Category Archives: Trends

The Holy Spirit Inspired the Dream

If you have ever heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech it is impossible not to be stirred and feel that you are listening to something epic. It is as if that speech was not mere words. It was a spiritual experience that broke a yoke off the necks of millions of people.

I always thought that when I heard it I was reminded of some of the most moving sermons I had listened to in my life. King was a preacher before he was a civil rights icon. And he knew what it meant to be inspired by God to action. And when I heard a recent TV show exploring the story behind King’s famous speech, I knew that I was right. Those were not mere words.

On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Congressman and civil rights leader, John Lewis, spoke about that day. ABC News journalist Byron Pitts spoke with Lewis and former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, one of King’s top aids, about King’s speech. This transcript is incredible.
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Andrew YOUNG: He was determined not to speak more than 10 minutes. And he did. He finished his prepared address in just about 9 minutes.

PITTS: But he wasn’t finished. Sitting behind Dr. King was famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted to her friend, tell them about the dream. It’s a theme he’d used before in smaller settings.

KING: I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

PITTS: Why do you think he made that transition to talk about the dream?

YOUNG: As a preacher, there’s something we, we call being led by the spirit.

LEWIS: The spirit told him to lay that paper down and just go for it.

KING: I have a dream. My four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

PITTS: And it’s a dream that still lives on 50 years later.

(See more on this news discussion at
http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/08/rep-john-lewis-remembers-historic-march-on-washington)

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This transcript clearly shows that the Holy Spirit inspired one of the most incredible political moments of the last 100 years. When people ask, “Where is God with all this injustice in the world?” I can point to moments like King’s speech and know that God’s Spirit stirs mens’ souls. The Holy Spirit moves behind the scenes, and one day, we will realize that the Lord was in those moments after all.

I am not surprised that the Holy Spirit breathed life into words that King had said at other times without the same effect. It was the power of the Spirit that made those words electric. He is moving in history. We just have to see it and know that the Spirit brings the fire that changes history.

I don’t say this in any way to disrespect King’s impact or his personal sacrifice to gain what he fought for. While those were his words, the concept he fought for is deeply rooted in the vision that the Apostle Paul outlined in the New Testament. Primarily, I am pointing out that King was divinely inspired, which should give more credence to his dream.

Praise be to God that we have come so far because Scripture says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” May we continue to bring God’s principles of love, hope and mercy to those who are not free or struggle due to injustice. While our job is not done, history shows that we have come a far way in establishing liberty and freedom in many places in the 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.

Compartments

Throughout the recent campaign, an argument arose that has perplexed me. The essence of the concept is that we can hold divergent views on a moral question in our public and private lives.

During the vice presidential debate, the candidates squared off on the issue of abortion. Both of the men are Catholics. Congressman Paul Ryan said, “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith.” He added, “Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life.”

Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that he’s been a practicing Catholic all his life and his faith informs his social doctrine.Yet, Biden responded that while he accepts the church’s doctrine when it comes to abortion, he refuses to “impose that on others.” President Obama shares a similar belief and explanation for his stance on the abortion issue.

Vice President Biden explained, “With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

“I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere.”

At the heart of Vice President Biden’s statements is the idea that we can hold one view in our private lives that is guided by our faith and yet support a completely different view in a public role, setting or sphere of influence. And this is not just any old issue — it is the concept of valuing and protecting life. It is answering the basic question that Cain asked God after the first murder. He asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

This is a foundational question that is moral, cultural and scientific in nature. Moral in terms of the need to protect the life of the unborn and limit late term abortions. Cultural in terms of responding to public pressure to keep abortion safe and legal. And scientific as the country debates when life begins.

A key aspect of the debate is that we can have various compartments in our lives that are distinct and don’t need to interact or correlate. If you are a Christian, can there be any part of our life that is not under the lordship of Christ and the rule of life outlined in Scripture? Are we obligated to honor the Church’s leadership on moral issues of high importance over public opinion?

It is one thing to be a staunch atheist who disagrees that life starts before birth or the third trimester of pregnancy. It is quite another to be a Christian who privately opposes abortion and believes it should be rare although publicly defends abortion rights, including partial birth abortions. The first view is very consistent. The second view is not for a number of reasons. For starters, why should abortion be rare if there is nothing wrong with it? Why not have abortion as a normal part of birth control? The fact that people suggest it should be rare shows that many people feel it is wrong even though they don’t want to limit the rights of others to take this life before it is born.

Secondly, the atheist doesn’t believe in God nor has any reason to recognize the authority of the Church. A Christian on the other hand must be submitted to the highest authority, which is the voice of God. Also, a Christian should error on the side of protecting life and those who can least defend themselves.

If something is a sin, then it is wrong for a Christian to do. Scripture is quite clear that murder is wrong, and if you believe the unborn child is a life worth saving then it would be a sin to take the life unless you are trading a life for a life. I can somewhat understand the viewpoint of a Christian who believes that life doesn’t starts until birth and as a result is pro choice. But if you believe there is something wrong with abortion in your private life, why is it okay in public policy? Doesn’t this suggest that you really think abortion is the taking of a defenseless life?

If Christ only guides the private side of your life, what does that say about your relationship to Him? 1 John 5:9 suggests that “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” Whose opinion should reign supreme in our most important decisions — the Word of God or the thoughts of men?

It is our deeds that matter as much as our words when it comes to saving faith in Christ. As James 2 suggests, words without deeds are useless. In the same way that Christian abortion rights advocates make little sense so do Christian capitalists who take advantage of their fellow man and cheat people in the name of making an extra dollar. Our conscience as Christians should be held captive to Scripture in all areas of life. This includes the abortion issue as well as taking care of the poor and the senior citizens, protecting the environment, and support equality for all under the law.

I don’t believe that siding against abortion on religious grounds goes against the idea of freedom of religion. You can hold a staunch pro life position and still be open for the free exercise of religion. But pro choose advocates like to make pro lifers look like people who oppose religious freedom. In actuality, the only thing pro lifers really oppose is playing god with somebody else’s life.

It is clear that an unborn child starts to develop unique features within the first 22 days of birth if not earlier. For example, most babies have a unique heart beat within the first 22 days. Upon conception, all the unique chromosomes are present for that individual life.

By the end of the eighth week, every organ is in place, bones begin to replace cartilage, and fingerprints begin to form. Is this not a distinct and separate life from the mother? So when people talk about a woman’s right to choose what happens with her own body, when does an unborn child get a voice in the process?

Ultimately, it is not my place to judge the faith of another person. They are responsible to God alone. But I tend to believe that Jesus is either Lord of your entire life or you can have no part in Him at all because the Lord is a jealous God. He does not want His people to have split allegiances. Christ calls for us to surrender everything in our lives to His will and purposes. This includes our day job, our politics and even our bedrooms.

WWJD? – Would Jesus Burn a Koran?

Now that the Florida “pastor” has agreed to cancel his Koran burning ceremony this coming weekend, it may seem like old news. But I would like to comment on the idea that many “evangelicals” presented this controversial action as something Jesus just would not do. Although I am not Jesus’ publicist or the official PR spokesperson for God, I am a Christian and do know a thing or two about following Christ. For the record, I claim no divine direction on this matter or supernatural vision. But I would like to take a look at what Scripture recorded that Jesus did to see if burning a Koran is something that Jesus just might do.

Controversy…
Jesus loved to do controversial, almost disturbing things. Jesus was a prophet. And prophets tend to make bold, brash claims that fly in the face of the conventional wisdom. Jesus was no exception. He made divine claims about Himself, forgave sin (something only God was supposed to do according to Judaism), talked about the Temple being destroyed and resurrected in three days, and called the religious leaders of His day “a den of vipers.” Jesus further insulted some of the Jewish religious leaders saying that they were “sons of hell” who followed Satan as their father.

After Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown, the crowd got so angry that they moved to kill Him. And as most people know, Jesus made such a spectacle of things that the religious leaders incited the crowd and Roman authorities to seek Christ’s execution. So far, this is not the picture of man who was afraid to stir up controversy.

Even Jesus’ followers were not immune from criticism, He saved some of his “harshest” comments for His disciples. Remember that Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan, you have not the thoughts of God but the thoughts of man.”

Yet, Jesus did not seek to make controversy for controversy sake. He said that everything He did was led by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the will of God the Father. Christ claimed that His words served a higher purpose than self promotion or His own personal agenda.

Spotlight…
Jesus was not a camera hog. After some of His most unforgettable moments, Jesus told His followers to keep it a secret or avoid making a public spectacle out of what He did or said. Quite the opposite from call a press conference, Jesus would sneak away from crowds and avoid publicity. That is one major difference between the recent situation with the Florida pastor and Christ. Jesus didn’t perform for the cameras.

Pick the Right Battles…
Jesus waited for the right time to do everything. The Gospels present Jesus as a man who did everything with purpose – picking the right time and the right battles to fight. Jesus knew when to make a whip and clean out the Temple or stay away from the crowds and seclude from outside pressures. Jesus knew how to avoid confrontation with religious opponents as well as to turn around public arguments.

Jesus Didn’t Focus on the “Bad” Guys…
Jesus did not spend a lot of time talking about the “bad” guys or trying to fight them. Instead, Jesus focused on the message that He had been sent to preach and embody. He only talked about Satan or religious opponents when trying to setup the agenda or explain certain concepts to His followers. Even some of Christ’s most controversial statements came as teaching moments to correct wrongful thinking among His disciples. There may be no greater example of this then when Jesus talked about the Temple being destroyed. Imagine just how scandalous that would have been in Jesus’ day. He was responding to a comment by one of His disciples about the massive size of the stones around the Temple complex. Jesus wanted His disciples to know that God was building a new Temple inside the hearts of the faithful. Their focus should not have been on what was visible in the existing religious establishment.

Comparing Christ’s statement to today’s world, it might seem similar to a prophet touching the side of the U.S. Capitol building and saying it would soon collapse into a pile of rubble. Jesus spoke the truth – a harsh reality to prepare His followers for what was to come.

Wisdom…
Jesus called His followers to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” This suggests that Jesus wanted His people to be smart about how they lived. They had to use wisdom. Ask yourself, “Will this accomplish a greater, divine purpose?”

Thinking through all these aspects of Christ’s life, I don’t see Jesus as being a big fan of Koran burning. That would just give too much focus to the wrong place. It would embolden and provide a rallying cry for enemies abroad with no real benefit for the Kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t need to win an ego contest with false religions.

I think Jesus would instead be like one of the missionaries who recently died for the Christian Gospel in Afghanistan. He would be willing to sacrifice to accomplish a greater good without caring if CNN were there to cover the event. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus’ enemies should think of Him as weak. Scripture is clear that when Jesus returns (whatever that looks like), He will come back as a conquering hero and the King of Kings.

Is It Cool to Be Hip These Days?

Brett McCracken’s recently released a book titled Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide. It details the stories and pitfalls of attempts to be relevant to the 20 and 30 year olds who have left church after adolescence not to return.

McCracken recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that ‘cool Christianity’ is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”

McCracken added, “If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.”

I agree with McCracken that attempts to play the hip game will always come up short for churches because they can’t out hype Hollywood or the latest must-listen-to band. And that shouldn’t be the goal. Being different in a good way is what will make a difference.

Young people want relevant, connected and authentic expressions of worship and journeying through life together. Attempts to market Jesus will only backfire. If you remember Jesus wasn’t big into marketing. He would do great miracles and then tell the recipient not to tell anyone. At the end of the day, it really comes down to helping young people feel connected to a story bigger than themselves that still seems relevant to the world in which they live.

I think that any time we set out to copy what others have done in a church setting we have to be careful. There is nothing wrong with learning from others. But you have to first know who you are as a local body of Christ and what makes you unique. A church can’t steal the identity of another congregation and expect it to work.

In the end, a local church has to first know itself in relationship to Christ before it can truly benchmark from others. If you try to benchmark first, you will only end up copying someone else’s dream.

Here are two interesting articles on the book and topic of Hipster Christianity.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111704575355311122648100.html

http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/atheologies/3142/cooler_than_thou%3A_will_hipsters_wreck_christianity/

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.

Doug Powell – Engaging the Music Culture

Doug Powell, a Christian apologist, came and spoke at my church this past weekend. He talked a lot about engaging culture instead of running from it. He pointed to the Apostle Paul who engaged the thinkers of his day at Mars Hill.

Sometimes we think the best thing we can do is create a hedge around our families to protect them from the evil influences of the world. But this seems to suggest that we believe the influence of the world is stronger than the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Is it better to insulate from within than guard from without?

While Christians should certainly be careful what they digest in terms of media. We also should be aware enough of popular culture to engage those around us. Powell said that we can use pop culture to talk about big life issues with friends and neighbors because music, movies and TV are filled with concepts that touch on the Christian Gospel.

One of the things he did was play the music video of John Lennon’s Imagine. Then he showed the lyrics of the song and merely asked questions about what kind of world Lennon imagined. What kind of world has no thought of an after life, no governing authorities, no countries, no posessions, no concept of god? This is a world where this life is all there is. This is a world where there is no ultimate authority to maintain order. This is a world with no cultural identity. If there are no posessions, then we own nothing. This is a world with no faith. This is a world where we are at the mercy of the brotherhood of mankind. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b7qaSxuZUg 

 

That’s not much of a world if you ask me. You can see video of Doug’s messages at his Web site below.

http://www.selflessdefense.com/