Beyond Me

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The Lost Message in the Duck Dynasty debate

This week has been a tough one.  I can’t help but feel, after all the reading, discussing, and social media uproar that the only person that won this week was Satan.  It saddens me and leaves me somewhat broken inside.  Once again the enemy was able to drive a bigger wedge between the Body of Christ and the culture in which it resides.  We’ve seen this week intolerance and hypocrisy reign on both sides of the issue.  And, it seems, that both sides of the issue are missing the bigger point…We are all being used.

News seems to be breaking this morning via the Huffington Post and WSB-TV in Atlanta that Phil Robertson is to return to filming Duck Dynasty after the holidays.  The show will air in January and it will continue to film.  This is a tremendous victory for 1st amendment rights in the United States, but I don’t feel it is a victory for us as Christians.  I also do not believe canceling the show would have been a victory for the LGBT community.

To be clear, (because I don’t want to be accused of being a coward), I have a tremendous amount of respect of Phil Robertson and his family.  I wish, more than anything, I had the courage and ability to live life the way that he does.  I think he is living the Gospel in ways many Christians, and maybe some non-Christians, wish to live.  I also agree with his stance.  While I would have said it much differently (and wish he would have to) I believe in the heart of the message.  ALL in this world are sinful, disorder, people in need of the grace Jesus Christ gives freely to all and repentance and realization of our sin is needed.  I am one of these sinful people, and it is an everyday occurrence I need to die to myself and the sinful nature within me.  Did he cross a line with his anatomical description in the interview?  I believe so.  But is that all that he said?  No.  Did he completely single out one group of people?  No.  I challenge you to read the article in its entirety and come to another conclusion.  There needs to be room in this culture for differing points of view and we should all be allowed to express them calmly, rationally, and maintain our relationships.  As I’ve heard Newspring pastor Perry Noble say recently, “You can win the argument but lose the relationships.”  That blog covers much better than I ever could the overarching argument in this debate.  This leads me to the real reason I am writing.  The fact of the matter is that Christians and the LGBT community are in the same boat.

We are being used.  By the media, by companies, and especially by Washington, DC.  We are seen as consumer groups.  We are seen as voting blocs.  We are commodities to be won over.  This is highlighted in no greater way than with what looks like A&E’s decision to air episodes in January and return Phil to the airwaves.  They are not concerned with free speech, feelings, insensitivity, morality, or anything of great importance.  Most companies, especially in Hollywood, are not concerned with these things.  Their allegiance belongs to ratings and dollar signs.  They will support and do, not what is right, but what furthers their interests of increasing the bottom line.  If A&E were a true supporter of LGBT rights, they would stand by their decision regardless of the backlash.  If they were a true supporter of Duck Dynasty and Christianity they would have stood by Phil Robertson or at least protected him from such an interview.  But they do not care.  Many politicians do not care.  Many companies do not really care.  They have no convictions or compasses…Their guide is the almighty dollar.  The sooner BOTH groups realize that the better.

My heart breaks for both my faith community and my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community.  There is so much more to a person and movement than their sexuality.  Gay and lesbian people are now, in this moment in time, only defined as such.  It’s like we don’t even realize there are people who deal with all of the other stuff we all deal with.  We’ve allowed the media to define this debate, and the media has ultimately dehumanized and manipulated it in such a way that makes for heated argumentation, rather than rational debate.  The media has defined the message.  It saddens me for the LGBT community, and I challenge you all to take back your message.

But now I want to speak to my fellow Christians.  We also have allowed the media to define our message. And there is SO MUCH MORE TO THE GOSPEL than sexuality.  It’s only a snap shot of what Jesus says and has to offer.  Is it important?  Yes!  Should we have convictions?  Absolutely!  But we cannot continue to allow the secular media (right and left) to be the voice and definition for what disciples of Jesus truly stand for.

I’m reminded of Louie Giglio’s predicament at the beginning of this year.  He was bestowed with the honor of praying at the Presidential Inauguration.  But, because of a sermon 20 years ago, people called him a bigot and demanded he not be allowed this privilege.  He could have screamed in front of every camera and mic about free speech, his rights, and demanded boycotts or petitions.  But his words rang loudly of grace as he respectfully withdrew his acceptance of the invitation.  He served a bigger purpose.  There is so much more to the Gospel than the issue of sexuality.  He wanted to serve that message and that Savior.  And he goes on about his life embodying the Gospel.

The truth is, our message and Gospel is not meant to be preached from the pulpit of Fox News or CNN.  It’s not meant for the masses.  That’s why, often times, when large crowds gathered to hear Jesus, he often said something that offended and made the mass majority not able to follow.  Disciples were made by those who saw him live, day in and day out, the truth of which he spoke (Read John 6).  We need to understand that our best tool Jesus gave us is community and relationships.  We can speak softly because we carry the biggest stick the enemy has ever seen…The power to love all, even those against us, and pursue community and relationships with them regardless of how they treat us.

A small movement of just over 100 people began a journey in this fashion.  It changed an entire empire.  The message lived out spoke louder than the message in words.  We need, no we must, rediscover this ability.

If we dare to take this challenge, if we begin to trust more in the Holy Spirit and our savior, this world and especially Satan’s reign in it do not stand even the slightest chance.

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Under/Overreaction

It’s been a week since the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  I have spent a week thinking, praying, and listening.  In the process I have noticed a tendency of our culture…we will both overreact and under react to situations.  I have heard both over the last week.  “We need to ban all guns forever,” or “Ain’t nobody taking my guns.”  How about, “Adam Lanza was just mentally ill” to “Adam Lanza was pure evil.”  Another thing I’ve heard, “This was just an unavoidable tragedy,” to “this was a government conspiracy.”  And then the overreaction of some Christians, “This is what happens when God isn’t in schools.”  These are just a few of the phrases that have been bantered about in conversation over the last week.

Now let’s take a step back.  There is probably a kernel of truth in many of these statements.  None is entirely untrue.  However, none are statements that I believe we should start forming policy or thought around.  Why?  Because they are all vast over or under reactions to a situation.  They are based on emotion…either the emotion that naturally comes with such a heart-breaking tragedy or the emotion to holding fast to things we have always heard, known, and never really thought through.  It is never, in any circumstance, to react and make decisions purely on emotion.  Jeremiah tells us that our hearts are deceitful and sick.  We cannot depend on it, because emotions can cloud our good judgement.  Emotion, reactions, however do serve a purpose…they give us a spectrum.

Each of these statements are not and should not be absolute solutions.  They should, however, give us a spectrum to work within.  The truth lies somewhere in between and we should work now to find those answers.  These kind of statements are great because they give us a starting point to begin meaningful dialogue that will grow us, challenge us, and we would hope to make us better.

I believe this practice is deeply biblical and we as followers of Christ should model it.  Why do I think this?  Because we are given the truth above that our hearts are deceitful and we are also given a tool…prayer.  Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to pray continually, or pray without ceasing.  He also says to take all proclamations, test them, hold on to what is good, get rid of what is not.  In all things we are to seek God, in all circumstances we are to ask God, and in all situations we are to use the tools God has given us.  Prayer keeps us from reacting and allows us to discern.  That’s what we need now, discernment not reaction.

So please, I ask all who read this, resist the temptation to react.  If you read this and aren’t a believer in Jesus, at the very least join in dialogue.  Don’t just react, don’t just stick to your thoughts.  Bring them to the table and let’s discern.  If you are a Christian, don’t boil this down to some simple answer that further pulls us away from the table in culture.  Let’s model this.  Let’s be on our knees, praying for the families and our country, but also praying that God would take our humanity and pride out of the equation and help us to discern how to move forward.  Let’s end the cycle of over and under reaction that only leads to further retreat and devolves into a hate debate.  Let’s test, pray, discuss, and discern.  And maybe, just maybe, we will find a way forward that will make our schools, our country, and our world a better place.

Re-Learn

I realize I’m a little bit behind the times, but I just watched Kirk Cameron’s interview on Piers Morgan Tonight.  I do think it is absurd that people are raking him across the coals for being a bigot.  That was not this man’s intent or character which to me is evident in the interview.  He was asked for and stated and opinion, which should be tolerated as much as Piers’ view on the issue.  Now, off that soap box and on to the bigger issue…we need to accept that we’ve lost the high ground.

When Christianity first began as a faith in the world, it was nowhere near the dominant force in the culture.  The lived in a very pluralistic society that allowed many of the things that we allow today.  When I read about places like Corinth and Ephesus I see our 21st Century culture reflected in it.  It wasn’t until Constantine took power in the Roman Empire that Christianity gained favored status in the world and then became the dominant force in shaping the world for a couple thousand years.  With that power and status came also much corruption and evil that the church will have to atone for, but that’s not what this post is about.

In the time leading up to Constantine’s rule, Christians and the Church were an absolute force.  People came to know Jesus at an almost unprecedented pace.  This was done in a society with no television media, no social media, and in reality no public platform to do any good.  I think we need re-learn what Christians learned long before us.

What strikes me isn’t Cameron’s interview…it’s the amount of backlash towards him.  If you Google search this interview you get countless condemnations of him as a person as well as his views.  And unfortunately, the video clearly takes a small snippet of the interview and not the whole thing in context.  Piers and others have latched onto one comment and destroyed Kirk Cameron who I believe had no malice or intent of hate in his heart.  We have lost our place in the public forum, just like the early church had no place in the public forum, and to me that is ok.  We just need to re-learn.

This is not the America that we once knew.  The culture is not dominantly Christian…it is secular and we need to accept that.  We also need to learn from Kirk Cameron’s experience that when we take to the airwaves, we open ourselves to criticism that is damaging to the name of Jesus and to the Church.  Right or wrong, fair or unfair, this is reality and the sooner we accept the sooner we can move on to actually making a difference in the world.

Now, I’m not advocating that we sit silently and just let the world win.  What I am advocating is that we quit using avenues that don’t work anymore.  Going on major news networks and speaking gets us in trouble.  Speaking out in the media gets twisted and taken out of context.  We need to be very careful in our rhetoric as Christians.  And we need to learn what made the early church successful…their radical treatment of those around them.

You see since they had no platform to speak from they had to spread the Gospel differently.  There was no place for them on the floor of the Roman Senate.  Their place was the floor of the Coliseum.  However, they did live in a society where the rich and powerful were glorified and those who were poor and unprivileged were walked all over.  Christians treated those people will a love and kindness that was never seen before, and it won people over.  They reached out to those who needed someone built relationships with them.  Their love was so radical, so different from the culture, that it was evident there was something that caused this in them…Jesus.

We can do this today.  We just need to learn how.  It first involves that we stop our dependency on the media and the halls of Congress.  They make us look unloving, which I believe is not the case for most Christians.  We also need to work with everything we have to silence those voices that are full of hate, malice, and preach anything but the Gospel.  Places like Westboro Baptist Church and others like them should be condemned because they are perverting the Gospel.  Then we must come together to be a force of love, grace, and good in our communities.  We can change things by choosing to be radically different and it be evident to all that are around us.  What if we stopped fighting for a Constitutional amendment on marriage and started a support group where we actually loved, cared for, supported, and built relationships with those who deal with being gay or lesbian?  What if we stopped complaining about the unfairness of the Welfare system and started figuring out ways in our local churches to get people off of Welfare so that it is not needed?  What if we actively reached out and built relationships with all, sharing with them the love of Jesus, and just let that do the talking?

My senior pastor recently made a great point.  Jesus told us that with faith as small as a mustard seed we could move mountains.  He never said that we would move the whole mountain at once, but that the mountain could be moved.  Church we no longer have the dominant voice to move a whole mountain at a time.  But there was a time where piece by piece Jesus worked through faithful, loving, generous men and women to change the whole world.  I, for one, want to believe that this can be done again.  I believe my God and my Savior is big enough to change the world without the help of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or CNN.  If they don’t want to help, I know someone who loves more than they can love and has more power than they could possibly wield.  Let’s re-learn what the Church once knew and then let’s set out to change our communities with the truth of the Gospel.

Mourning after Darkness

Reading the first chapter of Joel this morning I realized I have a problem.  I think we, as a church, have a problem.  I’m going to say the problem is sin, and you might say “duh, Brandon, tell us something we don’t know.”  I don’t think sin itself is our biggest problem, though.  The prophet Joel uses the word wail four times, mourn or mourning three times, and also tells Israel and her priests to grieve.  In a chapter of twenty verses Joel references some form of despair eight times.  There is a theme here.  Israel had been broken because of her sin.  She turned her back on the Lord, and because of this sin her land and people had been overrun.  What was the response Joel asked for?  Did he ask for them to get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness?  No.  Did he ask for them to pray a certain prayer so that all would be forgiven?  No.  Did he ask for all to feel really guilty over their sin?  No.  He told them to wail, to mourn, to grieve.  Brokeness…that is what Joel urged to the nation of Israel and what God desired.  There was no festival, there was no worship, there was no moment that could just make it all better.  Israel needed to feel the weight of their sin and truly be grieved over it.  Their hearts needed to be truly saddened by what they had done and what had happened to them.  Not just because of what had happened, but because of what had led to it.  They were not to feel just guilty.  Guilt can too often be the result of the consequences rather than true brokeness.  Mourn, wail, grieve…not words we use to often when we face our own sin are they?

This is where I have a problem, and where I think in a lot of ways the church has a problem.  We do not mourn, wail, and grieve over our sin.  The state of the world and of ourselves does not leave us broken-hearted and in despair before our Creator.  I am too often broken or sadness just simply because of the consequences.  It is not until I pay the price for my sin or my mistakes that I come before the Lord humbled.  But, it is not over sin itself that I grieve but what sin has done to me.  We come forward in churches all over the nation over what sin has done, but how often do we just look at sin itself and grieve.  This world, the church, our very beings are at times riddled with sin and yet we do not despair until we feel the brunt of its pain.  Joel wanted Israel to feel this.  He wanted to priests and elders to lead in despair.  He wanted the people to follow and be in mourning over the sin of their community.

Do you want to change?  Then mourn.  Do you want this world to be different?  Then mourn.  Do you wish the sin that is in your life and that brings you down would be removed?  Then mourn.  Don’t mourn the consequences, but mourn the sin itself.  Mourn over the fact that we tear ourselves down and separate ourselves from the only one who can heal and give the love we desperately seek.  Jesus said blessed are those who mourn…so be in mourning over the ways of this world.  Only then will we be upset and broken enough to truly change and grow.  Only then can we see real change.  We are stubborn and weak, so therefore consequences often are not enough.  We too often either avoid what caused those consequences out of fear of suffering them again or we figure out how not to get caught the next time.  Guilt and punishment are not enough and that is why we still sin.  We need to be broken. We need to mourn, grieve, and wail.  Be mourners.

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