The uncomfortable places

I was sharing our story with a new friend yesterday. He asked how we had come to reinvent ourselves as a church and how that led to the building of the coffee shop.

As I shared our story with him, I was reaffirmed in our calling as believers. Not just Heights Church. Believers.

We are to engage our culture. We are to enter into the tough situations and have the hard conversations. Our consumer-drive Christianity has inoculated American Christians from that process. We think we’re “challenging” people, but we’re not. We are sheltering people in our political/theological ghettos and lobbing theological grenades at straw men for arguments. (Excuse me… straw people, since we’re good at being equal opportunity grenade throwers.)

Over 18 plus years of ministry in my city, I have come to a place where I see incredible opportunities in places most American Christians now fear. Last year I remember a conversation with a couple while traveling who actually thought Minneapolis was under sharia law! Why? Because FoxNews told them so.

You know what I see? I see an opportunity for the Prince of Peace to actually have an encounter with a lot of Muslim friends now… because of ISIS. And I see it because I have Muslim friends. I have these very uncomfortable conversations. They are “uncomfortable” because it challenges me. It puts me in “tough” places. I have to think more about my answers, my tone, my language… and as a result it takes me deeper into Christ rather than farther away from him.

What I was reaffirmed in by the Spirit in that conversation yesterday was we are calling believers to a new level of engagement. It is almost always uncomfortable. But those are the places where we get to know Christ more. 

I have an incredibly brave church. It’s not “one of the bravest.” I am not ignorant. There are far more dangerous places in the world. But brave in the sense that this church chose to move away from comfort and trust Christ. It is the opportunity to trust Christ not just for themselves… but for a community that needs Christ. We get to walk that out daily.

Over the years of ministry in our city, I find ways to get out and meet new people all the time. In the past three days I’ve expanded that circle far more than I could have imagined just by sitting in the coffee shop we created. It’s a new level for me. Whole new areas of possible discomfort. But this adventure is great. And it’s all because Christ is great. I don’t want “comfort” in this cultural sense of “normal.” I want the Comforter empowering me every day in the tough situations because it is there I know his presence even more.

It is in these “uncomfortable” places I have become more secure in Christ than I could have thought possible. Ministry is engaging, empowering, and energizing once again.

All because we chose to be “uncomfortable.”

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Muslim apocalyptic literature

THIS ARTICLE is by a Muslim and speaks to the extremism he observes in ISIS.

It is interesting to see more and more public views of how Muslims view Jesus and the end of time. I am also noticing what I call “evangelical” Islam. It’s an approach that speaks more “evangelical” language. The author mentions his own approach to Jesus toward the end of the article.

Bottom line, I have served God and loved Jesus my entire life, and I followed Jesus into Islam when I realized I became a worse man by worshipping Him and a better man by following him.

Fearing Muslims?

Last Friday I began to see a link being passed around from an opinion piece on Charisma Magazine’s site. I didn’t have time to read it, but the reactions from it today are so strong, I went back to read it. The piece is no longer on Charisma’s site, but links can be found to cached sites and the “author’s” original site.

Rod Thomas and Brian Zahnd had strong responses and their posts have the links to the original piece as well.

Two things (among many) stood out to me reading the original piece:

1. Whatever happened to loving our “enemy”? We’ve sunk to an “eye for an eye” and forgot the words of Jesus himself.

2. The “author” uses the twist that is dangerous. He starts with the word “Islamist” then quickly switches to Muslim and equates all Muslims with radical groups like ISIS. All Muslims hate Americans. All Muslims are sworn enemies of God (meaning Christians).

This is horrifying at every level. And it is not Christ. My dearest Muslim friends abhor ISIS and it is clear ISIS doesn’t represent them any more than Westboro Baptist Church represents me and my love for Jesus.

We are not like this world. We are not following the spirit of this age. We will not meet violence with violence. Not in this irrational way. The Kingdom of God is far more powerful than visceral responses like Charisma dared to post. Let us live with transformed minds.

Blame, Blame, Blame

The Islamic world is in upheaval again. Once again, Americans look for blame. We look to something we can quantify. Something over which we can wring our hands.

Even after it has become fairly clear the horrific attack on the embassy in Libya were a coordinated effort that led to deaths of four Americans, we are still wringing our hands over the dumb “trailer” that was on YouTube. Something that may have been out for quite some time, that just “happened” to erupt in protests on 9/11… but it’s not about 9/11 or anything else. It’s about that dumb trailer.

The trailer is dumb. I won’t defend it.

There are a lot of dumb things on YouTube and network TV and cable TV.

What we look for are things to blame rather than solutions.

We need to examine that maybe, just maybe, we got this “Arab spring” thing wrong. We need to step back and examine that maybe, just maybe, we didn’t really do the work necessary to this point to win “hearts and minds” in North Africa, and there is a long way to go.

We also need to understand that just like one really stupid YouTube video isn’t representative of American culture or Christianity, there are reports out, finally, that there are SO MANY moderates in North Africa who long for peace.

As believers, we know there is hurt. I wept watching those four caskets coming off that plane at Andrews Air Force Base. I am angered by the taking of American lives who were working for peace in a region that needs peace.

But, as believers, we also pray. We pray for peace. We pray for safety. We pray for truth.

I will not blame my Muslim friends. I will not blame a video. I will not reduce my thoughts to being angry at all Muslims or all Libyans or all Egyptians.

The world is at boiling point and we need a higher spiritual awareness in our lives as to the way forward.

Important New Study on Islam

This report relates findings from an in-depth study done on Islam around the world. Statistics show that almost 1 in 4 on the planet are Muslim. It also shows what has been true for decades: Islam is not predominantly Arabic. The largest Muslim nations are not in the Middle East.

I write on this because I have a heart for Muslims. Unlike some other evangelicals/Pentecostals, I do not want to see Muslims as a threat. Since 9/11 the deep-seeded fears have caused us to step back a little from engaging Muslims. The city where I pastor has a significant Muslim population and I count many Muslims in my community friends. I have helped them in many areas of business and government. They have come to my aid at times in significant ways.

The field is ripe for harvest. We have an opportunity at our door. It is never time for fear. Not for the saints of the Most High. It is always time for faith. It is time to see the beauty of Jesus in our lives, come to a place of total surrender to our Lord, and get busy in the harvest.