Category Archives: Material World

A Godly Revolution

Adam Edgerly, the lead pastor for Newsong Los Angeles, spoke yesterday at a training session for young leaders taking part in the Love Santa Ana campaign this weekend. Looking at the civil rights movement in the 1960s as well as the current racial divides and ethnic concerns in society today, Edgerly suggested a radically different process for social engagement. He didn’t say that people just accept injustice. Yet he also cautioned that taking to the streets should not be the first action for followers of Christ. He also said that certain actions may help be a temporary release valve for social tension although they don’t do much to solve the long-term problems. Rioting in the streets and vandalizing businesses may go a long way to hurt a movement instead of help it.

As a black leader and pastor, Edgerly spoke with conviction about real reform coming through the spiritual discipline of civil engagement. This seeks to bring change to public policy through altering the spiritual and physical reality of the world around us. He pointed to the actions of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 1 as a model for social reform. Overcome by the state of his people, Nehemiah sat down and wept over the state of Jerusalem. Its walls had been torn down, and the city was defenseless. Those who lived in the city were vulnerable and in a poor state.

Edgerly commented that the first thing Nehemiah did was to stop and encounter the pain of his people even though they were a long way off back in Jerusalem. He allowed the pain of others to impact his heart and drive him to action. Then, Nehemiah moved from pain to prayer where the concern was brought before God. This released divine guidance, inspiration and power to help impact the situation. Nehemiah started to develop a God-inspired plan. Prayer positions our hearts and minds so that we can hear how God wants to change the situations we see around us.

Nehemiah went from pain to prayer to planning and then to action where he sought the proper time to petition the ruling authorities for access and support to make the necessary changes to bring relief to those who were suffering in Jerusalem.

This involved a substantial risk for Nehemiah. As the king’s cup bearer, he had access to the king, but his request could be interpreted as disloyalty or rebellion. Nehemiah might find himself at the wrong end of the sword by making his request known. And it was never a good idea to be downcast in front of the king. Everybody wanted to put on their best face in the king’s presence. But if you want to make major change, you have to be willing to take a real risk.

Edgerly suggested the following lessons and process from the civil rights movement of the 1960s looking specifically at the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1.) Christians should investigate the situation and collect the facts. Rumor and accusation are not the same thing as true injustice.
2.) Then, Christians should try to negotiate a proper resolution with those in authority.
3.) As the situation escalates, Christians should go through self purification to make sure that they cut any ties or support for the injustice taking place.
4.) Finally, Christians should engage in non-violent direct action to raise awareness of the issue and show solidarity with those who are being abused, hurt, marginalized or negatively impacted by a particular injustice.

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I Know God’s Will for Your Life … Do You?

The following is a speech I made at a high school graduation for one of the students  from my youth group. He graduated from a small home school co-op.

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Graduates, you are about to enter the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. It will be full of transition for both you and your parents. Over the next 5-10 years, you will meet new people, go to new places, and face new challenges. You will make decisions that could have ripple effects throughout your entire life. And you will likely be making these decisions with a lot less oversight and a lot more freedom than you have been accustomed to in the past. You are growing up, and it is time to wrestle with the joys and the challenges of freedom.

The good news is that even when you make a mistake or even outright commit sin, God can forgive you and turn around things for good. But you don’t want to make too many bad decisions and dig yourself into a big hole — right?

So, when I was in your shoes and faced the challenge of making decisions for myself with minimal parental involvement, I struggled with the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” As I have wrestled with that question through the years, I have learned a few things.

First, we tend to focus on the who, what, when and where of any situation. We want to know which career to pursue, what girl to date and eventually marry, or which place we should live. While those are all good questions, they alone won’t answer God’s will for our lives. God is more concerned with the how of our decisions. He focuses on primarily how we go down whatever path we choose. And more importantly, God cares about the kind of person we are becoming. God’s will is about more than just what we do — the focus should be on who we are — our identity in Christ.

A good question to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the heart and the mind of God about whatever we do?

Let me make a radical statement. You might find this hard to believe. I know what the will of God is for everyone in this room! You might think, “How could this guy know that? He hasn’t even met me. Is he a mind reader? How could he possibly know God’s will for all of these people?”

Those are good questions. But the reason I am so confident in my statement is that I can read. And while Scripture shows many instances of God’s will being done and revealed, only a few times does it make broad statements about God’s will. And the more I studied this issue I discovered how critical is this one thing to accomplishing God’s will for my life.

So, are you ready for the secret? It can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While this statement was written to a specific group of people at a specific time. I believe it has relevance to every believer. Because no matter what we face in life, if we develop a thankful heart, we will be able to overcome any obstacle and move on toward God’s goal for us.

Being thankful can be hard because most people face some challenges in life. How can we be thankful in all circumstances? What about the boring, life-draining droll of adulthood? What about the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store when the checker is moving beyond slow, and a child is screaming behind you? To make this worse, all you can think about is how your wife is waiting at home with a long honey-do list after your tiring day at work, and you just want is to be left alone.

Or, what about when your hard-to-please boss yells at you for not doing what he said should seem like common sense, but you had no idea he wanted it done that way? How can you rejoice when a difficult family situations arises, such as a rebellious child or an aging parent?

Or what about when God “doesn’t come through” as you expected? You thought God had promised something, but He delayed in fulfilling your expectation. Or, just like Job in the Bible, maybe God never answers the question you want answered most? Or how about when you are sick and don’t feel like moving? There are many tough situations that are difficult to rejoice about.

Do we need to deny how we feel or dismiss the pain that we encounter in this life? I believe the answer to that question is a big fat NO. That attitude would not be real nor would it lead to a truly thankful heart. It would merely be putting on a fake mask before God and acting religious. That might work if all God cared about was the outward appearance at any one moment. But God’s heart is not just that we would do the right things; He is more focused on us becoming the right kind of people. Jesus want us to have His heart and mind about our lives, the world and others. We must become who we are already in Christ.

So how do we develop a thankful heart?

Well, for starters, a thankful heart is born long before the moment of challenge. Most of the time I simply react out of the storehouse of experience, personality and perspective that I have obtained over my life. I don’t usually stop and carefully thing through every incident that arises. Honestly, neither do you. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you develop a thankful heart — realizing how much God has already done for you even if He never answers another prayer, then you are more likely to default to a more godly response. If you realize that God is sovereign and ultimately does care about you, that can bring hope in even the darkest hour.

A thankful heart is not overcome by hardship even though it is free to mourn loss. Just as Jesus cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are free to express our true emotions to God. But we can’t let those feelings be all there is to our internal process. We have to realize that truth is bigger than our perspective or even our challenges in life.

A thankful heart has a godly perspective and sees beyond the moment. But this is hard — even impossible to accomplish on our own. This faith response is rooted in God’ work. We just have to believe it and submit to it.

I believe the answer to how we develop a thankful heart comes from a very familiar passage. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect.”

The Apostle Paul called early Christians to think differently from the world. Instead of being conformed to the world’s perspective, we are to have the mind of Christ. We are to be less like water that conforms to the shape of whatever cup it is in, and we are to be more like ice that is molded under cold temperatures into a solid block and will retain its shape in different types of containers. While it will melt over time, the ice takes its shape from the mold it is formed in, and for Christians, that mold is our new lives in Christ.

Also, this passage doesn’t just say our actions are transformed. The Lord wants to renew our minds and our hearts. Remember, this transformation is not just about what we do. Our actions should flow from who we are, and our identity in Christ. We are a thankful people because we are aware of how much God loves and has done for us. We are thankful because we realize the truth that he who has been forgiven much loves much.

So how do we have the mind of Christ? We take on the mind of God by reading Scripture and letting it challenge us. Through prayer, including listening prayer, we give our heart to God and position ourselves to hear directly from the Holy Spirit. By allowing God’s truth to change how we look at our situation, we find that He fashions our heart anew to rejoice despite whatever we face.

We praise God in the midst of the storm because He is worthy regardless of what is going on around us. This requires faith as well as reliance on God’s ability to transform and change the things we can’t do anything about.

So, God’s will for your life is to give thanks and rejoice in who He is. The Lord wants all of us to find our hope in Him and not in our situation. If you allow God to build this heart attitude in you, you will be able to realize the fullness of God’s plan. Until then, you may get frustrated, disillusioned or confused when things don’t work out like you had hoped or expected.

There are too many so-called Christians who have found that their faith wavers when God’s will turns out to be something far different than what they expected. There are many situations and decisions where the Lord may give you lots of freedom to make whatever choice you want. There may not just be one perfect person for you to marry. Nor is there one ideal place to live. Your career and work may change a lot through your life. But I can guarantee you that if you allow the Lord to create a thankful heart in you — you always will be able to navigate whatever comes up, and at least in one way you will be living out with certainty God’s will for your life.

Sorry I Said That…

The most recent election has produced some very strong feelings and words by many Christians. Some people have really said things that are hard to reconcile with what I know about those people. Ultimately, we are only responsible to God for what we say. But we must remember that our public witness does reflect on the cause of Christ.

I believe that we can state our opinion and even enter into political discourse without getting into name calling, yelling or being rude. Some of the best posts that I have seen on Facebook suggest that any Christian who acts like all is either won or lost just because of an election has put too much faith in people and politics. I certainly agree although I believe it is perfectly fine to either celebrate or mourn depending on your opinion.

I personally am mourning the fact that I believe this nation is swinging further away from the heart of God and at the same time both political parties refuse to do anything about pressing issues such as a skyrocketing debt, immigration concerns, boosting the economy, education, regulatory reform, etc.

As I was reading the Word today, I was challenged by these statements made in the book of James…

James 1:19-21: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Sometimes we need to think twice before we hit the “send” button on the email or Facebook post. Our first reaction, may not be a Biblical one. I was hit hard by the statement that the “anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Wow! If what I desire is righteousness, then me torching somebody in an argument may not be the best way to accomplish what I say that I want.

James 1:26: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

Ouch that just hurt so good! We should not think more highly of our own moral high ground than we ought. We should be careful what we say. Or else we can become deceived and produce a life that is worthless in God’s eyes.

The last thing I want is to have a “worthless religion.”

Lord, help me to speak only Words of life not doubt and fear. Yes, I may even need to say a hard word at times. But may everything that I say and do be rooted in love. May I be quick to pray and slow to  speak. May I have eyes to see through the lens of mercy and grace. Help me to love and live like You did — Jesus.

Mosque/Islam Center Near WTC Site

It isn’t every day that I find myself agreeing with Harry Reid. But I do today based on his recent comments about building an Islamic Center two blocks from the World Trade Center site. Senator Reid called for the building’s organizer to find an alternative location in another part of Manhattan further away from the World Trade Center site. This entire thing has become too political and won’t do much to improve relations between Muslims and the average Americans.

While I agree with President Obama that the organizers have every right to build this facility since they meet all local zoning and other laws, it isn’t wise if the stated aim is to build bridges and allow for healing between Muslims and those of other faith/worldviews. According to the Associated Press, the project is headed by the Cordoba Initiative, whose aim is to improve relations between Islam and the West. This organization wants to host leadership conferences for young American Muslims, organizing programs on Arab-Jewish relations, and empowering Muslim women.

The imam behind the project is Feisal Abdul Rauf who leads a mosque in the nearby Tribeca neighborhood. He has worked with the U.S. government to improve relations with Arab countries around the world. Yet, he is also a contoversial figure for his statements.

In a CBS News interview shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Rauf said, “United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a radio interview this year, he refused to call the radical Islamic group Hamas a terrorist organization, saying “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.”

You can see why some might not like Feisal building a mosque/Islamic Center in this area. Nobody with any real concern for our religious freedom is seroius about stopping this project by legal means. That is why it is odd that President Obama would focus on the constitutionality of the issue when the real concern is the message it sends.

It seems that this may be the wrong place, the wrong guy, and the wrong time. Any consideration of opening the facility on September 11 is very bad form. And it seems to run contrary to the stated purpose of the organization behind the project.

As a staunch supporter of religous freedom and property rights, I would fight for the right to build this facility even though I think it is a bad idea. If I were a political leader, however, I would have the guts to say both of the above things. I would support the project against any efforts to stop it all the while trying to work with the organizers to find a more suitable location.

True, there are other mosques in the area. True this is far from completely “hallowed ground” since there are fast food restaurants, a strip club, off-track betting parlor, and other small shops in the area. But it wasn’t a Dunkin Donuts delivery guy who flew a plane into the World Trade Center either.

This is all about sensitivity. Just as Muslims expect us to respect them, there should be some concern for how locals in New York City feel. While this is mostly a local issue, it is also a national one since we all felt the weight of the towers come down in some respects.

So how far is far enough away? I don’t know. Maybe 4-6 blocks. Maybe more. That really depends on the people of New York City.

I think finding a location further away from the WTC site would be the best thing to meet their stated goals. This would also really help the healing process. At the same time, I recognize their right to freely meet and do whatever they want to with properly zoned private property.

My primary hope is that Muslims in other countries will start affording the same kind of protections to Christians, Jews and other faiths. My experience so far traveling to both the Middle East and Africa has been that Muslims are not very tolerant of other faiths. This is especially true when they are in the majority and in control of the political system.

May we be better than that in this country.

Hope

My hope is built on nothing less than…

  • Political leaders doing the right thing.
  • Government supplying society with justice, equality and basic community services.
  • The success of my political ideology.
  • My job supplying my needs.
  • My career and personal accomplishments.
  • A strong U.S. economy.
  • My perfect health.
  • The realization of the American dream.
  • Church connecting me with people who will always be there for me.
  • Technology solving my problems and keeping me entertained.
  • My intelligence and ability to find my own way out of problems.
  • My spouse, children and family.
  • Good friends.
  • My 401K and investments.
  • Safety and security of living in a free country 
  • The U.S. Constitution and legal system.
  • The military might of the United States.
  • Global peacekeepers from the UN.
  • My good works to help others and humanitarian efforts.
  • My trust in the goodness of my fellow man. 
  • My resume, credentials and life experiences.
  • My college degree and education.
  • American ingenuity and grit.
  • My religious knowledge.
  • Me, myself and I.

It can be easy to place our hope in all of the above. But those things will fail us. Edward Mote wrote the hymn titled My Hope is Built. It points to the only real source of hope in the world. Mote wrote, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

No matter how you feel about the recent healthcare vote or the current course of our country, all Christians must know that the source of our hope is not in the United States of America or even our own personal abilities. Our hope is in Jesus. Our hope is not in the economy or government solutions. Our hope is in the only solid rock. And His name is Jesus.

Shalom

From the Israeli tourism homepage to casual conversations with strangers, “Shalom” is the most common greeting used in Israel. It can mean a number of things from hello to goodbye to peace be with you. In Hebrew, Shalom means peace. I once heard in a seminary class that “Shalom” is not just any peace. It is peace in the midst of conflict not in the absence of it.

Yet, it is interesting that many Israelis don’t believe that peace will ever come to their country. From Christian Arabs to IDF solidiers to secular Jews, if they are honest, most don’t believe the age ole differences in the country will ever be solved. Every political “solution” seems to make it worse. I haven’t met any Hamas fighters. But I guess they probably feel the same way as the Israelis. There is too much at stake for either side to ever allow the struggle to die down. Neither side would be willing to give what would be necessary for “peace.” And I strongly doubt that any “peace” would be lasting.

I find it ironic that the word used as a generic greeting in Israel describes a condition that many residents don’t believe will ever take place. I wonder if hidden beneath every “Shalom” is a cry for a solution. Is this really a call for the Prince of Peace?

Shalom from Israel.

Built to Last

I love to read and study about ancient history, especially buildings and artifacts. Some of the greatest achievements of the modern age pale in comparison to structures like the Egyptian Pyramids.

Not to long ago I watched a documentary about life on this planet without people.  It was quite an eye opener. And I was not surprised that all of our skyscrapers and achievements wouldn’t last that long without people around to maintain them. All I have to do is look at my house and see how easy things fall apart if you ignore them.

I believe there is a spiritual lesson here. Our relationships, the things we do, even who we are can start to decay if we fail to maintain them. Even things that are built to last will decay and fail if we ignore them.

Take a look at this interesting documentary on the planet without people.

Life After People – http://www.history.com/minisites/life_after_people