A group of Syrians arrives on Lesvos after sailing on an inflatable raft from Turkey.

Jesus said “I am come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” It is a deep christian value to preserve and fight for that right of “life” for EVERYONE. I have become deeply saddened to discover that so many christians are Pro-Birthers and not necessarily Pro-Lifers. It is evident in the overflow of orphanages and foster homes across the nation. It’s as if we feel like our duty is to make sure they are born and then we launch them into the world bidding them good luck. Now I’ll admit, growing up in a dormitory style orphanage is still better than being aborted, but it’s no place for christians to stop and celebrate. If we are truly Pro-Life then we will lose sleep over the orphan epidemic in our world and for those that argue that adoption is too expensive (and it is too expensive) I would remind you of all the other expensive things in our life that we found a way to get because we wanted it bad enough (ATV’s, vacations, lavish homes, luxury vehicles, that are way out of our budgets) Pro-Lifers could and should empty the foster care system.

Recently our church announced that we would reopen a Homeless Shelter in our town. Expensive? Yes! Complicated? Absolutely! But we are Pro-Lifers so we are going to fight for the life that hasn’t been born and the one that has.

Furthermore, perhaps the purpose of this entire blog. Refugee lives matter to God and therefore should matter to His followers. Despite your political loyalties the church has got to become vocal about this very issue or else we will send a hypocritical message to the world. You see we are saving babies (who could very well grow up to be a terrorist) and all the while joining in with an anti-imigrant approach to foreign policy. I have kids of my own, 3 in fact, and yes one of them is adopted but for the life of me I can’t remember which one. My point is I understand we must take precautions to protect our families, but to have a tone that would sound as if we have aligned ourselves with a hate mongering rhetoric is more than unsettling. I have sadly even heard some use the phrase “we should drop a bomb and let God sort them out” defensively referring to how God allowed business to be done in the Old Testament. Perhaps you need a reminder of that huge line that the death of Jesus drew between the old and new covenant to the degree that the wrath of God was satisfied in Him. Will God judge again? I believe wholeheartedly that He will, but this time every individual will give an account for their life. He will not be doing bulk judgements. And neither should we.

But isn’t it a risk to allow refugees into our borders?

I think we’ve talked about “risks” before haven’t we? Like when a doctor tells a girl that her pregnancy is growing complicated and there are RISKS if she carries the child. As a true Pro-Lifer I would advise this girl to not abort the baby. Why? Because the value of life is greater than risks. And that value system should exist in our views of every life, including the refugee. Can we take precautions? Absolutely. Should there be vetting? Yes. But we cannot turn our backs on people that are so desperate to escape the nightmares they are living in that they will load up children on makeshift rafts because they consider the unknown dangers ahead of them to be better than the dangers of their present world. I just pray that as Pro-Lifers our hearts would break for what breaks His. I am a Republican,  but my loyalties do not lie with a party, my loyalties are to my King, and he’s not up for re-election anytime soon. I think we have such a heartless approach to this issue because w e never personify the pictures of foreigners that we see. We only see them as a potential Islamic extremist when we should see them as people, souls. That kid, lying face down in the sand after his lifeless body had washed ashore, well that kid was once surrounded by family one day that all cheered for him as he took his first steps. That dark skinned man in the meme you shared, he’s a dad just like you and feels the same anxiety about his future that you do when coal jobs are being threatened. They are individuals, they are people, as a church they are our target market. Two commands Jesus said we had better be passionate about, Love God, Love people. Where do we go from here? Or what should we do? I don’t know. But we can’t be hypocrites when it comes to being Pro-Life.

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deut. 10:19

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Heb. 13:2

I pray that no angels were detained today.

 

I am Pro-Life

The Swing Vote

I heard an incredible segment on NPR the other day (yes I’m that nerdy, no shame in my game) The political analyst was talking about the shift we have seen on campaign trails over the last few elections. He stated that just 20 years ago politicians had an entirely different approach. In fact much of their approach or appeal was to what is known as the “Swing Vote.” A swing vote represents that person that is completely up for grabs. They are undecided, their loyalties lie with a candidate and not a party. Because of this candidates were constantly trying to figure out how to reach the “Swing Vote.” They expected the support of their party, the swing vote is what kept them up at night, kept them fresh, it kept them innovative, compassionate, and it kept them listening. Listening to the swing voter was key, because if you could see them and hear their concerns maybe you could crack the code to their vote.
The analyst went on to point out how all that has changed. Now the candidate’s primary focus is getting their own political party to rally in support. The methods they use are creating speeches and slogans that tap into the core beliefs of their party. They tap into what makes the voter in their party tick. The emotions that they need to play into is top priority and can easily be discerned at every rally. The interview even stated that parties have their own vocabulary, for example one party refers to a group of people as “undocumented workers” while another party calls them “illegal aliens.” One group says “terrorists” and another says “Islamic extremists.” The analyst said in other words they have found it more important to speak the language of their party and cater to them rather than risk the energy and effort it takes to reach the “Swing Vote” because after all you may never sway them anyway. Left in the middle of the “sides” are a group of people undecided waiting to be convinced.
I should go ahead and declare that this blog isn’t about politics, since I’m one of those strange people that believe Jesus is the Hope for Humanity. What this blog is about is a very sad parallel that’s been showing up in the church. Jesus told His audience, “healed people don’t need a doctor” and would go on to say “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Jesus was announcing His purpose and the intended purpose of His church, which was to target the spiritual “Swing Voter” the person not under the banner of a denomination yet, the person with no loyalties yet, the person that didn’t know the religious language yet, the person unconvinced that Jesus is the answer to all life’s troubles. It is evident in the parable of the good shepherd. A good shepherd may have 99 convinced, loyal, obedient sheep, but he is consumed by the idea that one remains unspoken for, that one is outside the protection and security of the flock. He will strategize and plan and reach until the one is brought into the fold or every method has been exhausted.
I think it’s safe to say 99% of churches were started because of a burning passion to reach the “Swing Vote” (the other 1% was because they wanted blue carpet and not red) But is that still why we exist? Don’t get me wrong, we want spiritual growth and should develop discipleship efforts and create environments for Christians to mature inswingvote, but has that became our sole purpose? Have we sacrificed our innovation to reach the lost because of the demands of the 99 to speak their language or as our party calls it “I just need something deeper.” My hope is that the church can create opportunities for people to go further in their walk with God, but I’m praying a prayer of protection that would keep us from following the trend of American politics. We are not a Hotel for the Holy but a Hospital for the hurting. So whats the role of the seasoned saint? Well, every hospital needs nurses, doctors, and administrators that are committed to furthering their education all the while exercising it. Swing Voters, I want to hear you and know your concerns, and most of all I want to convince you to cast your ballot at the foot of the cross. Church, may we never lose our passion to convince the unconvinced.

3 Hebrews that never “felt the Burn”

Without a doubt the world has been constantly changing. I just don’t know if it’s ever changed this fast. I’m 30 years old and can already start conversations with the classic grandpa leadoff “back in my day…” This is a different place. Above the technology changes that the world has always undergone is the change in people. People are different. If you survey non-millennials I believe there would be one reoccurring word….”Sensitive.” I mean have you honestly ever seen more dust kicked up (I better be careful,” kicking up dust” probably has a very dark origin and someone is about to come unglued) over absolutely nothing. Offended by everything!  Kids ball games stay tied (don’t even get me started on that one) inner city schools are even forced to use imaginary jump ropes so that no one gets embarrassed, if you have a core value you’re a bigot, even the word “abuse” has gotten more broad in my lifetime, every person in law enforcement has some how become a suspect, every christian is put in the Westboro category, Sensitive! Of course they call it “progressive” but let’s not challenge that as it will cause them to storm the internet with more passionate posts about the planet they want for their kids (I love you Millennials!)

So if you’re a church leader then you know how overwhelming this sensitivity can be, in fact I think it has put many of us in a corner asking “how are we going to reach a generation with the truth if they can’t bare the truth?” In fact I think we are tempted to shift our focus entirely to the remaining ones that haven’t  been sucked into the sensitivity, all the while writing off the ones that have. But hold the phone for a minute! I am reminded of 3 Hebrews in the Old Testament that were thrown into a fiery furnace that was created for their demise. However, in His miraculous work, the weapon that was made to destroy the Hebrews only destroyed the enemy that created it! You see God has a tendency, a track record of taking the things the enemy meant for evil and makithe-millennials_lowresng thing work for good! Moses would lead the Children of Israel out of slavery, but not before God made the Egyptians pay for his upbringing. It was the ugly, brutal, cross that was converted into the bridge to Heaven for all mankind. God has a way of flipping the script, just ask Haman who ended up swinging from the gallows that he himself created for Esther.

Sensitivity is an overwhelming thing to face as the church….unless God sticks with His track record and makes evil work for His good. Show me a revival that didn’t begin with someone’s SENSITIVITY to God’s spirit and guidance. Show me a miracle that’s not rooted in someone being SENSITIVE to God’s voice. I don’t have the answers, I don’t how we navigate through the hurtles of this culture, but I know this, sensitivity is something God could easily make work for His good. Just imagine if the sensitivity that this generation has toward their fellow man, showed up at your church and the sensitivity was toward God. They would leap at His whisper, they would Go at His word. God, do what only you can do in this generation. Speak, we’re listening.

 

Out with the old, in with the older

PewsI was elected as pastor of Hazard Christian Church (a church nearly 90 years old) in 2013 while remaining pastor of The Journey Church (a church that was 4 years old at the time) The two remained separate entities only a short time before realizing we would be stronger together than apart. So in August of 2013 we merged the churches together forming Journey Christian Church. The two was perfect for each other (cough, cough) but seriously the merger made sense. One church had resources but lacked vision and energy, the other was rich with vision and energy but lacked resources. The merge has demanded change from both congregations, for one it was accepting a new style of everything, the other it was accountability and pace. The changes have been obvious for Hazard Christian, and maybe from outsiders perspective not as obvious for The Journey Church. Being the pastor though, I have the inside scoop….In the midst of our “take over the world for Jesus” campaign we have this lingering accountability. An accountability to those who have gone before us, those who started that first congregation around 1925, and gathered on Lyttle Blvd. for the first time in 1927. We owe honor to those who faithfully gathered after it seemed the church had passed it’s prime. We owe honor to those faithful 8 to 10 people that would keep the doors open through some tough times. We owe honor to those crazy board members who in a last ditch effort to save their church handed the reigns over to some even crazier punk kids.

As we begin renovations on a building that hasn’t seen any major refacing since around the 50’s, I find myself thinking of those saints often. Removing pews today to make room for our new seats I found myself asking “how do you pay tribute to those who dedicated their lives to making sure this church continued to exist?” I even questioned myself that maybe replacing their pews was the opposite of honor. Is painting their white walls an insult? But it dawned on me, the only way to truly pay honor to those who made this place their mission, is to make sure it advances. I’ve yet to view a relay race where the runner passes the baton to the next runner, and he stops, cries, cleans the baton, tells the previous runner how fast and awesome he was, vows to take care of the baton…and they win the race!?! That’s not how you say thanks to the guy who ran before you, you tell him all of his workouts and endurance was great by finishing what he set out to do, take that baton across the finish line or as far as you are allowed to take it before handing it to the next guy.

So at Journey Christian Church it’s true, we are taking some old things out, but something even older than pews and carpet are coming in, it’s called “Honor.” We salute those precious predecessors by running with the baton they handed us. I’m convinced that if they could speak to us (and we could hear them over all of our rock n roll) they would tell us how encouraged they were every time they saw us packing something out and bringing something in because it reminds them that they were never working on a museum, but a hospital for broken and hurting people that existed in their day and will exist in every generation. Out with the old, in with the Honor.

Permission to Pioneer

pioneer

Let’s establish some truths, so there is no “he said what?”

Truth #1- Borrow Ideas

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

If you lack in creativity, by all means, look to someone who is creative! If you lack boldness, then listen to podcasts, read blogs, be around those that make you bold. My pastor always said “the only sermon that shouldn’t be preached more than once, is the one that shouldn’t have been preached the first time.” Borrow Ideas, go for it! Trace every good God idea and it always comes from him. Which makes him the Master, and we are all copies. (see what I did there)

Truth #2- You need some Heroes

Part of our call as followers of Christ is to look to him and mimic his character. Paul told the church at Corinth “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1 NLT) You need some Godly Heroes. Whether you know them on a personal level or not, they can help you develop as a leader and a dreamer.

Truth #3- If your so-called “calling” or “dream” crosses the word of God or character of God….it’s not from God

Now that we have some truths established, lets proceed. A really big sign that you are a civilized follower of Christ is that you depend on Truths 1 & 2 so much that you have lost your ability to pioneer. It’s so easy to become that kid at the amusement park who is willing to ride the coaster so long as he can let the three friends behind him go first to ensure he won’t die. Barbarians understand that when God calls you, Truths 1 and 2 will not always be available, because there’s not always someone that has “been there, done that.” Barbarians armed with a word from God are willing to go first and in doing so are more dangerous to the kingdom of darkness than the civilized Christian waiting to go next armed with a quote from Catalyst Conference (and I love some Catalyst)

Why is Pioneering important?

Is it so that we can, with thumbs in ears, fingers waving, chant to other churches/ministries “we done it first”

NOOO!!! Pioneering is important because scriptures tell us that Hell is enlarging her borders, and everyday that we sit in our padded pews waiting for a reference to pop up and map everything out for us, is just more time that we are losing in the battle for souls. Barbarians are willing to risk looking sloppy because of the urgency of eternity.

In Judges 15 Samson finds himself unarmed and surrounded by Philistines.  God provides a sword? Nope! A spear? Negative! Nunchucks? That would have been cool! Instead God provides Samson with the jawbone of a donkey. Had Samson been civilized he would have quickly reminded God that none of the ninja turtles use jawbones of any animals. He would of reminded God of what a warrior’s artillery should look like based on what he had always seen. But Samson being a barbarian, took a weapon so new it didn’t come with instructions, and with it he went all Kevin Sorbo and hacked up 1000 Philistines. Samson was a barbarian and barbarians are willing to pioneer.

How many jawbone ministries have never been birthed because our search engines yielded no results? How many jawbone initiatives has God placed in our hearts, but that is as far as they made it because we had no reference points? I am blogging from experience. I know what it is to have an idea about a new program or initiative, but convince myself it’s too cheesey or corny, or worst of all, a garuntee fail. But then a few months later, Hillsong or Elevation does it and suddenly it becomes okay for me to do. Newsflash: It was okay, when God okayed it.

A couple of years (a decade) ago I was a student pastor of a thriving youth group in a very small town. We were always encouraging teenagers to abandon the seat of just showing up and get in the game of ministry. I will never forget when this kid came to me and said “Ben, with your permission I would like to start a MySpace Ministry.” Couple things you need to know: at this point this kid had already attempted sharing a sermon with the youth group, but literally got so nervous he didn’t speak a single word and ran off the stage. He had already attempted to sing (keyword “attempted”)…we will just leave it at that. Next, you need to know at this point MySpace wasn’t used for marketing but rather a social playground for people pretending to be super deep and totally into Indie Music. But I’ve always been a fan of dreamers (ok it seemed like an easy way to get him off the stage) so I said “yes” to a ministry that didn’t exist to our knowledge and had no testimonies of effectiveness, because well it didn’t exist. But the kid was barbaric. He used people’s music choices on their pages to open up conversations, he would go through their friend’s list until he found someone that went to our youth group, and used that as leverage to get them there. Dude was crazy, dude was uncivilized, and dude brought over 20 first time guests his first month of “MySpace Ministry” (whatever that is) All because he decided that the stakes were too high to wait on a reference, it was time to pioneer.

I firmly believe you need to borrow ideas. I strongly encourage you to have some heroes. But today I remind you, that God called You! The Kingdom already has Steven, Craig, and Perry, now it needs you and me to be who God has called us to be. In the words of the great mamba “I’m not the next Michael Jordan, I’m the first Kobe Bryant.” Now take away the arrogance that fueled this statement and replace it with urgency, and become confident that the Kingdom needs you to be you, for a time such as this. You are strategically placed, don’ be MIA because you are scared to risk. Wherever it is that you are serving, then show up, I mean really show up. Be influenced, be coached, but be the you that God has called you to be.

Barbarians, you have permission to pioneer. It is time to dream again.

Exit Civilization

image164

2$ for the entire 2003 Willow Creek Leadership Summit on DVD…the best Thrift Shop buy I’ve ever made (a velvet suit was a close 2nd) But in the end it would cost me much more than $2. It would hand me restless nights full of conviction for what I had accepted as civilized Christianity, and full of vision for what might happen if I were to walk out on my preconceived notions of who God was and how he moved in my day and time. The sermon that I played more than Pandora plays Taylor Swift, was “The Barbarian Way” by Erwin McManus. He stood before thousands and confessed what I always felt but was afraid to even confess to myself. That the Jesus we once said “yes” to because our hearts burned within us, to know him, experience him, follow him, and believe that with him anything was possible, that same Jesus through time and crafty explanation had taken on a much more civilized role in our lives. (Insert sarcasm about right here) That dream to take the world by storm for his kingdom sake had quickly been replaced with good teaching and we learned that you just can’t take the world by storm, no, you have to be predestined to do that, and once you discover that through several catastrophic confirmations well lets talk about that DREAM of yours. See you just got caught up in the amateur hour of your Christianity and blurted out all kinds of craziness. You were going to walk on water like Peter, you were going to give everything like that early church in Acts, you were going to launch an unorthodox ministry approach like John the Baptist, but hold the phone there fired up newbie. You blurted those things out because you hadn’t learned yet the civilized Christian language. God doesn’t use people to walk on water anymore, that was for that day, look up “miracle expiration date” in your concordance, I’m confident it’s in there with how boldly we proclaim that an all. And make EVERYTHING available like the early church? Come on, that sounds uncomfortable, and as you know Jesus is everything but uncomfortable, right? And you can’t just go launching ministries there sparky, there is procedure, and step 1 of course, you must have a reference, a blueprint of someone that’s already done it, and step 2, where’s your credentials?

Ok, ok, you get the point (exit sarcasm)

Seriously, this sermon woke up the dreamer in me, and reminded me that a civilized approach to Jesus would be worse than the person who went to Starbucks because they loved their restrooms. If you are settling for a God, that you have boxed in with all your diagrams, history, and explanations, you are missing out on the best of him! Newsflash…As uncivilized as this may sound in a culture where we tend to present Jesus on a shiny sermon platter, Jesus is disruptive! Jesus is uncomfortable at times! Jesus calls us to take risks! If you are not living in this barbaric approach to Jesus then civilization is eating away at the dreamer inside you. We leaders have convinced ourselves that if we can keep the weirdness of Jesus and scripture on the hush, the more civilized we can make him, the less disruptive we can make him, the more appealing he will become. But the barbarian understands that most people come to Jesus because they want their lives to change, and it’s the weird, it’s the life interruption, it’s the risks, that they have been longing for.

I am convinced that the more civilized we make Jesus and his church, the more daunting the task it will be to become a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. I am also convinced pastor, leader, that beneath the sometimes intimidation of other ministries or our circumstances, beneath the routine you have quietly grown accustomed to, beneath the polo shirt and pleaded khakis, is the barbarian. The dreamer that knows new countertops shouldn’t be the most exciting thing happening in our lives. The barbarian way isn’t always mentally healthy, it’s often lonely, it’s full of risks, but along the way we will see Jesus and we will be so glad we made our way out of civilization. It is time to dream again.