Does Jesus value religious freedom?

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Politics and religion. For centuries the two have been at the center of so much debate. In a post Christian world, the relationship between religion and politics has become a raging inferno, tearing apart relationships and dismantling culture at its core. You may think thats a little overdramatic, until you look at social media, message board comments and other outlets for candid, “consequence free opinion sharing.” This is the context where the worst of humanity rears its ugly head as we hide behind computer screens enjoying the luxury of anonymity.

We currently live in a country where Christians love to fight, and everyone else, loves to fight with us.

This past week, legislation was proposed in the state of Arizona that would have  allowed business owners to deny services to individuals siting “religious freedom.” In this case, as you may know, it was directed at the LGBT community, giving fresh oxygen to an already blazing fire. As I listened to the radio, watched TV, and browsed my Twitter feed, my heart was broken into a million pieces as I sensed a clear reality rising to the surface in the opinions of those advocating for this law.

There are Christians out there who actually believe, “people,” are against their religion. Let me say that again. There are Christians who are fighting for their religious right to not have to love certain people.”

In other words, “As an American Christian, I have the right to religious freedom, and that freedom gives me the right to love the people I want to, and discriminate against the ones I don’t. Anyone who doesn’t share my values is, against my religion.”

Such a thought is so undeniably anti Jesus, it makes me ache in places I didn’t know I had. The enemy in this conundrum is the misunderstood concept of religious freedom. Hear me on this… religious freedom isn’t bad… freedom of every variety is very good, and freedom denied in any way is one of life’s greatest tragedies. The problem here is that Christians have chosen to believe we are entitled to religious freedom.

I am a follower of Jesus who lives in the United Sates of America. I love America, the constitution, the Bill of rights, and all the justices our country and its citizens feel compelled to fight for. I am so thankful for the freedoms given to me by the blood and sweat of soldiers who have come before me. To them and their families I owe a debt of gratitude I can never repay. I pray we as an American people, never lose sight of the value we place on fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.

This article is not about political freedom, it is about religious freedom. In our fight for political freedoms, we have crossed over a dangerous line, and applied our political values to our faith, resulting in a dangerous misunderstanding of God’s heart, and a harmful effect on His gospel.

There is one important thing I believe we have to get right in order to move forward in a world that is increasingly writing off the church. We have to re-examine the heart of Jesus in relation to the public persona of those who claim to follow Him. When we do, we will see the massive disparity between the two. Then we can repent, and begin leaning into the grace of Jesus, restoring our voice in a world desperate for the message of the gospel that we carry within our hearts.

Here it is…

Jesus doesn’t value religious freedom

It’s true. Jesus has no interest in the protection our rights to religious liberty.  Every step Jesus took on the soil of this broken earth was a step used to lift the broken hearted, fight for the weak, and serve the disenfranchised. He wasn’t interested in himself, in any way shape or form. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He didn’t come wielding power, or with a sense of entitlement, He came with humility and a heart focused on being poured out for the sake of others.

Christian culture has taught us that we have the responsibility to fight for religious liberty, when in reality I believe Jesus would say,

“The only thing you are entitled to is denying yourself, taking up your cross daily, and walking in my footsteps.?”

Friends, the biblical reality is this…

Jesus doesn’t care about your right to carry a gun. He doesn’t care about your right to keep your “hard earned money, ”  and Jesus certainly doesn’t care about your right to refuse service to whomever you please, because they are different, or in your opinion immoral. The choice to value these things over the people He gave so much for, must grieve Him deeply.

Jesus said to His disciples as He was preparing to ascend into heaven and begin the movement of the church…

“You will be my witnesses…”

What did He mean? Go fight for the right to gather, hold your opinions, and cast aside any who stand in your way? No, He meant, go live like i lived, go love like I loved, choose meekness, mercy and peace. Seek justice for the oppressed, and vindication for the abused. Oh, and by the way, give away your life any chance you get to see those things happen.

As Christians we have become far too comfortable with interpreting Jesus words to fit a tidy lifestyle that allows us to hold fast to certain ideals that do not come from His life, but flow from a heart intent on maintaining a set of rights that Jesus never gave us, and simply doesn’t value.

Paragraph 2 of the United States Declaration of Independence reads like this…

“We hold these Truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These are beautiful words that we all live under and experience the benefits of daily. Here is the problem my friends… these are not Jesus words, and although they are incredibly important words that we can choose to seek, when we give our lives to Jesus and go after Him, we take on a new role in relation to this statement. Ours, becomes the right to fight for life, liberty and happiness for others. We then embrace a new declaration…

The declaration of total dependence. This new declaration gives us a whole new set of rights, all of which are characterized by humility, sacrifice, mercy and grace. These new rights empower us to advocate for the broken hearted and to stand in the gap for the abused.

The opening statements of this declaration would need to read something like this,

“As a follower of Jesus, it is my right and privilege to seek death, slavery and the pursuit of humility so that others can find life, liberty and joy in relationship with Him.”

In the realm of God’s kingdom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not yours to claim. No, in God’s economy as a follower of jesus, your rights are, death, slavery and humility. We get to be less, so others can become more. We get to be beaten so others can be healed. We get to be enslaved so others can go free. This is the heart of Jesus, and needs to become the heart of all who claim to follow Him.

Friends, if we don’t take up a new mantra, lay down our religious rights for the sake of embracing a lifestyle that imitates our savior, I fear our influence in the world will become entirely obsolete.

Pursuit of religious freedom has crippled the church, and the only thing that can bring it back to health is the choice of every believer to answer all cultural questions with a heart that understands there is one thing that matters most. People. All People. everywhere, of every kind.

1 Peter 4:8 is the answer to the healing of our world. Love comes first, love comes second, love comes last. Its all about love. What an honor it is to serve a God that loves so well, and offers us the chance to do the same.

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The “PERFECT” Problem

In the fall of 2010, my wife and I spent 2 weeks in the northeast climbing mountains, staring at trees ablaze with the colors of fall, and taking pictures of God’s amazing creation. Watching seasons change right before your eyes is such an amazing picture of the providence of God in making all things new. Driving through the white mountains of New Hampshire, around every curve seeing wild animals, waterfalls and every other kind of wonder that exists in God’s immaculate creation. We had nowhere to be, no one that needed anything from us, and only the daylight restricting our excursions.

We were sort of stationed at a friend’s house in New Hampshire, where they gave us a car and each day said, “GO explore!” It was so cool to have that kind of freedom.

While we were touring about New England country side passing through antique covered bridges, 150 year old farmhouses surrounded by miles and miles of orange, yellow and red foliage, we were blown away at the creative complexity of what we were seeing. If you have ever questioned God’s imagination, spend a little time in New England in the fall. We explored the mountains, and small towns of northern New England states, the big city of Boston, and the historical towns of Maine.

We hunkered in for a few nights at a bed and breakfast in Kennebunkport, ME. Kennebunkport is the quintessential New England town, with bed and breakfasts on every corner, shops and restaurants to satisfy the touring “leaf peeper,” for weeks and history so old you actually feel like you stepped into a time machine and traveled back to 1855. I’m serious; covered wagons driving the streets, gigantic plantation style homes that still don’t have underground plumbing! Many of the homeowners must vacate the community in the colder months because they have to shut off their water… and all this just to maintain the historical integrity of the community.

My wife and I spent our entire time their commenting on how incredibly surreal it was to be living life in this town. No crime, no pollution, nothing but fresh air, beautiful scenery, and streets and shops that look like they belong at a Disney world theme park.

It was perfect!

I don’t mean perfect like, “oh this is nice… “I mean, perfect like straight out of a Martha Stewart catalog. The kind of perfect that is nice for a bit, but then after a while starts to make you sick…

“Can this be real?”

“Who actually lives here? What are there lives really like?”

Behind the perfect masquerade there has to be problems… cheating wives, abusive husbands, alcoholism, misbehaving children?

Still, our hearts were so drawn to this place… we imagined packing up all our stuff, loading up our family and hiding away in obscurity in the tiny tourist town of Kennebunkport, ME. We could be neighbors with George Bush (He has a summer home there), plant a church, and live in this perfection forever.

No problems, no worries, and even if there were, in these surroundings who cares? We even went as far as to look at houses for sale online. Thankfully five minutes of browsing homes on realtor.com brought us back to earth, but it got me wondering… why are our hearts were so drawn to this picture of perfection? What is it deep down that craves the serenity of a perfect life. At the very heart level we know it doesn’t exist, we know that wherever you go, there you are, we know that no one and nothing is perfect, but it doesn’t stop our hearts from dreaming about… from seeking it, from wanting it.

The painful reality every human, is painfully aware of, is that we are in fact, imperfect people living in an imperfect world. That’s our reality. We know it, see it and feel it every day, and if even for a second something convinces us other wise, life has a way of reminding us really quickly.

It’s why we love the Christmas season. It’s like for the month of December we all give each other and ourselves the freedom to put life aside. We get to spend money we don’t have, stay up later than usual, have parties every night of the week, and eat until our hearts are more than content, and our clothes no longer fit. It’s like the line from the song, Have yourself a merry little Christmas… you know,

“From now on our troubles will be miles away.”

We want perfection so bad that we actually carve out seasons of life where we get to forget that we live in a fallen world and just push all the hurt and mess under the rug and pretend it’s not there.

The problem with this approach to life is that as life gets harder, relationships get more and more broken and circumstances get tough, we tend to try our very best to live our entire lives attempting to create alternate realities that allow us to escape the pain of this world. The way we do that is by pretending, putting on a face, convincing ourselves that everything is perfect.

In doing this, we, as a human race have essentially created a don’t ask, don’t tell policy with everyone in our lives…

“We’ll all pretend we have it all together even though we know we don’t and we will look the other way when we see others acting the very same way.”

As long as everyone pretends, and gives everyone else permission to pretend, life can go on as usual, we can hurt a little less, think a little less, and live with some fabricated sense of peace about our life and its pursuits.

But what happens when the mess simply comes back out? What happens when our brokenness can no longer stay hidden? Its like our lives are hiding a hangover, until it smells something that reminds them of the drunken episode last night and it can no longer contain the gross from coming back up. All at once our lives vomit the brokenness that has been hiding deep down all over ourselves and everyone around us in the form of anger, alcoholism, rape, murder pornography addiction, etc. etc. etc.

Why do we seek out something that we know doesn’t exist? Why do we pursue something that is unattainable? Why do we line our coffee tables with magazines full of airbrushed images we know aren’t real, and then allow those images to dictate the pursuits of our lives?

Why are we so drawn to perfection?

 

Because we were created to be!

The reality we all live with as human beings is that our creator intended for us to live out eternity in perfect harmony with Him. We were made perfect, by a perfect designer to live in perfection.

The fall of man left a gigantic hole. It left an open wound, it created a tension that we will live with forever,

We are incomplete and we know it.

What I learned from “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.”

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Its that time of year again… Christmas? Well, yeah, that too, but what I am referring to is less about holidays and more about something that happens to me any time something is coming to an end. 2012 is coming to an end, and for me that means a whole lot of personal reflection. I can’t help it, its what I do. I’d like to believe that every year as I look back over who I was when this year began compared to who I am now, I will see a change, I will see growth, I will see a man that listens more, talks less, and loves even better. The month of December is always filled with lots of different emotions for me as I consider who I want to be, and the many ways I fall short of that. 

 More on that in a future article…

Last night I was given a surprising kick start to this season of reflection. I wasn’t looking for it, and I wasn’t asking for it, but there it was…

My youngest daughter and I had a rare, quiet evening at home last night due to the activities of the older two, and my wife’s willingness to run them around and let me stay home. We plugged in the Christmas tree, turned down the lights, and snuggled up on the couch. I turned on the TV to see what was on, and what do you know, 

Charlie Brown Christmas was just starting. 

About 10 seconds in I realized this was more than a movie, but a divine appointment. This would be the kick start to my season of asking hard questions about myself, looking back, and ultimately looking forward to what is to come. 

This was a great starting point.

I started making notes on my phone as I watched the story unfold. No, this is not the first time I’ve seen this little cartoon, but this is certainly the first time I have ever been impacted by its story and characters. 

What’s coming on this page is not well thought out, its not neatly organized, it is just my scattered thoughts on a classic Christmas story that has much more to do with our lives than we realize. 

So here goes, 

What I learned from “Charlie Brown’s Christmas”

  1. Simplicity works

We live in a world that is daily bombarding us with the newest, the next, and the best technology the human race has to offer. Lets face it, how many of you went out and bought a brand new flat screen TV on black Friday only to come home, plug it in, turn it on and see the next generation of the very same technology being advertised as a “must have.” This is the game we all play, we are buried so deep in the complexities of western commercialism that we have lost the ability to discern what it is we really want, and what it is we are simply being told we, “need.”

Charlie Brown’s Christmas is bad animation, the voice overs are questionable, and nothing screams 1980… Whatever, like the piano part that plays some 500 times over the course of a 30 minute program. 

But it works! I don’t know why, it just does. My eyes are glued, my mind is transfixed in the simplicity of the story, the bland colors, and the way their mouths change shape to show emotion. I actually find myself being relaxed by its slower pace and simple format. 

Simplicity is great, and somewhere in the depths of our souls we crave it, long for it, even need it to survive. We were not created for the rush and madness we have built, we were made for simplicity. Its why our eyes long for visions of snowy white mountain caps, our ears for the sound of babbling brooks and ocean waves, and our skin the warmth of a tropical breeze. 

We need simplicity, so find it, somewhere this Christmas season, and then, make a habit out of it. 

  1. Cartoon relationships are the same as real ones. 

Probably my favorite scene in this whole movie is when Lucy looks at Charlie Brown and says, 

“Do you think I look pretty today?”

Before Charlie can respond Lucy jumps right back in…

“You hesitated! Why did you hesitate Charlie Brown, if you thought I looked pretty you wouldn’t have had to think about it, you would have just said it! How could you do this Charlie Brown, You hurt me deeply,”

And then stomps off. 

Charlie Brown’s response perfectly captures the emotions of every man who has ever been in this exact situation. He looks at the camera, rolls his eyes and says two words that tell the whole story,

“Good Grief.”

I love it!

3. “Fairness,” is destructive

For whatever reason, the concept of fairness seems to be hardwired into the DNA of the human make up. All the way back to Eve in the Garden of Eden we see her being tempted by something she is, “lacking,” and that sense of lack, felt unfair to her, she felt like she deserved something more. From that point on, no human has been able to shake the fairness complex. We want the score to be even, we want what we are owed, and we believe in the value of fairness, and all it has done is turn us into self-seeking ego maniacs. 

Charlie Brown spends the whole movie struggling to understand the point of Christmas, the lights, the singing, the presents, etc. He trots slowly from one scene to the next interacting with the other kids in his life. They are kids right? Why are they all balding like 40 year old men (or 32 in my case)? Anyway, at one point in the movie he comes across his little sister Sally making her, “Christmas List.” She is going on and on about all the things she wants. 

Charlie responds to her greedy approach to Christmas by saying, 

“Even my little sister has gotten wrapped up in this commercialism!”

To which Sally responds…

“All I want is what’s coming to me, my fair share.” 

Seemingly harmless words right? Maybe, but a statement I fear has so thoroughly shaped our culture that we will never be able to retrieve it from the quick sand that is our own selfishness and greed. Why does it need to be fair? Why do we need to compare our lives to others? Why does everything have to be even? The truth is, our pursuit of fairness makes us like a rat on a wheel. Fairness is, and will always be subjective in nature, and defined as much by our perspective on life, background and perception of the world than the facts. 

I long for a world not driven by fairness… Thanks for being frustrated with me Charlie Brown.

4. Linus’ blanket has got to smell really bad.

Seriously, that thing is always on the ground dragging behind him. It’s gotta be funky.

5. Thinkers will always be misunderstood

Charlie Brown is a thinker… Even an over thinker, and because of it, no one gets him. The root of his struggle with Christmas and the depression it creates is that he over thinks everything. While the world around him simply goes with the flow, enjoying the Christmas lights, programs and trees, Charlie is thinking. He is considering the implications of it all, wanting answers and seeking meaning. As a result, he is a total outcast. 

I love the interaction between Charlie Brown and Linus, where Charlie is expressing his discontent with the Christmas season, and Linus says, 

“Charlie Brown, of all the Charlie Brown’s in the world, you have got to be the Charlie Browniest.”

No one understands a thinker.

6. Seeing beauty is an art form

During the story, Charlie Brown some how gets appointed as the director of the Christmas play. For the play he has to go pick out a Christmas tree. The scene begins with him standing amongst huge, full, colorful, beautiful Christmas trees for miles. He has a huge smile on his face, the first of the movie actually, and his gaze is fixed on a small, bare, dying Christmas tree hidden amongst the beautiful ones. He has no eyes for any others. This is his tree. 

“Perfect!” he says

I love Charlie Brown’s ability to see beauty in what it could be. I love his freedom to go against the cultural norm, to stand up for what he believes in, to see real beauty rather than fabricated beauty. It is the way Jesus saw people. It is the way I want to see everything. 

7. Leaders will feel alone. 

When Charlie brings the tree back to set up for the Christmas play his friends all laugh at him. 

“Classic Charlie Brown,” they say

Most people don’t see life the way leaders do, and as a result, it tends to be an isolated and lonely existence. Leaders are called to see things that aren’t their yet, love things that are still unlovable, and value things that aren’t yet valuable. 

People like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther, and well, ok, Jesus, lived their lives this way, for this purpose, and the result was a whole lot of aloneness and misunderstanding. 

Leading isn’t easy, but it is powerful.

8. Christmas is a very simple holiday. 

I know, at face value, it is anything but simple. It is an organizational nightmare. Parties, families, food and presents. We run from one thing to the next, stand in lines, wait in traffic. The reality is, the Christmas season is utter madness. I don’t have to tell you that. The problem is, the madness we feel is something we have created. The complexity we sense is self imposed. Christmas my friends is incredibly simple. 

Charlie Brown spends the entire movie asking that question, 

“Maybe I just don’t understand what Christmas is all about?”

As the movie is closing, the Christmas play is somewhat in shambles, but Linus stands up and begins quoting from Luke chapter 2. Yes, this is happening on ABC, a national network… Still blows my mind every time I see it. Linus is telling the story straight from the Bible about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the 3 kings, and the birth of Jesus. As he wraps up his monologue, he turns to Charlie Brown and says, 

“That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” 

As those words role off his tongue, I have goose bumps on every inch of my body. This is what Christmas is all about. This is why we celebrate. It is the birth of our long awaited savior. It is less about Jesus being born, and more about what his birth means, what it brings, what it lavishes upon all man kind. 

Christmas is a beautiful holiday filled with all kinds of opportunities to love, laugh and enjoy the things of this world, but we can never forget the simplicity of it all. 

Jesus came to earth. 

Lastly, 

9. I can learn from anything. 

I am struck by how this children’s show, caused change and growth in my own life. I want to be a life long learner. That is why I choose to reflect. I don’t want to be the same person I was last year. I want to see growth in my character, I want to love the things of this world less, and the people in my life more. I want to loosen my grip on me, and embrace the reality of others. 

Thank you Charlie Brown for reminding me to never stop learning.