God’s Not Dead

IMG_1183

Jesus is alive, therefore the church is alive! If Jesus is dead, then the church is dead. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in 1 Cor. 15:17, 19: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (literally, incapable of producing any useful results) and you are still in your sins… If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

But Christ has risen!

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

Paul’s “therefore” comes on the heels of talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of the body, and the great mystery of our work here on earth not being in vain. If our work is not in vain, then it is actually accomplishing something for God’s kingdom.

When Jesus comes onto the scene at the beginning of Mark’s account of the gospel (MarK 1:14:15), He said “…the kingdom of God is at hand”, which basically means, “Good news, the King is here and so is peace!” Imagine for a moment with me, the reality of the Kingdom of God being at hand: shalom (peace with justice, new life, goodness, beauty, redemption, reconciliation, etc…). And then after this announcement, Jesus did justly among the poor and marginalize, he corrected the religious leader who thought they had the corner on doctrine, he healed and touched the untouchables and the dark horses, then he proceeded to move towards the cross to pay for (literally, to take on himself) our sins and the consequences we deserve for thinking we can play the role of God, so that God’s Kingdom could be realized (seen) in and through our lives.

But Jesus was not only satisfying the payment for sin… He was at that moment while dying on the cross, preparing and displaying for us a new way to be human. the weak become strong. The foolish confound the wise. The last become first. The powerless become powerful. And through the resurrection, Jesus began creating a new people who will be mediators of God’s redeeming power for other people, cultures, and creation itself. He’s building an army, not just laying out a plan of salvation.

“Atonement, redemption and salvation are what happen on the way (of God launching His kingdom, the cross) because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 204.

Those who stop trusting in themselves and other futile things, and begin trusting in Jesus, they are being made into an army that fights not through force and persuasion, but through selflessness, death, weakness, and sacrifice.

We are redeemed not just to receive what God has for us (although we desire what He has for us), but so that others may as well be delivered from the clutches of Satan, sin and death. We, having been called into God’s kingdom, are now summoned to advance this public truth about God’s kingdom (Matt. 11:12), his good and gracious rule, and partake with Him in the gathering of His church (present and eternal).

So… therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58).

God is using His army of redeemed people, not only to display His kingdom, but also to create and build the new heaven and new earth, through every righteous deed done in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, this is not our doing because we have died in Christ and live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ Jesus, through the Spirit, has been working on the new heaven for over 2000 years through redeemed lives here on earth (us!), sowing seeds of righteousness that will produce a thousandfold return!

Oh how this has the ability to change our view of the resurrection and Christian mission. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness, proclamation of truth in love, every act of justice done in the name of Jesus, is us partnering with God in storing up treasures in heaven that will never pass away and will be for all of the redeemed to enjoy! This is our mission in light of the resurrection!

But here’s the sad part of this story. Many people say with their lips that God is not dead, but then live most of their lives as if He is dead. This is not the kind of witnessing army that Jesus dies to give life. The life God gives through faith in Christ is life that moves in rhythm with God’s kingdom: mercy, justice, forgiveness, confession of sin, standing up for dark horses, sharing, trusting, loving. We are called to live as if God is not dead. May we be a people who live as if God’s alive before we dare proclaim it.

We are called to plant “kingdom-signposts”, to display the beauty and worth of Jesus, to walk in freedom, love, humility, shalom, and in the grace of God’s good and coming kingdom. Demonstrate it. Embody it. Then announce it. Include the poor & marginalized. Pray. Embrace suffering. Rejoice in weakness. Gather together in community. And remember, that God’s kingdom comes by the Spirit of God moving in response to prayer!

The Hope of HopeFest

IMG_1048

This is Danielle. She was the first person in line for dental assistance at Hope Fest this past weekend. Hope Fest opened it’s doors at 9am on Saturday morning, and Danielle came at 3pm Friday afternoon. She was so excited to have made it on time to be able to get help; it was advertised as “first come, first serve”. I had a chance to sit with her for a while and she began to share with me about her pains and anxieties of life that make her feel that there isn’t much hope. I was able to share with her some of my pains and anxieties of life as well. She shed some tears of pain and joy, joy of being heard and understood, feelings of solidarity. When I took this picture, she told me she hated her smile, but I said, “Non-sense, you have a beautiful smile. I’m glad you’re here Danielle. It’s not a coincidence that you’re feeling hopeless and you’re in line at Hope Fest.” She smiled, cried, and said, “I guess you’re right. I didn’t think about that.”

The next day, I was walking around the plaza area in front of Chase Field and she tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Hey, thanks for everything”, then she gave me a big hug. I didn’t do anything other than share with her that there’s hope and that she’s valuable. It was very cool to see her physical countenance be so drastically different than the day before. She got the dental help she needed, pain has subsided, she got a haircut, and some pretty cool face painting. Here’s Danielle after experiencing hope in the midst of hopelessness.

IMG_1148

This is what Hope Fest is all about. Thousands of Danielle’s experienced a glimpse of hope, and for at least a day, they felt that life wasn’t too heavy to keep moving forward. Today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… we will all continue to have opportunities that Hope Fest afforded us to offer friendship, resources, affirmation, loving words that battle shameful thoughts, etc… Hope Fest inspires us to live a life that offers hope in the midst of hopelessness, and not wait for once a year events to offer what Christ offers us every day.

 

Hope Fest… this Saturday!

group-of-people

Hope Fest is among us. I wanted to take the time in this post to let you know about this city wide event if you don’t already. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m not a fan of “big Christian events”, but let me tell you why I love this event.

Hope Fest Phoenix (brought to us by CityServeAZ) connects our city, in my opinion, more than any other event out there. The passion and commitment of Hope Fest is this:

“To meet the immediate needs of our uninsured, underinsured and underserved neighbors, and then connect them to resources that facilitate long-term solutions, independence and stability. Through a collaboration of helping agencies, organizations and individuals thousands of people receive FREE medical, dental, vision, food, housing, haircuts, clothing, personal care products, employment services, child safety needs and so much more.”

This happens on one day, but impacts lives forever. The personal testimonies I’ve seen and heard first hand from those who have had life changes and opportunities from this event is one big reason why I love this event. I also love this event because it brings together major institutions, businesses, civic leaders, non-profits, and churches who work together, collaborate, and share resources for the sake of the poor… have you ever seen such city-wide collaboration for the poor?

This smells like good news. The poor are served and given opportunities for advancement, they get connected to local churches and other resources to help them on their journey, and fresh new look at the body of Christ in Phoenix is seen and experienced… and the good part of it is this; it’s not done in the traditional American Christianese kind-of-way. They don’t have to sit and listen to sermon before they are fed or receive services. The sermon is experienced. Christ becomes tangible, and believe Christ is overjoyed because of it.

I want to put in the spotlight two people who have committed and sacrificed time and resources to make this happen year after year so we can be sure to pray for them this week as they carry the weight of this event (and to be sure, there are many others to be honored as well who carry a huge load for this event):

Meet Terrilyn Miller and Billy Thrall:

           IMG_0935    2014-01-22 12.45.05

To help support them and their ministry at City Serve, click here!

Thanks Terrilyn and Billy for all you do and thanks to the over 2400 volunteers, 150 service providers, the Department of Economic Security in AZ for your huge partnership and commitment to this event, and to all those who financially and relationally help make this happen.

She’s a Survivor

IMG_0995

This is Felicia Gaston. She’s a breast cancer survivor. Actually, she’s been battling cancer for 10 years, as she has battled homelessness and poverty as well. The cancer is back in the other breast and she was on her way to an appointment. She read the sign out in front of the A2 J Prayer house around 12th ave and Van Buren, and walked in because the sign made her feel welcome to come in for prayer. She talked my head off for 10 minutes, then she left, and didn’t want prayer really. She wanted to talk to someone about what she had been going through and then wanted a hug. She told me how God has gotten her through all of this and before she left, I said, “You’re a fighter!” She looked at me and said, “I’m a survivor!” I said, “Thank God. God bless you Felicia and I’ll be praying for you.” My time with Felicia reminded me that poverty is a lack of friendship, and thanks be to God that today she wasn’t poor. If you think about it, pray for Felicia as she battles many things that are working towards her defeat, mostly, lack of friendships.

Ancient Crappers

Back Camera

A few years ago, I had the privilege of going to Israel, and traveling throughout the regions where Jesus lived and traveled. Some of the visits we made were at ancient sites such as Beth She’an, an ancient Egyptian city that later was inhabited by the Philistines. King David, during a series of military campaigns drove out the Philistines from this city, which became a major city during the time of King David and King Solomon, later to be taken from the Israelites by the Assyrians who burned the city down. Lots more history about this place, but my point wasn’t to write an historical post.

The picture above is of a bathroom next to a stadium in Beth Shea’an, where people would let it all out, right there, while rubbing shoulders with their neighbors. The way it worked was each butt cheek would rest on each side of the stone and there your crap would flow downhill beneath you, and you and your neighbor would share in the stench together… I’m sure it was a bonding experience. It makes me thankful for stalls and doors at public restrooms, but then I wonder how much relational intimacy is lost with our civilized bathroom practices! Ha! It’s hilarious to even think about. But the more I thought about this, this is what we do on social media, we let all of our crap out, but we aren’t rubbing shoulders with our neighbors like the ancients. We are cyber friends, giving cyber hugs, and when we let our crap fly, we are not face to face so our demeanor is different than if we were face to face.

This reminded me that as much as social media is the new marketplace of our day where ideas are swapped and things are debated, that it’s important to force myself to continue airing my crap in front of real people, hashing it out shoulder to shoulder where we can talk without typing. Keeping it personal is important, and much more fruitful. Even as I blog, I know that there needs to be opinions on the web to stir minds and conversations, but I am also challenged to continue to the convos (the good, the bad, and the ugly ones) into real life convos with friends, families, and colleagues. This forces us to be more considerate and personal (with our bad smells and all). After all, I would never smear someones crap all over them while I’m sitting next to them, but it’s real tempting do that in the cyber world.

The “Christian” Homosexual Debate

This debate is brought to surface again with the recent news of World Vision, the Christian international missions organization who is committed to serve the poor all over the globe, saying that they will hire Christian same-sex married couples.

Tension. This is a fitting word when you read a topic like this. Actually, tension might not be a strong enough word. Either way, this is something that erupts emotions and allows what’s really in us to spew out (and you will know them by their fruit; Matt. 7:20). Hot topics like this often seem to steal the day in debates and other things get lost in the discussion. I’m not sure if this dodging of certain issues at the expense of elevating others is intentional or not (for the quick witted, I’m sure it is, but for most, it’s likely an ignorant cover up).

What am I talking about, some of you are wondering? Well, I have heard many people say “Christian and same-sex marriages don’t go together in the same sentence; they are mutually exclusive.” In one instance, that is completely true, because to follow Christ is to become obedient to Him in all things, and Scripture is clear that men lusting after men and women lusting after women is an unnatural desire and a dishonorable passion (Rom. 1:26-27).

So yes, it’s an oxy-moron, but that means we all inhabit that oxy-moron reality everyday of our lives. After Paul uses the shameful desire of homosexuality being the result of worshipping the creature over the Creator, he goes on to give a whole long laundry list of others sin as well that come from the same debased mind that has worshiped the creature over the Creator:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32).

Envy, strife (anger), deceit, gossip, insolent (rude; cocky), boastful, disobedient to parents, foolish… just to name a few. And for those who went through the list and excused their way out of being any one of these…. there’s your sign!

My point is this, Paul’s laundry list indicts us all, and if you are going to rail against World Vision agreeing to hire Christian couples who are in a same-sex marriages, then at least be consistent and rail against them for hiring those who are continually rebellious towards their parents; those who go around gossiping, trying to get people to like them at the cost of not liking someone else; the greedy millionaire business owners who support them thousands of dollars feeling really good about their large contribution while lining their pockets with more money than they know what to do with, buying multiple homes and saving more than most of will ever make in a lifetime; the foolish Christians who make a big deal about sins they aren’t committing, but are hush hush about the areas of sin that they don’t want to change (consumerism, not loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, ethnic pride, neglecting the poor, etc.)

Somehow homosexuality has become taboo to many Christians and is treated as a separate sin that is worse than all the others; this only shows people’s insecurity’s with their own sexuality. Why aren’t we angry about the amount of money we spend as Americans, the amount of gadgets we consume, the amount of food we eat, etc? At times, it seems that we love to hate and hate to love. We are sinners, and railing against homosexuality while ignoring the whole laundry list makes one a self-righteous bigot. Go ahead, go to the mirror and say, “I am a bigot.” It’s freeing, I do it all the time. It’s freedom to acknowledge the truth, and when you do, you begin to have love for others like yourself, who are living in sin, making excuses for sin, or ignorant to their own sin.
Paul goes on to say in Romans 2, after the long laundry list of debased thinking behavior and says this:

1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1-4).

“For in passing judgement on another, you condemn yourself.” Paul knows the Romans were (and God knew we would) passing judgement for certain sins and neglecting their own, this is a human problem. But Paul is very clear, that the “judge” practices that very same things, and reminds us that it is not railing, but kindness that leads the sinner to repentance. Ouch, that should hurt to all the judgers who presume to know hearts and intentions. Truth yes, but it is so seldom offered in love and kindness. The hate speech that comes from this debate (on both sides!) is a sick smell, not a Christ-like aroma.

Many people often think of divine wrath as something God does, instead of what God finally allows to happen. Like a good parent, God will protect a rebellious child from the full impact of their sin, but there will come a time when God treats all of us like adults. The Wisdom of Solomon states: “one is punished by the very things by which one sins”. It is clear that God reveals his wrath by giving us over to the desires of our heart, which can and does reveal itself in many ways. Do not brush over the ways that have you enslaved. Ask God to reveal them to you, and be humble enough to receive what Christ wants to offer you in return.

When in disagreements, be sure you’re not placing more emphasis on the sins “you don’t struggle with” while “ignoring the ones you’re guilty of”. We need Christ to be displayed, and although I’m not exactly sure where I’m at with World Vision’s decision, I trust God will use relationships with many humble servants within that organization to bring about righteousness, holiness, and purity; at least that’s what I’m praying for.

Why World Vision Is Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages

Before you read on, read the original article here: Christianity Today News. Please read it before you point the finger, and understand that I am not endorsing same-sex marriages, but I am fighting for Christians to think beyond a single issue and think and live holistically according to the gospel.

Whether you agree with their decision or not, you can’t say their heart isn’t for the gospel to be known among the poor around the world. If you indeed read the whole article, and didn’t spot read it to try and prove why they’re wrong, you will hear World Vision clearly hold their convictions of being a Christian non-profit organization who is willing to partner with many people they disagree with for the sake of caring for the poor, and unity among the body of Christ. If World Vision’s stance makes us more angry than the Western church’s lack of financial generosity (American Christian giving adds up to around 2% of our incomes), then maybe we have been pointing fingers too long and have forgotten the weightier things of the Lord:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.” Isaiah 58:6–12

God, take away from among us the pointing of the finger; make us strong watered gardens as we rebuild ancient ruins and raise up generations who have been forgotten and neglected. To you oh Lord be the glory, and to the earth shalom (peace with justice), to the church courage, and to our cities hope!