The very reason for this blog

As I have tried to limit my Facebook exposure over the last day or so, I’ve read the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage in all 50 states.

To those who did a lot of hand wringing waiting for this decision and are now decrying the “fall of America” or something akin to it, I can only say, “You haven’t been paying much attention lately, have you?”

To those who have followed this blog for very long, and really the whole reason for setting it up and writing so much on spiritual formation, it is honestly no surprise. Not today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow.

The impetus for this blog didn’t come out of a Supreme Court ruling. It came out of 9/11. It actually began to form in prayer before 9/11. Then, when the attack happened, I realized what the Lord was saying to me. (I’m a slow learner.)

The need for the Church in America is to understand we’ve lived for centuries as “Americans who happen to be Christians.” We now need to turn to the firm belief that we are “Christians who happen to be Americans.” (That was over 13 years ago, not just yesterday.)

After 9/11, I preached through the Sermon on the Mount for months, then invited people into an intentional spiritual formation group that lasted a year. Everyone who started on day one had to commit to an entire year. Almost everyone did!

The best way I can describe the journey since that point is this: Our biggest models for living out the power of the Kingdom needs to come from the Old Testament witness of Joseph, Daniel, and Esther. We learn to live with deep conviction as to who we are in Christ and then BLESS the culture in which we find ourselves. That is how I have attempted to model my life for these past few years. I’ve done okay at times, not so okay at others.

So, today, I am not alarmed. I am not wringing my hands. I am not doing a funeral dirge for America. (I confess I did something of a dirge for the American CHURCH after 9/11, then again after Katrina, but that’s another story.)

Today, I am as in love with Jesus as I was the day before. Okay… I’m not. I’m MORE in love with Jesus today than I was the day before.

Today, I am in love with people. All people. Whether they love me or not, quite frankly. That is my command from my Savior, and I take it seriously.

Today, I am desiring to bless my culture and bring the goodness of the Kingdom of God into the life of my culture in any way possible.

That didn’t change by any ruling of the Supreme Court yesterday… or ever. It doesn’t change with old laws or new laws. None of that touches the allegiance I have for the Kingdom of God.

Today, I will not curse my culture or my nation. I love where I live. People love me with my deep flaws. I love people with their deep flaws. And the Kingdom of God comes.

Whatever comes moving forward may surprise me, though I’m not sure it is possible any more. But even if it surprise me… it hasn’t taken God unawares. I can rest in that.

The very reason for this blog has now come to fulfillment. It is about living in a place that may not care about my opinion any more. But that didn’t happen just yesterday. That happened quite awhile back. And I still thrive. I still bless. I still love and bless and give. That was yesterday. That will be today. And, with God’s grace, that will be tomorrow.

It doesn’t mean “agreement.” But it does mean LOVE.

Love God.
Love people.

Let’s go.

Hobby Lobby and Shrill Responses

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Hobby Lobby and other “Christian owned” for-profit businesses did not have to pay for certain kinds of contraception that violated the owners basic religious belief that those were “potential abortifacients due to the way they can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in a mother’s womb.”

There are shrill responses. We’re now headed back to “back alley abortions” according to the most shrill of responses. We’re headed back to the dark ages.

That’s what happens when you poke the beasts that are strongholds in a culture. It’s just going to happen.

Lost in the shrill response, of course, are some key facts. By when it comes to any shrill response (conservative or liberal), when do we let fact get in the way?

The companies were objecting to four specific types of contraception they were being ordered to pay for in their new insurance policies. Four out of TWENTY contraceptive methods. So, because these companies are willing to pay for SIXTEEN of the TWENTY mandated methods… we are headed back to the dark ages. The beast has been poked and it roars.

Liberal friends of mine point out this is not about religious liberty at all. I point out this is not about “women’s rights” at all. We both laugh as we disagree with each other. By the way, that’s when it’s a couple of us chatting. In a bigger space like this, I’m sure I’ll get much more vehement responses.

My point that this is about religious liberty is really not this particular case. It was when Health and Human Services first put out all the rules concerning the new healthcare laws and did something very slight, but significant. They separated out “religious non-profits” like never before. Churches and other “houses of worship” would be exempt in some parts of the new healthcare laws because of normal religious exemptions that have been held up in this country for centuries. However, the new rules sliced off all other religious organizations (schools, hospitals, charities) and said THEY must follow ALL the directives.

THIS is why I see this as an attack on religious liberty. I’m not shrill about it. I’m not decrying the moral decay of America or “America has left God.” I’m just pointing out the government from time to time does something like that to see exactly how far they can push religious liberty and the views of the public regarding that First Amendment right.

If a government can nibble on the edges and find a place to wedge in and begin to erode a long-standing practice… they will do it. It’s not about political party. It’s about power. (That’s another beast that gets poked.)

While lower courts have now decided it’s just silly to separate out the kinds of religious institutions that are exempt from the HHS rules, the Supreme Court still has to hear those cases. Yesterday’s Hobby Lobby ruling sends a signal that HHS will need to back it off this time.

Again, let me point out that this ruling is incredibly narrow in scope and it does not mean that ALL contraceptive methods are being taken away. I would ALSO like to point out that HHS did not need to go down this road in the first place. They chose to nibble at this edge when there was an easy fix already in place. Hawaii gives exemptions to all religious organizations (non-profits) and then allows riders to be attached to insurance policies for free allowing contraceptives to be provided to women. Hawaii has done this for years (as a LIBERAL on NPR pointed out when this HHS rule came out).

So, it’s not ALL contraceptive methods and it has an EASY fix. But you can’t tell that by the shrill responses on one end.

On the other end of shrill responses, I would say my own response to the ruling is tempered. It is actually sober. I’m not dancing in the streets as I watch a lot of people do (figuratively).

I personally think this is a watershed moment. This may be one of the last times religious organizations or people who own businesses and try to run them with deeply held religious beliefs will get this kind of ruling.

The decision was split. It was a narrow “victory.”

Public opinion is not favorable. In 1993, when the  Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed, public opinion was vastly upset with the Supreme Court infringing on religious freedoms. This time around, it’s hard and fast the other way.

This is why I sense this shift. There is a clash of definitions. There are “human rights” and “religious liberties.” It is perceived that “human rights” get infringed on by “religion” so there is a clash. The narrowing in the past few years is seen in terminology. We have gone from “freedom of religion” to “freedom to worship.” Big difference.

When “human rights” and “religious liberty” clash, and the god of a culture dictates “human rights” are infringed on by “religious bigotry,” religious liberty goes out the window.

Now, for me, it’s simply saying, “That’s the way it is.” When this country was founded it added in religious liberty because they knew where they didn’t want to return. We don’t have that knowledge any longer. So, we’ve made “human rights” to be something “religion” somehow infringes upon. It’s an unnecessary dichotomy, but that is the language and argument.

Religious liberty is a freedom given. It is also a freedom that can be taken away. We can whine and cry, but that’s the fact. We need to understand our true allegiances and realize when those liberties are ultimately taken away, we will then be in harmony with the majority of Christians around the world.

It doesn’t mean we don’t make the case for continuing religious liberty. Far from it.

I’m just noting that the tide is shifting, has been shifting, and in my lifetime will probably totally shift. And in that moment, I must be prepared. I also need to prepare others that I serve.

I won’t “whoop it up” over the Hobby Lobby decision. I won’t whine about America leaving God.

I will simply try to keep pointing the way to a magnificent Savior and a King. That King has a kingdom greater than the country where I live. That King has graced me with the luxury of living in a great country that has afforded me tremendous freedoms. But those freedoms are fickle in human hands. The freedom I have in Christ is greater, and THAT is what I want people to know.

Women have tremendous freedom in the Kingdom of God. As do the unborn. All humans have tremendous freedom when they have been truly set free. And in this country, without Christ, we STILL don’t understand what “freedom” really is about.


San Francisco, the Tenderloin, and the Supreme Court

We were in San Francisco the same week as the Supreme Court made two key rulings on gay marriage. Several people set me texts or messages asking how things were going in light of that decision.

Some of the messages I didn’t get for a little while because we had lousy cell reception in the Tenderloin. Go figure.

Here is what I realized while involved with City Impact: you’re basically too busy with the poor to follow the news closely. For me, that was refreshing since I’m a huge news junkie. But it also helped me understand the heart of Jesus a whole lot more. I was so busy with City Impact, I didn’t even give much thought once I knew the decisions. 

It doesn’t mean I lack an opinion. I just found myself with a refreshingly different focus and while we were there, it was indescribable. I can’t explain how it felt to not let the news bother ministry. We fed all kinds of people. I don’t even have categories for all of them. We just tried to bless as many people as we possibly could, and it was exhausting and joyful all week long.

City Impact Front

Hard Work and Determination

I am reading a book with my church staff about the “Me Generation.”  It is a study, with some very funny sharp opinions, about our current generation. There are some very admirable things about this current generation. One thing I was admittedly surprised about was they seem to have high goals. The downside is they don’t seem to want to work for them. AND, it’s about notoriety. It’s about the 15 minutes of fame and the American Idol mystique.

This article about Supreme Court Justice Byron White is superb. He was incredibly skilled as an athlete AND a scholar. He was also a WWII hero.

He also hated fame. His actions as a WWII hero were enough to gain him incredible fame. Add to that his accomplishments as a football player in his era, and then on top of that his incredible intellect… and he simply avoided the media. What was wrong with that guy?

It’s a great story and a great lesson. Enjoy.

Why I Must be Prophetic

One of the tough lessons I am not learning very well over these past few years is the prophetic call of the Church. I can talk a good game, but I don’t act on it very well.

Confession time. I’m a political junkie. I try and avoid it here, but if you follow me on Facebook, I’m full of it. I am addicted to news. I’m not as addicted to talk radio, but I still read the news voraciously. My political opinions are fairly strong.

When I speak of the Church having a prophetic voice, I mean we should not tie ourselves to any political party. It’s easy for mainline churches to wag their fingers at conservatives for trying to hitch the evangelical wagon to the Republican Party. It’s not a lie. It’s the truth.

Yet, mainline churches consistently hitch their wagon to the Democratic Party and act sanctimonious. Give me a break. We’re all guilty as charged at some point in time!

That said, I used to have a belief that the voter had a voice. That belief has been eroding for the past several years. When I first moved to Minnesota, I could actually call my congressional representatives and get answers. Now, they won’t give me the time of day.

Here is why, and let’s be honest: I DON’T GIVE THEM ANY MONEY. If I did, it wouldn’t be in the range of say, MILLIONS of dollars. What it has come down to is this: If you don’t donate HEAVILY to a political cause, you have no voice. Period.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling only solidified that obvious fact. Make a note. Politicians will not even fake listening to “the people” anymore. They will make their appeals to corporations and labor unions. Why? Because those entities will have huge pots of money to throw at advertising to persuade us, the voters, as to who is right and who is wrong. It was stupid before. It’s about to get insane.

It’s sad for me, as an American. I used to call my congressional representatives with an expectation of being heard. Now, they don’t care. I can almost hear them filing their nails or checking their email while I am trying to talk to them about an upcoming vote. They don’t ask for my name, number, address, nothing.

So, I am being forced into the true understanding that we MUST act prophetically as the Church. It will matter so little in the shadow of the mountains of campaigns dollars being spent on advertising, but stand I must. Stand WE must, as the Church. We may not be heard, but that should not keep us from speaking if that is what the Lord is asking of us.