Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Here’s What Jesus Says About Welcoming Refugees

syrian-refugees-opener-615

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

At last count, 31 governors have issued statements that they will not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Nevermind that governors probably do not have the power to enforce state borders, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.

Why?

Because this latest example of xenophobia conflicts with the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely.

Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic.
First, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family looking for a place to stay. Matthew tells us that after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby to Egypt. Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic even for those who often miss the irony of their political views and professed faith.

Second, Jesus gives an ominous description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the foreigner. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Conversely, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for universalizing the love of neighbor. It is perhaps one of Jesus’ unique contributions to moral teaching in human history. In his depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus is the King, and He clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him.

Who are “the least of these?”

Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment.
In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” How does Jesus define “stranger?” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos. Xenos can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant, or stranger.”

In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

Let us acknowledge that even though it’s an unpopular thought in twenty-first-century America, Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment. Needless to say, that statement should give pause to all of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, yet quickly reject the stranger.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. I understand the apprehension that some feel who are sincerely concerned about the safety of U.S. citizens, and I do not dismiss their concerns as trivial. There is another view, however, for us to consider.

Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS.
In addition to Jesus’ warning about the afterlife, conceivably there are earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees would create more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States. Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. If a mother and father seeking a safe land for their children are denied hospitality, they will not feel goodwill towards the country that rejected them. Furthermore, if their children were to die because of hardship, why would be surprised if grieving parents were to act in revenge?

Finally, one could easily make an argument that rejecting the refugees allows the terrorists to win. Their most powerful weapon is, well, terror. If we fear an attack so intensely that we are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t won? Not only have they taken human lives, they will have succeeded in taking away our humanity.

Many Christians, including conservative evangelicals, realize that Jesus speaks clearly on this matter. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, the teaching of Jesus is simply too relevant to the current situation for Christians to ignore.

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

Standard
Uncategorized

Are Followers of Jesus the Kind of People Who Put Someone to Death?

This Holy Week, Shane Claiborne, Brandan Robertson, and other faith leaders are collecting signatures for a “Christian Faith Leaders Lenten Statement Calling for an End to the Death Penalty.”

You can sign the petition here.

The U.S. is among the last countries on earth to retain the death penalty. Of the 195 countries in the world, the United States is one of only 36 countries (18 percent) still enforcing the death penalty in law and practice. In 2013, the U.S. was the only country in the western hemisphere to carry out an execution. Pharmaceutical companies in the European Union are no longer supplying U.S. states with certain chemicals after they discovered their medicines were being used to put inmates to death.

We are known by the company we keep, and the list of 10 countries executing the most persons annually is one many Americans are not proud to make. The U.S ranked fifth in the number of executions worldwide in 2013, behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The other countries rounding out the top 10 are Pakistan, Yemen, North Korea, Vietnam, and Libya.

The majority of executions in the U.S. take place within a small number of states. In 2014, U.S. states executed 35 persons, with 80 percent of these executions taking place in Missouri, Texas, and Florida. Texas has executed, by far, more inmates than any other state (522 since 1976), comprising 37 percent of all executions in the U.S. Since 1976, 81 percent of all U.S. executions have taken place in the South.

As we approach Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Christ, it is worth noting that the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty, as do most mainline Protestant denominations. Evangelicals, not so much. The National Association of Evangelicals continues to support capital punishment…

Read more at On Faith here.

Standard
Church Planting, My Sermons, One Church, Preaching, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas

?S: Questions and Doubts About Faith Results

?S Graphic 960

Our second sermon series after launching weekly worship at One Church was entitled ?S: Questions and Doubts About Faith. You can listen to the sermon series here.

On our first two Sundays, I collected questions from the congregation with the instructions, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?”

Then every week I gave a sermon addressing one of the top five most asked questions. The sermon titles were:

  • What is the Bible and How Do I Interpret It?
  • How Can I Believe that God Exists, and How Does God’s Existence Affect My Life?
  • Can Those Who Have Never Heard the Name of Jesus or Those of Other Religions or No Religion Be Saved?
  • What Does the Bible Really Teach about Heaven and Hell?
  • Why Does God Allow Suffering, Especially the Suffering of Children?

During the course of the series, we lost approximately ten attendees (under 10% of our congregation). We gained, however, enough new attendees during the series that One Church has grown slightly.

Therefore, every attendee we lost was replaced by someone new.

Incidentally, we have lost approximately eight attendees simply because one of our One Groups (small groups) is studying a book authored by Rob Bell.

I learned not to fear addressing controversial topics. Some people will leave because a certain book was not banned from the church.

However, for every person who leaves, someone else looking for a church that is a safe place to express their questions and doubts will arrive and stay.

Standard
Church Planting, Leadership, One Church

One Church Launched

The very start of the service before the room filled up.

Eleven months ago, my wife, son and I relocated to Chandler, AZ to lead a nondenominational, parachute drop church plant.

One Church launched weekly worship services yesterday with 118 in attendance, 96 adults and 22 kids! (This photo was taken at the very beginning of the service before 3 more rows of people showed up.)

Our strategy has been to grow through word of mouth and social media, in addition to 30 grand opening signs placed around the city and our A-frame directional signs placed Saturday mornings. We tried targeted and saturation mail with a very low return. I will probably not use mail anymore in this area (direct mail worked well for me in Columbus, OH, however).

Leading up to the launch, we held six monthly preview services and a Christmas Eve service. In the first preview service last October, the total attendance was 43. In last months preview service, the total attendance was 73. So, we grew from 43 to 118 in six months.

We’ll see what the second week attendance is next Sunday. Let the emotional roller coaster begin!:)

 

 

Standard
Church Planting, Leadership

Launch- Prayer and Fasting Campaign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer and Fasting

During the month of December, One Church will dedicate ourselves to prayer and fasting. Our prayer will be from Matthew 16:18, that Jesus would build His Church through us.

I have prayerfully decided to fast from food for 21 days. My fast will begin on December 2 and end on December 23. I will post updates, spiritual insights, prayer requests, etc. here on my blog. Please follow my blog and join One Church in prayer.

30in30

During the month of December, we need to complete our fundraising goal of $150,000. We are praying to raise $30,000 in 30 days.

100% of the funds raised in December will go toward One Church launch expenses including:

  • Direct Mail
  • Signage
  • Promotional Giveaways
  • Radio Commercials
  • Facebook and Newspaper Ads
  • Service Projects

You can give to One Church in two ways:

1. Make your check out to “One Church,” and mail it to PO Box 12036 Chandler, AZ 85248.

2. You may also give conveniently online here.

Thank you for your prayer and generous gving to launch weekly worship in One Church!

Standard
Church Planting, Leadership, Pastors, Uncategorized

Your First Launch Team Meeting

A lot of church planters have an obvious question about leading a launch team, and I’m surprised that there aren’t more resources available for it- “What do I do during my launch team meetings?”

My plan has been to take our first five weeks to work through Adam Hamilton’s three questions for church plants (from Leading Beyond the Walls). They help you define your church’s theology and specific call and distinctives:

  1. Why do people need Jesus? (1 week)
  2. Why do people need the Church (universal)? (1 week)
  3. Why do people need this church (the one you’re planting)? (3 weeks)

I feel like I know the individuals on the launch team fairly well because I’ve been building relationships with them for a few months. So, I assumed that our team was ready to jump into question one last night… and then it happened.:)

I started with an icebreaker game that went okay, but even as the game ended, I could tell that there was an elephant in the room. I had the feeling of having to try too hard, and it seemed like we weren’t really connecting the way I wanted to as a launch team. There was just a feeling that I was jumping ahead.

Looking back on it, I should have expected this, but I didn’t, and maybe this blog post will give someone else a heads up.

After the icebreaker game, I thought about what to do for about 5 seconds that seemed like an eternity. I decided to scrap my entire plan for the night and asked this question,

“What are your fears about starting a new church?”

Two hours later…:)

It was a phenomenal discussion. The first person to share was a very kind-natured young wife and mom who respectfully shared that she was concerned about tithing. Her honesty broke the ice (for real), and it set the tone for a very honest and healthy discussion about our launch team’s fears.

Different people brought up fears like- unmet expectations and disappointment, the pressure of leadership, the time commitments needed to start a church, and ultimately, that the church plant would fail.

It was probably the most honest meeting I’ve ever had in 10 years of full-time ministry.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense to me, but I wish I would have intentionally planned this discussion for our first night. Essentially, it’s not 1995 anymore when you could plant a church, and as long as it had contemporary music, it would work. Lots of church plants have failed since then.

Our launch team is aware that a few church plants in our area have failed. They see mega churches who have the suburban family entertainment model of church down to a science. Church planting is actually being replaced by these same mega churches opening multi-site campuses.

Your first launch team meeting probably needs to allow your people to honestly express their fears, and then you need to honestly and realistically address them without defensiveness. If you can’t tell people why your church is needed, you’re not ready to plant anyway.

Intelligent people know that church planting is a high risk sport, and until you acknowledge this, it will be the elephant in the room.

Standard
Church Planting, Pastors, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

Why are More Young People Doubting God’s Existence?

One of my dear love ones sent me a link to this article, “Millennials Losing Faith in God: Survey.” This is one of the main reasons that we’re starting One Church.

The article reports on a Pew Research Forum study finding that 25% of those born after 1981 claim “no faith,” while over half of those raised in a faith have abandoned it! I believe these findings because they square with my own experience while growing up and with many people I know. The survey also finds correlations between a loss of faith and views on politics, social values, etc.

My personal opinion is that there are several reasons for less younger Americans stating a belief in God (my assumption is that they are walking away from the Christian concept of God):

1. Younger people have generally been exposed to a larger view of the world than their parents, so they have a greater knowledge of various religions, cultures, scientific discovery, etc. Consequently, they are able to look at their own culture and religious background more crictically.

2. Especially since 9/11, Americans have now seen up close that horrible violence is sometimes committed in the name of religion. This has been true throughout history, of course, but we have seen it (and felt it) for oursleves now.

3. 80% of the church congregations in American are in decline. Most have failed to stay relevant and communicate with the changing culture.

4. In the media, the most visible Christians are often closely affiliated with a reactionary political agenda. Actually, they have an America in mind that never actually existed (ex. the founding fathers were largely Deists, not modern evangelicals or fundamentalists). The media often showcases Christians who seem to want to turn America into a theocracy.

5. I think a lot of younger people see Christians as narrow-minded, anti-science, anti-intellectual, and judgmental. This has been widely reported by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in the book unChristian.

6. They are young and at a time in their lives when they’re exploring new ideas (there seems to be a greater loss of faith now, however, than in past generations).

With all of this, it’s not surprising to me that younger people question the religious ideas that have been handed down to them.

Followers of Jesus

Then, there are those who do value some aspects of Christianity, or more specifically, the teaching of Jesus (the Sermon on the Mount, loving your neighbor, the Golden Rule, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, etc.). They are left with the challenge of taking those things seriously in a world in which “Christianity” has negative connotations for many people.

It’s a tension that a lot of younger people face. It’s definitely true for the people we’re connecting with in One Church. Because of this, some are even changing their self-descriptors, starting to refer to themselves as “followers of Jesus” instead of “Christians.” It’s more than just semantics. It’s a statement that, “I find Jesus to be vital, but I don’t associate myself with all of what “Christianity” has come to mean to different people.

Unfortunately, it might be a surprise to some that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name.:) Christ is the English translation of the Greek word “Christos,” which is a translation of the Jewish term, “Messiah” (anointed one, chosen one). It would be more faithful to the original Hebrew word to call following Jesus “Messiahanity,” anyway. So, there is nothing sacred about the term “Christian.” It’s possible that it was actually first used as a pejorative term by those who opposed the Jesus movement, as recorded in Acts 11v26.

Regardless, actions speak louder than words. How one refers to oneself is not nearly as important as what one actually does. A significant number of American Millennials aren’t walking away from faith and the Church because of semantics. My opinion is that it has something to do with “Christians” not looking enough like followers of Jesus.

Standard