Thursday, October 30, 2008

Christians Need Jesus, Too

One of the greatest challenges for those of us that call ourselves followers of the Nazarene carpenter is that we often forget that we, too, still need Jesus. We can easily fall into the trap that after we place our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that it's up to us to live out the Christian life. But since we are still sinners, we all need Jesus each day to live the kind of lives He would want for us.

A favorite writer of mine, John Fischer, touched on this topic today in his column, Catch of the Day. You can read the whole article here, but here's a highlight:
"A Christian without Jesus is a person who believes in Christian morals, who grew up in a Christian home, who goes to church and serves on committees or sings in the choir, who believes certain doctrines that are required by his particular brand of Christianity, who desires a Christian environment so her children will be safe, who listens to Christian music and Christian teaching, or who passionately votes "Christian" as identified by the prevailing Christian spokespeople. All these things can be possible without Jesus.
Knowing you need Jesus is a whole other thing. You know you need Jesus because you have seen yourself and you are appalled at the awfulness of your sin. You know you need Jesus because you can't take another step without hurting someone. You know you need Jesus because you very clearly realize that in yourself, that is in your flesh, dwells no good thing. You know you need Jesus because you are such a good liar that you can fool yourself half the time and not even know it. A Christian who is inclined to think that other people need Jesus is one who may need Him the most."
Although it is often used in evangelistic conversations, Revelation 3:20 was actually written to those that were already believers in Christ. But they had grown so lukewarm in their faith that they didn't feel like they needed anything, including Jesus. So when he says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me," I think it applies to all of us. Whether we are initially establishing that relationship with Him or have known Him for decades, we all still need Jesus.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Missionary as a Servant

I just finished reading an excellent book by Duane Elmer called Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility. For all those that are cross-cultural missionaries, I highly recommend you read this. And thanks to my good friend, Greg, for introducing me to it.

In the book Elmer tells the following story:

"One young missionary, Chuck, found the first couple years on the mission field challenging but adventurous and delightful. As he got more and more into the culture he found himself spending increasing time with the local people. The enjoyment seemed mutual, and the local people began to share deeply from their hearts, just as he did. Chuck shared what he was learning with his missionary colleagues. The colleagues wondered why they had not had a similar response since they had been there much longer.

After a couple years Chuck and his wife began inviting the local people into their home. They invited the older pastors first, knowing this was how to show respect. Eventually the younger people were included. He knew that many missionaries didn't invite the local people into their homes, but he wasn't sure why. So he kept on. Furthermore, in this culture, the local people usually came in the back door of the missionary's house - the door that servants used. They would wait there or sometimes be invited in to sit for a few moments until business could be transacted. Chuck failed to understand why the back door should be required for the pastors and other local people. So he brought his local guests in through his front door, seating them in his living room. At the appropriate time they would gather around and all would eat together.

Relationships broadened and grew stronger. However, the young missionary didn't realize he was violating an unwritten rule among his missionary colleagues - "It's best not to get too familiar with them." Missionaries were to evangelize, disciple, and build the church. If someone got too close to the local people, they surmised, he or she could not be objective in accomplishing the task. Their reasoning seemed feeble.

Chuck believed he was there to serve the people, which certainly included getting to know them, understanding their culture and fitting in. That required time together, not just in business or strategy meetings but in the flow of life and leisure. While the relationships with local people prospered, the opposite was true with his missionary colleagues. He was increasingly left out of events, overlooked in various ways and effectively marginalized. He increasingly thought about quitting before completing the term. Clouds of discouragement settled in, and life held little joy. The fog was dense - the mystery nearly crushing. At the end of his term of service Chuck returned to the U.S., pursued some additional education and became involved in ministry. While the days were bright and exciting, the fog still hung over that earlier period of his life.

Ten years later Chuck returned to the country and began looking up old acquaintances. One pastor, part of the circle of relationships the missionary had enjoyed, asked him to preach at his church. Visitors are often extended this honor. Early in the service the pastor made some reference to a special person in the congregation who "changed the history of missions in this country." Chuck scanned the 350 or so people but saw no one from his previous years that he recognized who might have earned such recognition.

Later, the local pastor repeated the statement as he was introducing Chuck to speak. Puzzlement came over the missionary, thinking he was being confused with someone else. His legacy had been a few relationships and a lot of fog. The pastor continued,
"This man invited many of us into his home. Not only that, he brought us through the front door. Then we sat in his living room and ate at his table. No other missionaries did that in those days. Now nearly all the missionaries invite us into their homes through the front door and treat us as honored guests - as equals. In this way, he changed the history of missions in our country."
After ten years of fog, it all lifted in less than one minute. The mystery was explained."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pop, Soda or Coke?

I'm close to finishing the third book in a trilogy by one of my favorite authors, Randy Alcorn and I can't wait to read the last few chapters. The book is called Deception and continues the story told in Alcorn's previous books, Deadline and Dominion.

Deception follows the story of Ollie Chandler, a homicide detective fighting his own demons while seeking to solve a murder that leads him to unexpected places. I won't tell you much more about the book in case you want to read it, but I was introduced to a fun website while reading this fictional story.

In his quest to pinpoint a suspect in an unsolved murder, Ollie discovers the unique geographical trends that Americans possess when it comes to how we refer to soft drinks. Some of us call it pop, some call it soda and others refer to all soft drinks as "coke." Ollie visits the Pop vs. Soda website and learns something intriguing about the suspect he's investigating.

As a kid growing up in the Detroit-area, I learned that these tasty carbonated beverages were called "Pop." But while spending a summer in southern California while in college (my first extended exposure to those outside the midwest) I learned that some others thought it odd that I called it pop. Over the years I've traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and have lived in several different states and have learned firsthand that regional dialects do exist in the U.S.

This map shows the differences across the United States in reference to soft drinks. Since I've lived in different parts of the country where residents have referred to it as pop, soda or coke, I've gained the ability to adjust to my surroundings. Now that I've lived in central Florida for four years, I've begun to call it soda since some people make fun of me when I call it pop. Sometimes I even find myself asking for a "fountain drink."

You can view a breakdown by state here. Another interesting link on the Pop vs. Soda site is to where you can view a breakdown on where the fans of various professional and college teams live. Check it out here. Interesting to see how it all plays out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Democracy at Work

After being on the road all of this past week, today was to be spent hanging out with my son, Jason (who doesn't have preschool on Mondays), and running some errands. One of the things that I hoped to do was vote early so that I wouldn't have to deal with the lines next Tuesday.

As I pulled up to the library near our home where early voting was taking place, I couldn't believe the scene in front of me. Although we are over a week out from election day, there was a line outside the library at least 100 people deep and who knows how many were inside (and this was between 10 and 11 a.m.) There were camera crews from at least two Orlando news stations, campaign signs everywhere and traffic was backed up for over a block.

I ended up not voting today since I didn't feel like waiting in line with a four-year-old all morning but, still, I was encouraged by the turnout. It tells me that not only are people exercising their individual right to vote, but there were at least a dozen people holding signs for the candidates and the issues they are supporting.

I am grateful that I live in a country where every four years we vote on who we want our president to be, all the while knowing that there will be a peaceful transition of power. Even with all the flaws that our country has had historically (e.g. it wasn't that long ago that African Americans and women couldn't exercise this fundamental right of voting), we still can say today that we all have a voice in who are elected officials are. If you are a registered voter, please make the effort to let your voice be heard.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

God's World is Bigger Than Ours

I have had the privilege this weekend of being one of the speakers at a missions conference at Crossroads Community Church in China, Michigan. Pastor Mike Cadrette and his wife, Sharon, have been good friends to Lori and I over the years and it is always a pleasure to get to visit with their congregation. There are several of us missionaries that the church supports here and I really do enjoy getting to hear the updates from what God is doing through other ministries and in different parts of the world.

For all of us, I think it is good for us to get periodic reminders that the God we serve is much bigger than the little churches that we are a part of or the ministries in which we work. It is comforting to me to know that God is always at work in the world. There may be times that I may not feel like I’m experiencing that reality, but the fact remains that He is in the business of changing lives and He doesn’t show partiality in doing so.

While reflecting on these truths, I can’t help but think about the current election season that we Americans are in. It seems like the petty narrow-mindedness is entering new levels and, to be honest with you, I’m disgusted by it. Unfortunately, it appears that some that are leading this wave of negativity identify themselves as Christ followers. The extreme religious right is losing its grip on the young evangelical vote and it looks like desperation is setting in.

I don’t claim to know how Jesus would vote if he were alive in the U.S. today or how he would campaign were He running for office, but I’m fairly certain that He wouldn’t engage in the spreading of rumors, intentionally lying or below-the-belt name calling. And please don’t feel that my words are only for the far right because those on the extreme left are just as guilty. No matter what perspective you may be coming from, deceitful and mean behavior is never acceptable for those that name Christ as their Lord.

The trouble with some of us Christians is that we think we have the corner on the market of truth when it comes to faith and, therefore, we know everything about all things. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), this is not the case. We are prone to the same kind of unfair judgments, biases and prejudices as anybody else. My hope is that we are each growing in our relationship with God to the point that we listen more to what He has to say than what Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann tells us to think.

God’s world is much bigger than our own. While I’m pretty sure that He cares about the U.S. election, He also is concerned with who runs other countries as well. I doubt He is in heaven right now wringing His hands over who gets elected. His plan has been in motion for thousands of years and though He does invite us to make a difference in our world, He is ultimately the King of all. And a vote for King Jesus is one that I’ll cast every year.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Michigan/Michigan State Rivalry

UPDATE: Congratulations Spartan Fans. You earned it.


As a Michigan Wolverine football fan growing up in the great state of Michigan, there were several significant rivalries for the maize and blue. Of course the Ohio State game, taking place the last game of the year, was always a big one with Big Ten title implications each year. The Notre Dame game, typically taking place early in the year, was always held great anticipation.

But for fans within the state of Michigan, the Michigan/Michigan State game was the biggest. Since we lived in the same neighborhoods, went to the same schools, worked together and worshipped together (at least I think there's some State fans that go to church - that's a joke), there was constant back-and-forth throughout the year.

As a UM or MSU fan, you knew that if your team lost, you would have to face the music the next day. If your team won, you got to gloat for a year. Although the Michigan/Ohio State game is arguably the greatest rivalry in all of American sports, I didn't have to deal with Ohio State fans personally before or after the game. Of course, that all changed when I lived for six years in the heart of Buckeye country, but that's another story.

As it turned out, most of my closest friends in elementary school, junior high and high schools were Spartan fans. I really don't know how that can to be, but that's how it was. I had to continually defend the tradition of Michigan and its far superior winning ways. The in-state rivalry is fun on a lot of fronts and it's a little more civil than the the OSU/UM rivalry.

With Michigan having a down year, there is a lot of hope among the green and white that this will be their year. I think State has a good squad and that their coach, Mark Dantonio, was a really good hire and has turned their program around. But when it's all said and done, there is still a shadow that looms over East Lansing. As former Michigan running back Mike Hart recently said:

"They're a good program, don't get me wrong, but they're not Michigan," Hart said this week by phone. "They're always going to have to fight that they're not Michigan. They're always going to be in Michigan's shadow. "They'll always be second to us whether they beat us or not. They have to go on a winning streak for a while. But it's more than that. As far as Ann Arbor goes, compared to East Lansing, Michigan compared to Michigan State, Michigan is the better school, and that's not just me talking."
It's been a number of years since I was actually in Michigan during this game and due to a speaking engagement at a church here, I'll only be able to catch part of the game later on today. I'm hoping for a good game and an inspired performance from Michigan. And I realize that State may have our number this year, but Michigan still has the upper hand in the rivarly. Just for some fun, here is a video of Hart's comments from last year to add a little fuel to the fire...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Difference That Students Make

I'm spending this week visiting some of our Impact chapters in the Midwest and I've had a great time hanging with students and spending time with them on their campus. I'm sitting in a Starbucks across the street from the campus of the University of Illinois right now. It is invigorating to join in the hustle and bustle of the university environment and to have conversations with young people in the midst of that stage of life.

I continue to be struck with how open college students are in discussing spiritual issues and their desire to make difference in the world. For example, I spent the previous two days at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. During one stretch of time in the student union, I was asked to take a survey about my views on Sarah Palin (I got a free snickers bar for my time), was approached about giving blood (couldn't do it because it was later in the week) and encouraged to register to vote (thanks, but I'm already registered in Florida). Not only that, I talked with several students about their views on hip-hop music and transitioned from there to discuss their relationship with God.

All of this just demonstrates that contrary to popular belief, the college campus is not just a place for young people to get drunk and fornicate. There is a free exchange of beliefs and opinions and a burning desire to leave the world different than how they inherited it. My job is to help these young people find that real truth is found in Jesus and that he can work in and through them to bring lasting and eternal change to the world and to the hearts of men and women everywhere.

As Charles Malik (past president of the United Nations) once said,
"The university is the clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world...More potently than by any other means, change the university and you change the world."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Coaching Football

One of the highlights this fall for me has been the opportunity to coach my oldest son, Brennan, and some other fine young boys on their Upward flag football team. Upward is a Christian-based sports league that creates a positive environment for the kids to learn about God, teamwork and athletics. It's been a joy to coach.

Our squad had our last game this morning and finished with another victory due to a great team effort. We finished with a 6-2 record, including several games that went right down to the last play. Not only did I get to spend some quality time with Brennan (who has turned out to be a good little quarterback), but I truly enjoyed the chance to invest in the lives of these young men and help them develop as football players. More importantly, I could freely share with them about a relationship with God.

For those of you that knew me in college or before, you'll probably remember that I actually was planning on going into teaching and coaching. That had been my plan since high school until God got a hold of my heart. I remember a distinct moment in time when I had to make a choice whether I was going to do the teaching/coaching thing like I wanted or if I was going to submit this area of my life over to Jesus.

I was on a missions trip in the summer of 1994 and was having the time of my life. I was growing in my faith each day and seeing God use me in ways I didn't think possible. It was during this summer that I began to sense a call into vocational Christian ministry when I graduated a year later. Late that summer I received a phone call that forced me to make a decision about the direction I was going to go.

I had the opportunity to play for a tremendous high school football program in Michigan at Marysville High School. My coach, Walt Braun, is a legend in the state and is one of a small number of coaches nationally to ever win 300 games. (By the way, the picture on the right is of me and my dad in 1990 right before the start of my senior year.) Because of playing for such a good school, a good friend of mine that I went to high school with and myself got the opportunity to coach the eighth grade football team at a private Catholic school in Mount Pleasant where I went to college. We did such a good job at that level that the following year ('94) I received that phone call and was offered, along with my friend, the head junior varsity job.

As a college student seeking to make a career out of teaching and coaching, this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up. I would be well on my way to a distinguished coaching career. But...God had other plans for me. Although I felt (and still do) that teaching and coaching are truly honorable professions, the Lord had made it clear to me that he had other things in store for me. After much prayer, I turned down the job so that I could be more devoted to building a spiritual movement on my campus.

Over time I have seen how God has honored my faithfulness to follow His call way back then. He has blessed me with a great marriage, tremendous kids and a position in an influential ministry that I am humbled by each day. Psalm 37:4 says "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." I have certainly found this verse to be true in more ways than one. And, now, I get to have the privilege of coaching again and doing something that brings life to my spirit.

Every time I've made the choice to follow God's leading in my life, I've never regretted it. Even when things didn't make logical sense at the time, it always plays out for my good and the good of those I'm closest to. I'm glad to serve a God that chooses to bless us even in the little things of life simply because they bring us pleasure.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ignorant Christians

In the midst of a busy life of ministry it is good to periodically step off the treadmill for a bit for some rest and enjoyment. Today was one of those days. My team with the Campus Ministry of The Impact Movement took a good portion of the day to hang out and have fun together.

We had lunch at a deli nearby our headquarters and had a fun discussion over our soup and sandwiches. A good portion of our discussion was centered on the upcoming presidential election as we discussed the candidates, the recent debates and some of the issues that we were thinking about as we choose a candidate to lead our nation. Since we all know each other and are friends, the discussion was friendly and informative. Unfortunately, the talk of politics didn't end at lunch.

After our time of eating was over, we walked over to a movie theater that is hosting a multi-day free Christian film festival. The idea behind the festival is that Christian-themed movies can be offered without cost so that those that are followers of Christ can invite friends to hear more about the Christian faith. Seems like a good idea.

While perusing the literature and books that were set up outside the theater before the start of the film, an older white lady approached one of our staff, an African American male. She introduced herself and almost without hesitation asked the following question:
"Are you voting for Barack Obama because he's black?"
This is the honest-to-God truth! He wasn't wearing an Obama shirt or passing out pamphlets for the Democratic party. He was just a black man looking at some books and this is the way some Christian lady chooses to engage in discussion with him. But it gets worse.

After confirming that I had just heard what I thought we did, our group kind of had a laugh about it and tried to forget about it. Minutes later, this woman and her daughter (a grown adult) step in line behind us. Without missing a beat, the woman's daughter initiates the following exchange with another woman in our group:
Woman: "Are you voting for Barack Obama because he's black?" (Again, no previous discussion of politics here. This is how she was attempting to strike up a conversation with someone different than herself).

My friend: "Um, you know, I'd rather not talk about politics right now."

To which I turned around and asked this lady: "Are you voting for John McCain because he's white?"

After an awkward pause, the woman replied: "I don't think I'd like to talk about this. Um...some people kind of feel uncomfortable discussing this."

My response: "Exactly!" (And then turned to rejoin the discussion that my friends and I were having).
Not only were these two ladies ignorant and clueless, but I wonder how they typically engage those they perceive to be non-Christians. The point of this film festival was to bring in non-Christians to hear the message of Christ -- not to talk about politics. For all they knew, my friends and I could have very well have not been followers of Christ. I wonder what our impressions of Jesus would have been after that encounter if this were the case.

Two things that people feel very passionately about, but have difficulty discussing are politics and religion. The mixture of the two can cause serious sparks. It is why it is good to engage discussions along those lines only when others have been invited to do so and have indicated a willingness to proceed. Even then, we need to be open to hearing their point of view. We often feel compelled to answer questions that no one else has asked and, in the process, shut others out from having an honest dialogue with us where their opinions, as well as our own, are respected and heard.

So I implore you, yet once again, during this campaign season to watch what you say, when you say it and who you are saying it to. How you and I carry ourselves during seasons like this can determine how we're able to interact with others with different perspectives down the road.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How American Christians are Perceived Around the World

There were some interesting findings at a recent gathering of pastors from throughout the world. Here is a press release on the event:
"DALLAS, Oct. 1, 2008 – Christian leaders from around the country heard a wake-up call this week on how they are perceived by believers in the Global South. Speakers came from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America – the parts of the world experiencing the most growth in Christianity.

One hundred twenty-five pastors from a broad spectrum of American churches gathered for the North American Pastors’ Consultation on “The Changing Role of the American Church in World Evangelization,” held at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Sept. 22-23. Similar meetings will be held around the world, leading up to The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, Oct. 16-25, 2010.

“The purpose of this consultation was to discuss the changing role of the American Church in world evangelization,” said the Rev. Doug Birdsall, executive chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. “In recent years, many international church leaders have been asking, ‘Is the American Church still with us? Does the American Church have the humility to learn from us, to work together in authentic partnership?’ We answered several of those questions during the week.”

While American missions have done a lot of good in spreading the Gospel throughout the globe in the last 100 years, several speakers said that the time has come for a change. Theological educator and evangelist Dr. Peter Kuzmic of Croatia said that U.S. Christians must stop acting as if “salvation is in the hands of Americans.” He said that Western Christians have, along with the good, also done damage to the image of Christ around the world. He recalled the era following the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Eastern Europe was first open to Christianity. So many different branches of Christianity came in to share the Gospel, Dr. Kuzmic said, that people were confused. “How many Jesuses are there in the West?” they asked, after being introduced to the Baptist Jesus, the Presbyterian Jesus, the Pentecostal Jesus, etc.
Africa was represented by the Rev. Reuben Ezemadu of Nigeria, continental director of the Movement of African National Initiatives. He said African Christians have appreciated the historic leadership of the United States in mission efforts, but in the last 15-20 years, it has seemed as if U.S. Christians were imposing their structures on the Global South, and they just did not work in that context. American participation in support roles is still needed, but Africans themselves can more appropriately take leadership roles. They ask that Americans recognize the maturity and intelligence of other cultures.

David Ruiz of Guatemala, associate director of the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission, presented the Hispanic perspective. He said Latin American Christians have felt ignored or overlooked, and want to see more humility from Western Christians about Latin America’s potential for reshaping Christianity worldwide. “Will North American Christians listen to their brothers and sisters from the South?” he asked.

Dr. Patrick Fung, a physician and theologian from China and general director of OMF International (formerly the Overseas Missionary Fellowship), addressed Asian perceptions of American missions. He recalled the story of missions in China in the years following 1949, when all missionaries had to withdraw. Despite no missionary presence, the church grew and thrived. Now the Chinese Church globally is the largest church in the world.

Dr. Fung said that America is still perceived as a Christian nation, so when America acts “un-Christianly,” it reflects poorly on the Gospel, as has happened on the homosexual agenda. Asian Christians want to work shoulder to shoulder with U.S. Christians and to feel that they have been given an equal listening ear. A highly significant role Western believers can play is in reaching out to millions of Asian students studying in American and European universities, he said.

Following each presentation, the pastors discussed in roundtables what their “take away” should be. The group consensus was that the role of Western Christians in the increasingly "glocal" (simultaneously global and local) world is changing dramatically. Partnership will be key to establishing stronger, mutually supportive links.

A high point for many of the attendees was Tim Keller’s discussion on Christianity in America today, and the tension between evangelism and social justice issues. He suggested that Christians can neither try to change culture through social activism, withdraw from the culture, nor try to accommodate themselves to culture as cultural relevants to the extent that their own values are compromised. He said evangelism must remain the priority, and that only hearts that are truly changed will lead to cultural transformation. The solution, he said, is “gracious, truthful presence in culture.”

One purpose of the conference was to encourage pastors to think about the role they and their church will play in the upcoming Cape Town 2010 congress. It will include 4,000 participants from around the world, of which 400 of these will be from the United States. Churches will be invited to participate via the Internet and to host local gatherings, making it a truly global event and the first of its kind. Program Chairman Ramez Atallah reminded those present that the whole world participated in the Olympics, from their own living rooms. He has the same hope for Cape Town 2010.

The original Lausanne Congress was held in 1974, bringing Christians from around the globe to focus on world evangelization. A second congress followed in 1989. The fast pace of change in every sphere – from technology to communication and transportation – calls for a new Lausanne Congress to equip the Church for the next decade. It is sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance.

The Lausanne Movement seeks to serve leaders worldwide by providing a place for theological discussion and the development of practical strategies for world evangelization. Lausanne seeks to encourage and stimulate the involvement of churches, denominations, ministries, networks and individuals."

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Consistent Ethic of Life

There is perhaps no other issue that engenders greater passion and debate in this age than that of abortion. On both ends of the spectrum there are people that are unwilling to look at another's perspective in order to do what most thinking people would desire -- decrease the number of abortions in this country.

I am an adamantly pro-life father of four that finds it tragic that tens of millions of innocent babies have been killed in the U.S. since the year of my birth in 1973. But I also understand that the issues surrounding abortion are complex and multi-faceted.

As strongly as I feel about abortion, I also feel strongly about other things that deprive innocent children of life, such as poverty, malnutrition and war. Please read the following message from Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and consider how you might be involved in caring for the children of our nation:
"What is the meaning of “life”? For too long abortion was seen as the only “life” issue in our culture and politics, but there is a growing conviction among Christians that poverty, disease, war, the health-care crisis, human trafficking, the death penalty, nuclear weapons, and the worldwide deaths of 30,000 children every day from preventable causes are also key life issues.
In these last few weeks before Election Day, will you join me in raising a new call for “life” to our presidential candidates? Sojourners and I have advocated for a holistic and “consistent ethic of life” approach for years, and it is good to see the broader life issues receiving more attention. However, I also believe our nation is ready for a new kind of politics and leadership on the issue of abortion. The abortion debate has too often been used to score political points, rather than to identify what kinds of church practices and public policies could actually prevent and reduce abortions.
But with a tragic 1.2 million abortions a year in the United States, Christians must work together to stop the politics of blame and work toward common solutions. If you believe that all human life is sacred, tell the candidates to commit to common-ground solutions on abortion reduction during this week’s debate and for the remainder of their campaigns. While many Christians disagree on the legal questions surrounding abortion, together we can and must pursue practical steps that actually reduce abortion rates. Three-fourths of women who have an abortion say a primary reason is that they cannot afford to raise a child, so reducing poverty and supporting low-income women is a good place for our candidates to start.
Recent research affirms that social and economic support for women and vulnerable families are effective solutions to lowering the abortion rate, including greater access to health care, poverty reduction, adoption reform, and pre- and postnatal care. Republicans and Democrats must learn to work together on this issue – tell the presidential candidates to lead the way, beginning at this Wednesday’s debate. We must look forward to the day when both poverty reduction and abortion reduction are nonpartisan issues and bipartisan causes.
Both Senators McCain and Obama have offered themselves as agents of change, anxious to transform the culture in Washington. They could start at Wednesday night’s debate by offering a comprehensive “life” agenda and committing to work with both sides of the political aisle to dramatically reduce abortions in the United States. Despite their differences over issues of choice, both the Democratic and Republican platforms open up the prospects for serious abortion reduction. And Christians could and should hold both political parties accountable for protecting human dignity and life from “womb to tomb.” With the final debate Wednesday night, there is still time to ask the candidates to cross old divisions and support life and human dignity.
Sojourners will continue working with both Republicans and Democrats in the next Congress to push for common-ground efforts to reduce the number of abortions in the United States. Will you join us? Click here to take action today.
In faith, Jim Wallis
President, Sojourners
Your involvement can make a difference. Thanks for speaking up for those that cannot speak for themselves.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Politics From the Pulpit

With an important election just over three weeks away, it is getting down to crunch time for candidates and their supporters. Those running for office are actively seeking to get out the message they want conveyed to voters and their supporters are trying to encourage their friends and family to vote for the candidate that they are backing.

In the weeks that are left until November 4th, I'd like to encourage all of my friends to engage in civil discourse and dialog when speaking of the candidates. It is possible to support your candidates without entering into personal attacks on those running for office. As the election draws near, the temptation to resort to smear tactics and the spreading of slander is tempting.

I'd like us all to follow the example of presidential candidate John McCain in how he responded at some recent rallies when some of those in attendance began to bash his opponent, Barack Obama. McCain, in responding to negative comments about Obama, had this to say:
"If you want a fight, we will fight," McCain said. "But we will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments." When people booed, he cut them off.
"I don't mean that has to reduce your ferocity," he said. "I just mean to say you have to be respectful."
When one woman said she didn't trust Obama because she thought he was "an Arab", McCain shook his head in disagreement, and said:
"No, ma'am. He's a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with (him) on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about. I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."
I encourage all of my friends, especially those of you that identify yourself as Christians, to focus much more on the issues that are important to you than on negative attacks on candidates that don't support the issues that are closest to your heart. That means you can stand for a pro-life position without demonizing Obama or be against the war in Iraq without spreading rumors about McCain.
I am well-aware of how divisive political positions can be and when those positions get mixed up with religious viewpoints the results can be combustible. It is why as an ordained minister and a staff member with a large Christian organization, I choose not to endorse any particular candidates publicly. I find that I can promote the issues that are important to me and encourage others to consider those matters without endorsing or speaking against a candidate.

I feel like initiatives such as the Pulpit Freedom Sunday, where pastors were instructed to specifically endorse a presidential candidate from the pulpit, are dangerous. Since the Scriptures obviously don't endorse those running for U.S. office, we can be walking on thin ice when we claim that certain individuals are "God's man" or "God's woman." I think it is good for pastors, as well as Christian laity, to speak to the compelling and prominent issues of our day and to seek to do so from a biblical perspective. But as Isaiah 55 says, "God's ways are not our ways and His ways are higher than ours." We can make our best attempt to focus on those issues that the Bible also focuses on, but we need to always remember that we are infallible human beings that never have it all figured out. I love the quote from the late great Christian singer, Rich Mullins, who had this to say:
"I think if we were given the Scriptures, it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the Scriptures, it was to humble us into realizing that God is right, and the rest of us are just guessing."
So, in the days ahead, I urge you to be positive, be civil and refuse to participate in name-calling and hearsay. Focus on the issues and know that God is in control no matter who is elected.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

McGuffie: The Great White Hope?

In order to take my mind off of Michigan's embarrassing loss to the University of Toledo this afternoon, I figured I would write about one of the Wolverines' bright spots this season, freshmen running back Sam McGuffie.

Having displaced upperclassmen Kevin Grady and Brandon Minor as U of M's main tailback, it is obvious that McGuffie is talented. As evidenced by rushing for his second 100 yard game this season in his young career, McGuffie clearly has a good career ahead of him playing Big Ten football.

But for many casual fans of the game, he's famous for two things: 1) His YouTube highlight reel from high school (which you can view here) in which he leaps over defenders (sorry, Knowshon Moreno, Sam was doing that in high school before you dropped it on my Chippewas) and 2) The fact that he is white. For many that expressed concerns about his ability to compete at the major college level, comments about his size and toughness were merely cover-ups about the real issue: Dude is white and plays tailback.

There are all sorts of factors that play into stereotypes and perceptions and there is no area in our society where this gets played out more than when sports and race intersect. Just as black quarterbacks were a rarity for so many years, it appears that white running backs have now entered into a similar discussion. In many respects so many black quarterbacks from previous eras got moved to other positions like wide receiver or defensive back not because they didn't have the physical tools or leadership abilities, but because of perceptions because of their skin color.

So, too, this reality faces white running backs with the talent and ability to play big-time ball. Jemele Hill, columnist for, wrote an intriguing article on this subject recently. She deals with the nuanced history of race and football, especially as it pertains to the positions of quarterback and running back. You can read the whole piece here, but here is an interesting excerpt:
"But there is evidence -- some of it anecdotal -- to suggest there is a degree of profiling when it comes to white runners.
"It used to be for the athletes playing in high school, if you were African-American and playing quarterback, the assumption was they were going to put you at wide receiver," James said. "That trend has been reversed and there's not a perception [African-Americans] can't play quarterback, but there is a perception that if you're a white guy and a running back, you need to move your position."
[Toby] Gerhart, a junior at Stanford, said opponents used to express surprise when they realized he was the feature back.
"There were definitely times after games, the DBs, safeties or linebackers would say, 'God man, you can move for a white guy,'" said Gerhart, who ranks 15th in the nation in rushing yards among Football Bowl Subdivision players. "Even at the college level, my freshman year I played some and after they tackled me, they'd say, 'Man, you run good for a white guy' or 'You're my favorite white running back.'"
Recently, according to Gerhart, one of his friends was playing an NCAA video game and created a player with Gerhart's speed and dimensions (6-foot-2, 230 pounds, 4.43 in the 40-yard dash). When his friend made the player white, the game automatically described the video version of Gerhart as "power back." When his friend changed the skin color to black, he became an "all-purpose back."
"Maybe it's just basic stereotypes," Gerhart said. "Even now you're described as a 'power back.' They still discredit speed."
I like to joke that I could have gone much further in my football career had I only been bigger, faster and stronger. Other than those areas, I was quite a player :) When players have the ability and drive to compete at the highest levels of their sport, but are denied opportunities because of their ethnicity, it only goes to show how far we have to go when it comes to stereotyping and treating people on merit and not appearance.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Obedience and Faith

From one of my favorite writers, Oswald Chambers:

"We do not grow into a spiritual relationship step by step— we either have a relationship or we do not. God does not continue to cleanse us more and more from sin— "But if we walk in the light," we are cleansed "from all sin" (1 John 1:7). It is a matter of obedience, and once we obey, the relationship is instantly perfected. But if we turn away from obedience for even one second, darkness and death are immediately at work again.
All of God’s revealed truths are sealed until they are opened to us through obedience. You will never open them through philosophy or thinking. But once you obey, a flash of light comes immediately. Let God’s truth work into you by immersing yourself in it, not by worrying into it. The only way you can get to know the truth of God is to stop trying to find out and by being born again. If you obey God in the first thing He shows you, then He instantly opens up the next truth to you. You could read volumes on the work of the Holy Spirit, when five minutes of total, uncompromising obedience would make things as clear as sunlight.
Don’t say, "I suppose I will understand these things someday!" You can understand them now. And it is not study that brings understanding to you, but obedience. Even the smallest bit of obedience opens heaven, and the deepest truths of God immediately become yours. Yet God will never reveal more truth about Himself to you, until you have obeyed what you know already. Beware of becoming one of the "wise and prudent." "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know..." (John 7:17)"

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Friendships Across Racial Lines

One of the blogs that I regularly read is God's Politics and there has been an interesting discussion on there about whether it is possible to build deep and meaningful friendships with someone of a different racial background than your own.

Although my immediate family is white (like me) and I attend a predominately white church, I live in a neighborhood in east Orlando that is heavily populated by Hispanics. In addition, I spend the better hours of my day working for an organization, The Impact Movement, that reaches out to those in the black community, with 90% of my co-workers being African American. So as one that is personally involved each day in building friendships with those of a different ethnicity, this topic has particular importance to me.

The discussion on God's Politics began with a critique of the New Monastic movement and with Bart Campolo's assertion that it is nearly impossible to build the kind of friendships with those of very different backgrounds than it is with those that have a similar life experience as our own. Here are some of his words:
"Bart’s point then and now is that, even as we reach out across racial and cultural barriers, we shouldn’t feel guilty about staying rooted in mostly homogeneous core communities, nor should we feel compelled to seek an essentially unnatural diversity within those core communities. While we shouldn’t automatically exclude different people from our inner circles, we shouldn’t feel obligated to change our group dynamics to suit them either. According to Bart, it is difficult, if not impossible, to build a core community that meets the deepest needs for intimacy and understanding of people with radically different backgrounds, and seeking to do so almost always results in painful divisions and burnout...Instead of feeling guilty about this limitation, Bart suggests we should accept it and resolve to use the strength we draw from our core communities for the important work of reaching out to build authentic cross-cultural relationships, wherein we learn from, teach, nurture, challenge, protect, mentor, and work together for justice with one another. Such relationships are not superficial—just not intimate.
The blog then posted two separate responses from other individuals here and here. To be fair to Campolo, he is someone that is practicing incarnational ministry as he lives among the people that he seeks to minister to in a disadvantaged part of Cincinnati. He is heavily involved in racial reconciliation and for that he has my respect. But I do have to disagree with him that truly intimate relationships cannot be formed across racial lines.

Because of the opportunities that I have in my everyday life to be around those of ethnicities other than my own, I've experienced firsthand the possibilities that can take place between those of seemingly incompatible backgrounds. My very simple definition of reconciliation between individuals is friendship. With those that are my true friends I am able to laugh, cry, share hopes and fears, argue, encourage and love.

If I can't really laugh with someone, then we're probably not that close. If they've never shared their hurts with me and I with them, we're probably not friends. If we've never been able to work through disagreement and conflict and come to a place of resolution, then any kind of friendship that we have will remain at the surface level.

In any relationship, conflict and hurt feelings are bound to arise, but it is how we respond to those conflicts that will determine the depth of our friendship. In cross-cultural friendships, those disagreements or misunderstandings can oftentimes be interpreted much differently than if those same things took place with a friend of our own culture. Many people that have intentionally sought to build a friendship with someone of a different race have not demonstrated the commitment to the relationship that is needed to sustain it. When times get tough, it's always easier to cut bait and run.

But therein lies the problem. Racial reconciliation involves trust, humility, servanthood and commitment. If I want to end a friendship with someone of another ethnicity the first time there's a problem, I was never that committed to the relationship in the first place. It is often in working through our conflict that we learn more about each other and come to greater places of understanding.

I know from personal experience that building relationships across racial lines is extremely hard work, but I know that it's worth it. I feel like I am a better person and a better Christian because of the close friendships I have with my friends that don't look like me. I have learned from them and they from me and we each have a greater picture of the unique ways that God has created us.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Managers vs. Leaders

Here's a thought-provoking quote that I got from my friend, John, from Dan Allender's book, Leading with a Limp.

“The difference between a manager and a leader is the internal urge to alter the status quo to create a different world. In that sense leaders are prophets. They see the present as incomplete and inadequate and willing to risk the comfort of the present for the promise of a better tomorrow.
A manager, on the other hand, is content to keep the organization running as smoothly and efficiently as it can function… A leader must be troubled and discontent, and he must ask the question, How can tomorrow be better than today? He must be a visionary, living in the tension between how to honor what is good and true today and yet be discontent with today in light of what could transpire tomorrow… A leader must simultaneously deepen the organization’s desire to move while exposing cowardice and complacency involved in its wanting to remain stationary.
A leader offers a prophetic presence as she stirs desire and reminds those she serves what they will lose if the cling to the status quo... No wonder leading is full of risk and failure. And no wonder leadership requires a person who can own both her fear of moving forward into uncertainty and her ability to remain safe in the sure present. Leading begins with a summons to action…”

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mandela on Leadership

A friend sent along a feature article from this summer that Time Magazine did on Nelson Mandela, the great leader and former president of South Africa. The piece, written by Richard Stengel, is entitled "Mandela: His 8 Lessons on Leadership." You can read the full article here, but here are the eight lessons and a highlight under each one:

1. Courage is not the absence of fear — it's inspiring others to move beyond it.
"...pretend and, through the act of appearing fearless, inspire others. It was a pantomime Mandela perfected on Robben Island, where there was much to fear. Prisoners who were with him said watching Mandela walk across the courtyard, upright and proud, was enough to keep them going for days. He knew that he was a model for others, and that gave him the strength to triumph over his own fear."
2. Lead from the front - but don't leave your base behind.
""He's a historical man," says Ramaphosa. "He was thinking way ahead of us. He has posterity in mind: How will they view what we've done?" Prison gave him the ability to take the long view. It had to; there was no other view possible. He was thinking in terms of not days and weeks but decades. He knew history was on his side, that the result was inevitable; it was just a question of how soon and how it would be achieved. "Things will be better in the long run," he sometimes said. He always played for the long run."
3. Lead from the back - and let others believe they are in front.
"Some of his colleagues would shout at him — to move faster, to be more radical — and Mandela would simply listen. When he finally did speak at those meetings, he slowly and methodically summarized everyone's points of view and then unfurled his own thoughts, subtly steering the decision in the direction he wanted without imposing it. The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. "It is wise," he said, "to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea."
4. Know your enemy - and learn about his favorite sport.
"Mandela was a lawyer, and in prison he helped the warders with their legal problems. They were far less educated and worldly than he, and it was extraordinary to them that a black man was willing and able to help them. These were "the most ruthless and brutal of the apartheid regime's characters," says Allister Sparks, the great South African historian, and he "realized that even the worst and crudest could be negotiated with."
5. Keep your friends close - and your rivals even closer.
"Mandela believed that embracing his rivals was a way of controlling them: they were more dangerous on their own than within his circle of influence. He cherished loyalty, but he was never obsessed by it. After all, he used to say, "people act in their own interest." It was simply a fact of human nature, not a flaw or a defect. The flip side of being an optimist — and he is one — is trusting people too much. But Mandela recognized that the way to deal with those he didn't trust was to neutralize them with charm."
6. Appearances matter - and remember to smile.
"When Mandela was running for the presidency in 1994, he knew that symbols mattered as much as substance. He was never a great public speaker, and people often tuned out what he was saying after the first few minutes. But it was the iconography that people understood. When he was on a platform, he would always do the toyi-toyi, the township dance that was an emblem of the struggle. But more important was that dazzling, beatific, all-inclusive smile. For white South Africans, the smile symbolized Mandela's lack of bitterness and suggested that he was sympathetic to them. To black voters, it said, I am the happy warrior, and we will triumph. The ubiquitous ANC election poster was simply his smiling face. "The smile," says Ramaphosa, "was the message.""
7. Nothing is black or white.
"Every problem has many causes. While he was indisputably and clearly against apartheid, the causes of apartheid were complex. They were historical, sociological and psychological. Mandela's calculus was always, What is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?"
8. Quitting is leading too.
"In the history of Africa, there have been only a handful of democratically elected leaders who willingly stood down from office. Mandela was determined to set a precedent for all who followed him — not only in South Africa but across the rest of the continent. He would be the anti-Mugabe, the man who gave birth to his country and refused to hold it hostage. "His job was to set the course," says Ramaphosa, "not to steer the ship." He knows that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as what they do."