Unwanted: Distant Politicians & Pastors

Like most Americans, I am disheartened by our elected officials in Washington, both Republican and Democrat.  Time and time again these leaders seem to forget what life is like for everyday people.  They have agendas they want to advance but forget the faces of those they represent. They are generals making wartime decisions, without connection to those on the front lines of the battle.  This leaves people hopeless, struggling with stress, wounded by life’s hardship, without leaders who understand and advocate for them.  Any general, that has zero connection with those on the front lines of the battle, squanders their opportunity to lead and harms a great many people.  They may advance an agenda, but they are leading no one, because they have lost sight of names and faces.

Here’s what natural disasters can do.  They remind us that the human spirit is delicate and people are precious.  They remind us that everyone longs for leaders who understand the struggle to simply survive and work tirelessly to find solutions.  They remind us that working together is our only hope of restoration, regardless of our differences.  And while all of us have core beliefs, we are strongest when we love one another, when we serve one another, and when we put others first and ourselves last.  While my heart breaks for those living through the nightmare of natural disasters, I hope they awaken our leaders to what is most important: putting aside differences to lead people gently.

The only thing that disheartens me more than disconnected politicians is disconnected pastors.   Christian leaders are called to be like Jesus.  Our Great Shepherd was always theologically accurate AND always gentle with broken people.  He came from the Father full of grace AND truth.  Jesus knew people were in a battle, making them tender like reeds that break easily OR candles that extinguish quickly [see Matthew 12:20].  But when pastors choose accuracy over gentleness, choose huddling with saints over walking with sinners, they may Biblically accurate, but they are hindering the good news of Jesus Christ.

As a pastor, I must spend time in the storm.  To see and feel and empathize with what is really happening on the front lines.  Then, will theological accuracy and Spirit-led gentleness, I may be able to glorify God by helping people.  Yes, we have core beliefs to uphold, but our beliefs never justify breaking a bruised reed or snuffing out a smoldering wick.

Most people are facing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual storms all the time. Some of these storms are catastrophic.  What we don’t need is distant politicians or pastors.  Instead, we need leaders who won’t compromise the truth to be gentle. Nor will they compromise being gentle to advance the truth.  Instead, leading like Jesus, we can walk with broken people and point them to a Father who loves, convicts, forgives, and restores.

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Hope For Harvey

Like most of America, I have been glued to the Hurricane Harvey storm coverage.  Young and old, rich and poor, from diverse backgrounds, had their worlds turned upside down by water!  I try to imagine the fear these people face:  “Should we leave?” “Where do we go?”  “What will happen to our homes, our lives, our family pictures?”  “When can we return?”  “Will we ever be able to rebuild?”   It’s impossible to see Harvey’s devastation and not be heartbroken.

Like most of America, I want to help.  I want to jump in a boat and search for people who are stranded.  I want to open my home for those who have nothing left.  I want to do…something!

Thank God for those who are doing something!  Watching their selfless service gives me hope that despite all the disunity of America these days, most people will help when they can help.

But for those of us who live far away, who can’t get to Texas now, it would be easy to think “someone else will do it.”  If you live far from Harvey, you can still bring hope.  Here’s 3 suggestions.

Don’t Look Away!  

You have been glued to storm coverage these past few days.  Don’t look away now!  Keep watching because the rain may have stopped, but the pain of this storm will take years to heal.  Keep watching and as you watch, Pray!  Ask God to meet the needs of those nameless faces you see on your screen.  Ask God to empower government officials, first responders, churches, and non-profits to make good decisions and distribute resources wisely.    You may not know anyone in Texas, but God knows each person you see and His ears are attentive to your prayers.  Cry out to Him on behalf of others and He will give those people hope!  And keep watching and praying next week, next month, and next year.

Swipe Your Card

Billions of dollars are needed to help these people.  Many of us will see campaigns to raise money to help those suffering.  We may even “like” a social media post recommending a specific place to donate.  But, we don’t give.  If you feel sorry for people, but do nothing, that’s cheap emotion, not sincere love.  When we see a need, we can’t expect others, including the government, to solve the problem.  We must act.  So find a credible organization and swipe your card!  I would recommend the EFCA Crisis Response Fund [https://go.efca.org/hurricane-harvey-response]  We have many partner churches in the Houston area who will use your funds to directly serve the people of Texas.  You will never regret sacrificing for others!

Listen Before You Help 

There are some people who want to go and help AND should go and help.  But here’s what I have learned.  Helping on our terms makes us feel good, but may not really bring hope.  Help that brings hope is when those outside the crisis listen before they help.   You may think:  “They must need blankets.  I’ll get all of my friends to donate blankets and then bring it to Texas.  That will help! “   So, you do all the hard work to rally all of your friends to donate blankets, drive 6000 blankets to Houston, only to find out that they don’t need blankets; they need sleeping bags! It’s great to serve, but not on your terms.  Wait.  Watch.  Ask questions.  Find a partner organization that is on the ground and listen before you help.  When those outside the disaster do what they are asked, those inside gain more than help. They experience exponential hope.  If you are interested in considering a trip with Faith Church to serve the people of Texas in the coming months, email Michele at manthony@faithchurchlv.com

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Where is God in my success & failure?

I’ve been thinking recently about how arrogant I am.  I find myself taking credit for all the good things in my life.  I am quick to see my gifts, my intelligence, and my work ethic as being the secret to my success.   As I reflected on how “me” centered I am regarding the good things in my life, I decided to turn that thought around the opposite direction. Do I take the same amount of ownership over the failures in my life?  Is it also my gifts, my intelligence, and my work ethic that has landed me in some very difficult and painful places in life?   NOPE!  I blame others for all my failures WHILE taking credit for all my successes.  When I step back from all of this, I see a lot of “my” and “me” in my thinking.

So I have been asking myself the question:  Where is God in all the “my” and “me” of success and failure?  Paul’s answer in Acts 17 is the most clarifying and helpful to me.

He writes:  From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ 

Wait, God put me on this planet, born with these unique skills, these unique passions and this unique story SO THAT I WOULD FIND HIM?

You mean, I have this amount of talent, energy, education, money, time SO THAT I WOULD FIND GOD?

Are you trying to tell me that God knows “me” and “my” so intimately, and He knows “you” and “yours” so personally, that He works through these customized talents, individualized passions, unique locations, and messy stories SO THAT WE MIGHT DISCOVER OUR INFINITELY GREAT AND LOVING CREATOR?

YES!  And AMEN! And Bring it on!  And Bring Him On!

God, I beg you:  Open my eyes to see You in all my success and failures.

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This Thanksgiving, most Americans have a stomach bug

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  But unlike most years, my heart is not full of gratitude, but sadness.  My friends and family, my neighbors and fellow citizens are all on edge.  Everyone is feeling something, but no one is listening to one another.  We are all hyper aware of our own pain or anxiety, our own fears and chaos.  Yet our interactions have us all screaming.  The noise is deafening and the pain is real.  It’s like a stomach bug that goes through a home.  Everyone is throwing up and no one is healthy enough to clean up the vomit.   We are all sick.

Sadly, our media just keeps the sickness alive.  Media outlets have a relentless economic drive to feed our sickness and keep us coming back for more “news.” We become addicted to our brand of “truth,” which only feeds the anxiety and fear.

Sadly, our social media brings this sickness closer to home.  Social media hooks us on thinking we are “gathering” together to “share” our lives, when reality is, social media is making things worse.   We spout off without thinking and say things to our “friends” that are hurtful and hateful. We “unfriend” people because we can’t handle a different perspective.  All of this shows how sick we are and how shallow our relationships are.

If you are filled with anxiety and fear;  if you find yourself lacking peace and patience; if your friends and family say things that make your blood pressure sky rocket, you have the media stomach bug.  Rather than stopping and healing, we keep stuffing our faces with media and social media wondering why we are not getting better.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  We can choose to get well.

I challenge you to turn off the media and social media for the next 14 days.  Turn off your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; your CNN, NBC and FOX News.  Leave your cell phone in your pocket and your TV off.   For 14 days purge yourself of the things that heighten anxiety, fear and hate.

Fasting from media will make you more grateful and more peaceful.  It will allow you to hear the people around you and maybe even hear from God.

Signing off so I can hear and help, not hinder and harm.

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Only one life…

Only One Life  – by  C.T. Studd
Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
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Stop Christian Rants. Start Christian Love.

Like you, my heart aches for Orlando.

Like you, my mind races with questions and doubts.

Like you, I try to formulate a response to senseless violence and excruciating pain.

Like you, I am also saddened by the response I see to tragic events like Orlando, San Bernardino, Charleston, and Newtown, especially from Christians!

Instead of weeping, some Christians turn tragedies into rants about gun control, immigration, sexual orientation, religion, or [insert agenda].

I don’t claim to know the right way to respond to tragedy, but I do know the wrong one.

The Jesus of the Bible loved first and spoke second.  Read Matthew 8-9. You’ll see His love was always protective, life giving, and truthful, especially toward those who were suffering.

“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  Matt. 9:36  

Did you notice what Jesus did in the face of suffering?  He had compassion.  He recognized suffering was the result of being helpless and leaderless.  So His first response was compassion.

Here’s the Joe Henseler translation of what Jesus says next in Matthew 9:37:  “There’s a ton of work to do, but so few people to do it.  Look at all the helpless and leaderless people BUT so few Christians with compassion!  Ask God to raise up people who love first and speak second.”

The reason Christians respond so poorly to tragedy is rather than being filled with Christ’s compassion, we are full of ourselves.  We are filled with our judgements, our opinions, and our personal or political agendas.  I long for Christ followers to lead with love, for:

Our shared humanity in tragedy; our common pain in grief,

requires one response: tears of sorrow and prayers for peace.

So let’s pray for the people of Orlando and every other place around the globe facing evil and tragedy: God help. God heal. God forgive. God save.

Let’s pray for Christians everywhere, especially those who rant: God empty us of ourselves AND fill us with Your compassion.

Maybe once we’ve loved, we will be given the opportunity to speak.

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NOT Your Mama’s Prayer Breakfast

For the record, I enjoy praying AND breakfast.  But put the two together – prayer and breakfast – at a formal gathering in Washington D.C.?  That’s not my cup of coffee.   Until my mentor told me that I should attend.  He knows I thrive on the intersection of faith, ethics, and culture. So he challenged me to head to D.C., without much talk about the specifics. So I did my research, and found an invitation to the National Prayer Breakfast was hard to come by.  I was discouraged.

But never underestimate the good gifts our Father delights to give His kids.  I talked to a friend I had no idea knew about the breakfast, who just “happened” to be able to secure me an invitation.  Weeks later a formal invite arrived in the mail.

National Prayer Breakfast

On Wednesday, with great excitement, I boarded a train to D.C.  I had NO idea what I was about to embark on.  What I found was 3000 people, from across the globe, centered around the person and work of Jesus, gathered to network.

Here’s a few of the experiences I had at the National Prayer Breakfast.  It was unlike ANYTHING I could have imagined.

Critty

Faith Church partners with a couple who has served Capital leaders and ambassadors for decades.  It was SO encouraging to hang with Bill and Critty and see first hand their heart for Jesus and leaders from around the globe.

I met a man from Brooklyn who planted a church in Estonia, a small country in Northern Europe.  It was interesting to hear how someone leaves NYC and goes to land far, far away.  Yet love works everywhere, no matter what the culture!  He invited me to join him for a late night tour of the Capital building.  More about that later.

My mentor connected me with the president a non profit that cares for the poor in India.  She introduced me to some individuals from India, one of which was a leader of over 6,000 police officers in New Delhi.  We had a conversation about the exponential growth of the Indian population.  He believes government has the responsibility to control the population in order to manage global resources.  VERY intriguing.

I had dinner with men from Rwanda, a reporter for the Washington Times, and an government official from Brazil.  Discussing the Trump, Hillary, and Bernie show with such a diverse group was extraordinary.

Remember my new friend from Estonia?  I joined him, along with a delegation from Denmark, on a late night tour of the Capital building.  Our guide was a former congressman and ambassador, who explained the architecture of the Capital, which is currently under renovation.

Captial

The highlight of the tour was having a police officer flick the lights on in the House Chambers, and taking a seat in the front row of this iconic hall.  AND IN WALKS PAUL RYAN, newly appointed Speaker of the House [FYI: the Speaker is the #3 leader behind the POTUS].  He entered with some friends and engaged our guide on his thoughts regarding the New Hampshire primaries.  AWE-SOME!

House Chamber

AND NOW THE MAIN EVENT – the National Prayer Breakfast.  I arrived super early because of security – SUVS, Secret Service, snipers – the whole nine yards.  The lineup for the morning was spectacular.

National Prayer Breakfast

Speechless. No words to describe the awe of being up close and personal, not to dignitaries, statesmen, and POTUS, but people; individuals who have hopes and fears just like you and me.

President Obama shared how he resinated deeply with President Lincoln who said:  “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go.”  And I believed him.  He was real and faith-FULL!  Talking to God brings peace and wisdom, to high and low, in every station of life, especially when the stakes are high!   Jakarta

After breakfast, I spent time with a man from Indonesia who has a PhD in Islamic Economics.  Hearing this man’s commitment to religious freedom was encouraging.  He is the leader of a HUGE muslim organization.  He told me the story of young muslims protecting Christians celebrating Christmas in Indonesia.

I met a young man from England, who is studying theology at St. Andrews College in Scotland.  He wants to use theology in theatre to bring Christ to people.  Not in lame 90’s Christian drama, but in thoughtful displays of art that make people stop and think and find the God who loves them.

I was enraptured by Andrea Bocelli singing Amazing Grace.  I was captivated by Voice winner Jordan Smith sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  I  was challenged by leaders across disciplines with one central message.  Christ followers around the world, from every industry, and every denominational stripe, can love people.  Not based upon religion or political party or socio-economic status.  WE MUST LOVE PEOPLE.  And this Christ-like love can change the world, one person at a time.  We were repeatedly encouraged to gather across traditions, centered around the person and work of Jesus Christ, to build bridges, promote justice, and care for the poor and broken.

This was NOT your mama’s prayer breakfast.  It was not a stuffy-stale-fundamentalist-bible-thumping-flag-waving gathering.  It was a life changing 48 hours, where I met brothers and sisters from around the world.  And that honors our Father in heaven and pictures the family reunion to come!

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