12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

The Cross and the Refugee

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refugeeAs followers of Christ, the cross, on which Jesus self sacrificially bore the wrath of God to set us free, must be the substance of how we are defined.  The cross is the fulcrum by which grace lifts us.  It is our center.

And the cross must also define the way we see the world around us.  To fail to do this is to deny who we were, who we are, and how we got here.

When the helpless poor come before us and we reject them, what does that say about the grace offered to us?

When we were helpless.  When we had nothing to offer.  When our reception meant a significant price paid by our Redeemer. He paid the price in full, and received us in love.

As recipients of what we did not deserve and could never earn, the cross compels us to offer to the helpless what may cost us, even significantly, our welcome and our comfort.  The cross must define us, and it must define how we see the refugee.

Else, it means little to us at all.

The American Church Grieving the “Loss” of American Culture

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I’ve been an engaged observer of the church in America and it’s interaction with the culture in which it is immersed for some years now.  Last week, I watched through news articles and social media as Christians in America convulsed, reacting with deep emotion, ranging from anger, to sorrow, to bitterness, some even to satisfaction all in response to the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Prop 8.

On the other side, as the previously linked article noted, there was jubilation.  One quote I read in the social media wash of commentary was from an advocate of these laws being struck down, and it read something like this: “And now, in respect for our opponents, a moment of silence, as they have lost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

The sentiment struck me as extremely myopic, though I can’t fault the person for being so.  After all, Christians in America have not been overly sympathetic to those with whom we’ve disagreed, nor have we communicated our values or motivations in a way that was easy for others to understand, even if we do differ dramatically.

So, to those outside of our tribe, let me clarify the motivation for the strongly negative reaction of some in the Christian community.  They have lost an American culture that more accurately reflects their deeply held religious beliefs.  This had become an expectation for many. An inheritance that they believed they had a right to pass on to their children.  It feels to them that people have stolen their lives, or at least their lifestyles, and that of their children. And that of their grandchildren.  They grieve the knowledge that their line of descendants will look more like their “opponents” than like them, at least in what they value and accept as “normal.”  They know they’ve lost something significant.

That begs the question, “Do these people have the right to such an expectation?” and of course, different worldviews collide in the answering.  Hopefully in a respectful way, but if history is any indicator, probably not.

So let me now speak to the Christians of our nation, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why do you expect that the world not be worldly?  Is it wise or in any way Biblical to expect that those who do not hold your values to act as though they do?

Let me share with you when this American culture you value so greatly was lost.  It wasn’t last week.  Though I can not point to a single event or even a string of events, I can easily say that the American culture was lost to the American church when the church began to rest on the expectation that the culture would look like it instead of working to ensure that the culture would actually be transformed by the power of the Gospel.

You see, by and large, we’ve become quite a secluded lot. Not all of us, to be sure, but undeniably most of us.  We prefer the holy huddle of the frozen chosen in our Sunday gatherings.  A smaller bunch than years before, meeting in aging buildings that are far larger than are necessary and falling apart because we can’t keep them up as well as we once did.  After all, we are older, on fixed incomes, and our children have left our buildings.

And those large buildings where some of our children attend are flooded with just that: attenders.  Loads of people who show up, sing, drink lattes and frappuccinos, listen to whatever is being served up this week, and then go home and go about their business.

Again, not all of us are in that situation.  Not every church looks this way.  But to say that the majority of American Christianity doesn’t fit one picture or the other is, to put it not so gently, not really in touch with reality.

Still, I want to offer a word of encouragement to us all.  We believe in something miraculous and transformational.  We don’t have to be the people who simply shout dismay at those who value different things and see the world contrastingly.  We can be the people who offer the Gospel to people who need to know that God does not hate them because they are pushing back against Him, but loves them in spite of it.

The power to change the world, is in the Gospel.  That is not a word commanding conformity to an outward morality.  It is a word of redemption.  That healing can come to the wounded.  That fulfillment can come to the empty.  That those who are in prison in this world can be set free.

If we are failing to speak that to our world, and many of us are, then it is no wonder that our culture thinks we have no stake in this conversation.  They don’t know that they are the stake for whom we are to live and die, because we’ve not told them nor have we showed them.

The True Meaning of Love

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A high school classmate of mine (Bellaire, 1985), Greg Stanford, asked me to write an article on the true meaning of love.

The concept of love is such a mess in our world.  It’s hard to get a handle on it.  Teens and even pre-teens fall in and out of “love” while adults tsk tsk their seemingly frivolous relationships, talking about how “love is a commitment.” All the while we burn through divorce lawyers at an alarming rate.

We won’t get much farther in our understanding, either, until we understand that our love and inclination to love is an echo of the God who made us in His image.  When we understand what it means to Him, we will stand a chance at applying it to our world in a meaningful way.

The Bible defines love pretty clearly:

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

[sacrifice…] – mine, emphasis – mine

God created everything and made humanity in His image as the centerpiece of creation and we, all of us, turned away from Him. So for God, “Love” is that He pursued us and sacrificed of Himself to redeem us.  That we love God is in response to Him loving us first and demonstrating that to us.  He has wooed us with sacrificial redemption.

Sacrificial redemption. We need to apply that to our relationships and see what happens.

When we sacrifice ourselves in order to redeem others we woo them into a mutual love.  This is the image of God in us.

I know.  You were expecting me to quote 1 Corinthians 13 in discussing the meaning of love.  That passage is great at describing how true love acts.  1 John 4 describes what true love is.

But, so that you aren’t disappointed…  If we seek to redeem through self sacrifice, it should look a lot like this:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.

To the pure, all things are pure

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Paul writes to Titus these words concerning the distinction between those who are regenerate and those who are not:

“To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but the deny Him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient and disqualified for any good work.”   -Titus 1:15-16

Titus was commissioned to correct false teachers and to “rebuke them sharply.” (1:13)  Apparently, a part of the false teaching that was in need of correction was the constant need for ritual cleansing from those things considered “impure.”  Paul’s word here says that if the heart is impure, one finds impurity in everything.  The inherit filth of the corrupt heart drives people to perceive filth in all things and attempt to perfect (according to their warped perception) themselves and everything around them in hopes of pleasing God.  Moreover, they hold others to the same twisted ideals and teach them to conform their hearts to what can not please God.

It is so contrary to the Gospel.

The Good News is that if Grace has cleansed our hearts, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:35-39)  Which is not to say that we don’t struggle with sin or even that we shouldn’t war against it in our lives, but it is to say that contact with that which would once have made people ceremonially unclean can no longer do so.

Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by the touching of a dead thing.  Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by being imperfect by anyone’s standards, including His.

Sadly, even within the body of Christ, I have often been confronted by the hearts of those who perceive impurity in everything.  Everything that is not perfect in their own perceptions, and nothing ever is, is unclean and ungodly, rejected by the Lord and certain to bring condemnation and ruination. They see the spending of money this way as “wrong” or the counting of people in that way as “wrong.”  They become bitter and in their bitterness, they become hurtful.

While I wouldn’t say that such a person is not a Christian (they may or may not be), I would say that their heart has surely not comprehended the fullness of the Gospel of Grace.

Grace covers the imperfections of our lives. Grace not only gets us to eternity, but Grace also gets us through the day.  When we are confronted with either the willful rebellion of our hearts or the inadvertent shortcomings of a fallen mind, Grace covers all.

And when we are covered by Grace, when our hearts are satisfied in the free gift of God’s unmerited favor, it is not just easy, but it is also natural, to extend grace to others around us.

The heart that wallows in the Grace of God takes no offense in the rebellion or imperfection of those around.  When the service of a waiter is slow and lethargic, Grace manifests itself in a generous tip, rather than the stinginess of heart that counts wrongs against another.  When you are verbally attacked by another parent at the game because their child didn’t play the position or time they expected, Grace listens patiently and realizes that the person spewing venom is in need of something much deeper than they have.

The extension of Grace to them in that moment will likely be the rare exception in their life and will surely be the clearest picture of the Gospel that they will see that day. Month. Year? Lifetime?

To the pure, all things are pure.

A reputation means… ?

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When working last week in the DFW Metroplex with Mission Arlington, I had the unexpected opportunity to observe the reputation of MA among the larger Metroplex community.

Before I tell the story of my observation, I should tell you that the leaders of MA went out of their way to coach volunteers on the handling of their reputation.  Matt Hart, one of the leaders, frequently helped us to understand the attitude with which we should engage the world around us when we performed our assigned task.  At one point, our group was asked to execute a “Free Garage Sale” at an apartment complex that was known for its residents not having many possessions – or even any furniture at all.  Matt coached us that our instinct may be to regulate how much anyone takes, trying to ensure that there may be some equity in the taking or even that some may be hoarding for reasons that we might suspect to be vaguely inappropriate.  Matt encouraged us to be generous.  No matter what anyone took, we should help them carry it to their homes and bless them on the way.

As MA would be continuing to work with these people long after we were gone, they were hoping for the reputation left by all of us to be one of gracious concern for the community, no matter who they were.

Seeing that their reputation was so carefully cultivated (and I mean that in the most positive way), it should not have surprised me, then, to find it working in our favor not long after we arrived.

On our trip down, I noticed the engine sounding as though there were a leak in the exhaust system.  By the time we got to Dallas, the leak had become problematic – meaning that the exhaust had come completely apart just after it left the engine which caused the van to run very rough under acceleration.  It sounded like a redneck pickup, and as a recent owner of a pickup, I say that with all due respect. ;)

I talked the situation over with Matt, and he handed me off to a mechanic not far from the MA facility.  This is where my observation of the MA reputation began.  The mechanic said that he did not deal with exhaust issues much, but would look into it.  He later would tell me that the exhaust was indeed in two parts and that he wouldn’t be the man for the job, but he had noticed the low mileage on the van and called a local dealer to see if the problem might be under warranty.  They thought it could be, but would have to see it before they could commit.  When I offered the first mechanic some money for diagnosing the problem, he wouldn’t take any.

Upon arriving at the dealer, I told him what was going on, that we were down from Tulsa working with Mission Arlington and needed to get the van back into action as soon as possible.  I then asked him to check if we were under warranty.  It turns out that, while we were well under on mileage, the time on our warranty had run out.  The dealer service rep then gave me directions to a muffler shop that would do a good job.  When was the last time a dealer rep helped you find his competition?  It’s never happened for me.

I took the directions to the muffler shop and told him our story thus far, including our need for the van in use with our Mission Arlington responsibilities.  He walked over to the van, listened, looked and then said, “No problem.”  He was going to fix it while I waited, but we were due at our ministry spot, so I left the van with him.

When we pulled up to the ministry responsibility less than an hour later, he called and gave me the run down:  Someone in Tulsa had tried to steal our catalytic converter, but had not gotten all the way through cutting the pipe.  Under pressure of driving, the pipe ruptured the rest of the way and was in two pieces.  He had welded it together and was charging us $20, a bare minimum for time and labor.

Each of these men was encouraging and deferential.  All of them wished us well in our efforts with Mission Arlington.

Later in the week, we went to a local Cici’s Pizza for the buffet.  It was the only time we went out for supper during the week.  When they found out that we were from MA, they knocked the price of the buffet and a drink down to a flat $5 from the $8 and change range that it normally was.  It saved us about $50.  They told us how happy they were to help us as we helped their community.

Proverbs 22:1 says: “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold.”

Matthew 5:16 says: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

As I reflect on my unexpected observation of the reputation for helping the community that Mission Arlington has earned over the last 25 years, I am torn.

On the one hand I am astounded and inspired by how powerful that reputation is among so many in the Metroplex and how it elicits aid from people, some of whom were not a part of the Kingdom of God.

On the other hand, I am grieved by how non-existent that reputation is around the world where other parts of the people of God gather to worship and work.  Especially those in the part of the world where I live, work and worship.

Making a difference among the impoverished

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A few thoughts:

This is not about immigration, but poverty.  Immigration is just an example of one thing we do poorly and say we are making a difference.

World poverty will be eradicated when the individual economies that are producing the radically poor are stabilized and access to opportunity is given to all.

Some of this is beyond our control.  Politics, both local and global, are not always accessible to us beyond grass roots engagement.

The improvement in economic conditions can work in America and around the world. We should do our best to affect both arenas, according to the doors open to us.

One thing left out of this video is the role of Education in economic development:  it’s vital.

For the church, specifically, the better educated and more economically stable/advantaged, the higher the receptivity to the Gospel.  It’s vital.

The question left to us is whether or not we have the responsibility to develop the economies of the poor around us locally and globally.  My answer is yes.  To the best of our ability.

Tulsa’s Christmas… er… Holiday Parade

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The city of Tulsa has had a “Christmas Parade” downtown for about 70 years, put on privately.  Originally it was moved to downtown to attract business, or so I’ve been told.

Last year, the organizers changed the name to the “Holiday Parade” to be more inclusive.  I don’t remember a flap about it then, but we have one now. The publicity seemed to have taken off when Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe declined to participate as a form of protest over the name change. Since then, the situation has been mentioned by Conan O’Brian, John Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  And by a few locals who have felt compelled to address the issue.

Earlier this week, the City Council approved the parade permit amidst a torrent of discussion.  The Tulsa World carries the story here.  You might also be interested in some of the other articles, including letters to the editor concerning the situation.

While I am obviously a Christian and not a participant in anything else the organizers are trying to include… my primary concern is with the behavior of people who have reacted negatively toward the move.

More specifically, I don’t think people calling themselves Christians should sin in defense of, well, of anything, much less the defense of a parade’s name.

If you don’t agree with the parade organizers, then you are free to say so.  If you don’t want to participate, then you are free to do something else with your time.

What you are not free to do is incriminate the Name of Christ by doing what He would not.  Be careful with your words.  People are listening.  Jesus said it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out.

Example:  I have a friend, a Christian, who works in a local business participating in the parade.  After the City Council meeting where the debate and subsequent permit approval vote was held, a woman attempting to represent Christ called the business where my friend works and berated him over this issue for ten minutes.  When he got off the phone, his coworkers told him that it was because of that kind of stuff that they didn’t want anything to do with being a Christian.

Bottom line:  Take every stand you feel you should, but do so in a way that Christ would, or have you to do so.

Crossing Cultures: Why Missional Identity Matters to a Church

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I watched a video yesterday in which John Piper described “missions” as taking the Gospel across cultural lines.

I’ll accept this definition readily and then reply by saying that the crossing of cultures is mandatory in the every day lives of almost everyone in the entire world.  We do it when we go to work or school.  We do it when we go to the store.  We do it when we visit our neighbors.

The people with which we deal in the course of our routine lives come from various places and they have different cultures.  They have divergent values and they speak in a dissimilar voice.

I admit that the differences are minute in many cases, but they are still there.  In other instances, we find dramatic disparity.

Which is why every Christian should carry the mindset of a missionary with him or her, wherever they go.  It is necessary that we seek to understand those around us:  how they communicate, what they think, what they value.  When we understand these things, we can more effectively share the Gospel with them.

The Missional Church is simply a church in which the members consider themselves missionaries in the context where they already live.  Rather than depending on the staff or a select group of “visitation” volunteers, all the members of the church take on the responsibility of living and communicating the Gospel to the various networks to which they belong.

If the church is made of people who don’t understand the separate cultures around them, the separate values systems… if it is made up of people who expect that the people around them already share their values… the spread of the Gospel is  diminished for two reasons.

  1. The church member does not recognize the need around them, assuming that their friends and acquaintances already share their values – Christian values – and is not motivated to share the Gospel to meet that unseen need.
  2. If the church member does attempt to communicate the Gospel, they will likely not attempt to communicate in a manner intended to be received easily by the hearer, but one that is easier for the teller.  It’s not unlike moving to Africa and then expecting the Kenyan to speak English so that you can communicate.  It might happen, but it’s not likely, and if they do they may not be very good at it.

If a church really expects to fulfill the mission of God to which it is assigned, the people must understand who they are:  Missionaries to their own world.

The Missional Church: A short, simple video

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I have been driven from my bloggy slumber by this awesome and short two minute video on the Missional Church.  If you already get the difference between a missional church and an institutional church, repost it for others to share.  If you don’t get it, then by all means, spend the two minutes to watch.  It is as simple a representation as you might possibly ever see & hear.

First seen by me on Todd Littleton’s blog, but then seen on Ed Stetzer’s blog just a few minutes later.

Yes, I read Todd’s blog before I read Ed’s.  Sorry, Ed. ;)

Driscoll on Grace for the Disgraced

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