Saturday, November 08, 2008

Misplaced Priorities

This past week in California we saw a classic example of Christians organizing, uniting, and fighting for a cause they thought was important while at the same time ignoring a cause that is probably closer to the heart of God.
On the ballot we had a state-wide measure called Proposition 8 that amends the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. While I agree that the Biblical design for marriage is only between a man and a woman I am disheartened by the message Christians sent around this issue. Here are a few of my concerns:

1) The campaign ads surrounding this issue were more about "homophobia" than about defining marriage. This tactic may have proved effective in getting this proposition to pass but it was also effective in driving a further wedge between Christians and those in the homosexual community.

2) Churches and pastors spent much time on organizing and rallying their people to pass this proposition. This seems okay on the surface but to be qualified as a tax-exempt organization, we agree to not attempt to influence legislation. We can share opinions and scripture that relates to a subject but telling people to vote one particular way actually violates the law and puts the integrity of these churches on the line.

3) 80 million dollars was raised and spent for this cause meanwhile relatively nothing was done to support the proposition that requires teenagers to get parental permission to have an abortion. Our kids cannot pierce their ears and they cannot take asprin from the school nurse without the parents knowing but they can have a surgical procedure performed to end the life of an unborn child.

Here is where I have the biggest problem with this year's election. Christians think that if they don't pass a law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman (which will only be overturned by the government), then God will be angry with California and unleash His judgement. Meanwhile we give no attention to a law that will protect the lives of unborn children who have no voice. Those who have no voice are continually listed in the Bible as the ones for whom we should fight. The poor, the oppressed, the orphans, and the widows are just a few that God repeatedly admonishes his people to care for. The unborn are included along with these who cannot fight for themselves.

So why is it that we consistently get worked up over the wrong issues and further alienate the very people we claim to want to reach with the love of Jesus and at the same time fail to fight for a cause that is one of the easiest things to vote for on the entire ballot? I think it is because the reality is that many religious people still fear and sometimes hate those that they are uncomfortable around. I think it is just easier for religious people to feel like they are fighting for their god by fighting against a known "enemy" and it is not so easy to have a consistent theology of caring for the "least of these".

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." -GK Chesterton in the London Illustrated News, 1924.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

My Radical, Hippie, Missional Cult: Enter Cautiously

Being a part of of gathering of people trying to begin a new kind of church in Orange County is an eye opening experience. We are working to get to the basics of being a disciple of Christ while at the same time working against the well-oiled machine called the American church. Those of us who are choosing to join in this new movement are facing some interesting comments and challenges from other "christians". We have heard things like, "You are the ones with those radical ideas", "You don't understand how 'church' works", and, "Your group is a bunch of hippies just trying to love one another". Some have even heard jokes about this new "cult".
I really am not offended by any of these comments but I decided to look through some of our beliefs to see if we really are a bunch of radical, hippie, cult followers and here is a sampling of what I found:

1) We believe that God is in control of this whole thing and therefore we seek to be centered on Jesus and not centered on our church. Our job is to be faithful and diligent with what God has given us and leave the rest up to Him. When I teach, I must prepare and give it my best but it is not my job to "make sure" the message is heard. The Holy Spirit must do that and I know that the word does not return void. In other words, we want this whole thing to be about Jesus and not about our local gathering, our teachings, or our leaders.

2) We are "missional", meaning our gathering focuses on a "go and be" rather than a "come and see" motto. In other words, we are not trying to attract people to our building and calling it "evangelism". We are following the command in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful, multiply, and to fill the earth, and Jesus' words that say, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19), and even Acts 1:7 that says, "You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth". We believe that we should be people who are in love with Jesus and let that passion and love flow through us in everyday life with everyday people instead of spending much of our time in church buildings and church gatherings only with other Christians or asking those who do not believe to come and join us in our sacred world. God created us as relational people and therefore we must engage in building bridges with all people and in having honest and open communication with each other.

3) We have few "formal" programs to offer. Other than some children's classes during our large group gathering, our "Christian Education" happens in homes and in rhythms of real life. We believe that our culture now views "church" like going to the mall. People want service and a product that is taylor made to "meet their needs". We choose to offer a program that says, "Fall in love with Jesus and let the radical, life-changing nature of that relationship change you." Our community groups are casual gatherings where we share meals together (with children and all!) and where our informal conversations spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25). This is also where we are asked to build one another up for the sake of building up the church (Eph 4:11-12). This takes the job away from professional pastors and places it back to the followers like it was in the Early Church.

4) We are led by overseers who commit to shared leadership. There is no Senior Pastor. We believe the Biblical model of leadership is to use people called and gifted for teaching and praying for the local gathering of followers. Elders or Overseers are the two words used in the New Testament for this level of church leadership. It is not an elected board that serves terms like a City Council and it is not a group of people who should be manipulated or persuaded. We commit to shared leadership that comes through submission to one another as we bear one another's burdens with love and grace (Eph 4:2-3). We view Jesus as our "Head Overseer" so only God has a greater share of the power than anyone else. We believe that if we can't make decisions by consensus then we need to wait for the Spirit of God to clarify the direction or to soften our hearts until we let go of our own ideas. We want our leaders to be open with shortcomings and failures but we want them to be people of integrity and people who model the ways of Jesus.

5) We believe that how we live is a reflection of what we believe about the Gospel. In other words, we believe the gospel says that God is a generous God, giving us all we need (not just physically). Because we believe this, we want to be generous and we choose as a gathering to give the first 20% of all we take in to causes outside of ourselves. We believe that the gospel says that Jesus forgave us while we were still sinners so we welcome in anyone who is a "sinner" knowing that the grace of God applies to all. We want to shower each person with such love and grace that they will experience God's love in a new way and experience the kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Most churches say "come as you are" but make people feel so uncomfortable that they actually mean, "come as we are". By intentionally engaging with our culture, hosting parties with our neighbors, and attending our communities festivities, we actually get to know people as they are and they get to know us as we are instead of the "church game faces" that we are so good at wearing.

6) To steal one from Rob Bell, we believe that "love wins". When faced with a difficult choice of how to respond in our daily lives, we choose love. We choose love because we believe the ways of Jesus that say, "Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor". And, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". We believe the words of Jesus that say that no greater love exists than to lay down your life for another (John 15:12). All of this means that the ways of Jesus are to default to offering love and grace. In the end, love wins.

This is just a small sampling of our beliefs and lifestyles. If wanting Jesus to be our focus more than our church name or leaders fame, than go ahead and call us a cult. If choosing to extend love to those who probably don't deserve it (including ourselves) and choosing to be generous to the poor, the oppressed, and the unwanted makes us hippies then I guess we are hippies. If sending people to the most dangerous places on earth to share the love of Jesus and if choosing to truly work to live the humble, simple, gracious, loving, integrity-filled ways of Jesus makes us a crazy group of radicals then I guess we might just finally be figuring this whole Jesus thing out.