, that the Spanish Inquisition could not kill and time cannot weaken.  In her book, The Interior Castle, she paints a picture of the soul which longs for the Lord so eloquently that the words I read hold on long after I have put the book down.  She writes of prayer.  How to break through the ease of prayer and get into the seven dwellings of meditation, transformation and the very presence of God. 

“Be assured that the more progress you make in loving your neighbor, the greater will be your love for God. “

“Humility is the ointment for our wounds.  If we are truly humble, then God, the great physician, will eventually come to heal us.”

“Remember: all you have to do as you begin to cultivate the practice of prayer is to prepare yourself with sincere effort and intent to bring your will into harmony with the will of God.”

“The soul in the state of prayer is like the silk worm, it dies to the world and emerges a little white butterfly.”

She has spunk and her personality can be found between the lines of the pages.  She writes such things as, Have I already told you about this thing?  Well, I am old and cannot remember everything, so I will just talk about it again.

And she does.  And it is awesome.  Her book opens a door to a disciplined prayer life which walks you into the depths of God. 
The Interior Castle by St.Teresa of Avila
These are two women who can inspire us today, just as if they were here to talk over a cup of coffee.  So, for Read from the Great’s Thursday….Amy Carmichael and St. Teresa of Avila. 

Let me know if they are in your best-friend club as well….or share other names you have in your club!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Warning: Graphic Apathy

I thought about walking out of church this morning.  It wasn’t that the songs were not the right ones, or that the message was not the right message, or that the coffee was too hot or the cream too cold.  It wasn’t the childcare or the lack thereof; it wasn’t the hypocrisy of the people or the kindness in their handshakes.  It wasn’t because they asked for too much of my money during offering time or that they didn’t call on me during Sunday school.  These things, the things that I, at some point in my extremely entitled life, have complained about were not what caused me to almost walk out of church today.  Those things don’t matter.  It wasn’t something that the church did that caused the weight to build and ache in my chest, it was what they didn’t do. It was this that I could not stomach: We didn’t pray for the Christians in Iraq, we didn’t even mention them. 

In the middle of the third song about my relationship with Christ, my need for grace, my need for help from the Strong Tower, something seriously cracked inside of me.  Heat ran through my body and I felt the need to hide my face.  I was embarrassed in front of the Lord.  I was embarrassed that we, the sleeping giant, the American church sing songs and pray for ourselves more than we pray for the church.  I felt embarrassed that in Sunday school we spent 20 minutes on prayer time for ankle surgery, and travel mercies and only briefly mentioned the hurting church.  Y’all, I know you are thinking I’m being harsh, that these things matter (and they do), but we need to be a little harsh on ourselves.  We need to realize that the rest of the world is falling apart, that Christians are being murdered in the streets, that mothers are holding the bodies of their decapitated children and crying out to the Lord for mercy and we…we…we are singing songs about our relationship with Christ and praying for our very blessed ankles. 

I would like to hear from you today.  Did your churches pray for those who are for the first time in my life, being murdered in a way that even the Nazis would find brazen?  Was it a simply mention over coffee with sad eyes and chatter of how terrible it is for ‘those people’?  Or was it a church, getting down on their faces and crying out for our brothers and sisters? 

I wonder…is it denial?  As I listened to a very nice sermon this morning… good words, from the Good Book, I could not help but wonder.  When did we become so disconnected from the rest of the church in the rest of the world?  When did we become so internally focused that we don’t even mention the systematic genocide of our brothers and sisters in church because it might be disturbing or unsettling for our members?  When did we forget that we are the body of Christ, and they…those we see on TV, those are our arms and legs that are being cut down for their belief in Jesus?  When did we become so apathetic that we believe that the chasm between us and them is too great for the Holy Spirit to bridge through prayer and fasting?  That in the wake of one of the worst persecutions the church has seen in my lifetime, we don’t even mention in it church.

This is the time to put away our differences, those things that we make soapboxes out of when there is something out there that truly, truly matters.  Lets start today caring less and less about if alcohol should or should not be drunk, if offering should be 10% or more, if we should sing hymns or choruses, if we can use instruments or not, if we can raise or hands or sit still, if we like this speaker or that one.  Let us let go of what divides us and be united this day in prayer.

This is a time to rip our robes, to put ash on our foreheads, to cry out to the God of the Universe and call for action!  This is a time to remove the cloak of apathy that we wear over our hearts in the name of self-control and order.  Tear your clothes, put ash on your foreheads.  Let us mourn for the dead and let our voice rise to the heavens for those living in the midst of hell on earth.  Because who will sing  for them if not us…their brothers and sisters? 

God said, IF my people pray….IF.  So I am asking us all to do something.  To not sit by and sing a comforting song about Jesus being our refuge in the hard times, to not simply quote the verse that all things work out for the good for those who believe in him…but to care enough to fast and pray.  This week I will fast and pray on Tuesday and Thursday.  Will you join me? 

Because this morning when I sang the words…I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.  I saw this picture in my mind and my soul cried out, “I have no idea God, no idea what those words mean.”

Join me in prayer and fasting this week.  IF MY PEOPLE PRAY…