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.

Why we exist…

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My son Neal is without a doubt the most amazing little man that has ever stepped foot on this planet… ok, I might be a little bias, but from the first day I met him to this very day, I have been so amazed by the amazing kid God has crafted him to be. He is full of life, passionate, spontaneous and incredibly compassionate. He is thoughtful (most of the time), caring and full of wild ideas. There are days where I’m pretty sure he could convince himself and possibly a few others that he has what it takes to jump to the moon. I have never met another person in my life with more freedom to simply be himself. Sure, he has insecurity, of course, like any other 9 year old, he is beginning to understand what it means to live in a world where value is placed on every human based on their ability to perform to a cultural expectation that was created from a position of insecurity in the first place. Big picture…

Neal knows how to live…

Along with the unbelievable freedom he tends to live his life with comes one very significant disfunction. Neal has a hard time focusing… call it whatever you want, ADD, ADHD, Hyperactivity, or just being an emotional Brower boy, cut out of a similar mold his father was made in, Neal struggles to keep his eye on the ball.

He knows what he wants, in the moment he wants it, but what he wants seems to change like the wind, and it never remains long enough for him to figure out how to get it. He jumps from one idea to the next, day by day, even moment by moment, as fast as his free thinking brain and wild imagination will take him.

Neal lacks focus.

As much as I love all the smaller attributes of his personality that make Neal who he is, I fear at times that a lack of focus will ultimately keep him from being really effective at anything. If he could focus all his wild energy and passion on one thing, I can only imagine where his zeal and passion might take him.

Neal is a great illustration of the “church,” in America.

With the purest of motives and the best of intentions churches hit the ground running with ideas of changing lives and changing the world. We build buildings, hire staff, organize services and create the perfect programs. We do it all in the name of Jesus, believing, at least at one point or another that we are doing it from a place of conviction and intentionality. Then come the people.

People make everything more complicated don’t they? All of us, from the pastors, to the committed members, to the guy who shows up once a month just so he can check the preverbal church box on the score card of life, and slip out before anyone notices him.

We are all difficult! We are all selfish! We are all given to emotions that would put our own agenda over the agenda of Jesus in the establishment and multiplication of His church.

So here we are, with big rooms full of selfish people, attempting to continue in the legacy of Jesus… the result? Yeah. its going to be a mess… no matter how you slice it, its gonna be as ugly as the NFL with referees who have more experience selling hot dogs at the concession stand than throwing yellow flags on the football field.

The result of selfish people gathering together more intent on their own personal agenda than what the gathering ultimately exists for is simple…

Hurt, chaos, broken relationships, arguments, disagreements, apathy, discontentment, jealousy, pride, greed, immorality, deception, manipulation, mistrust, etc. etc. etc.

Pick one of those, or fill in a blank with your own. If you have been a church goer for any significant amount of time you have more than likely experienced one or more of the above. The funny thing is, we, in our limited understanding of people in the world, brought on by narcism, have some how convinced ourselves that if we just continue to do, “church as usual,” people will simply sign up.

We are wrong.

So what is the answer?

I think it is simpler than we make it… I think it boils down to one thing.

The church in America has ADHD.

We have lost the ability to focus, coupled with an addiction to hyperactivity, resulting in an organization that lacks all understanding of why it exists, and what it desires to see accomplished. We prioritize busyness over impact. Our lack of focus allows the mission of the church to be interpreted individually and randomly by any and all who choose to engage with the discussion. Instead of being a missional movement, unified by our calling, around the person of Jesus and gospel message, we have become a, “whatever you want it to be so that you feel good, happy and well taken care of,” type organization. We build programs around that mantra, to suit any and all who speak up. There is a different program for every niche need, or area interest. We run around like chickens without a head, staying really busy, greasing all the squeaky wheels, and ultimately loose sight of why we are doing it all to begin with.

Sound familiar? Tired of it?

Me too, but finding our way out of the darkness of consumerism and disunity, and into the light where God can empower us with the Holy Spirit, creating a movement that can change the world requires us to make a decision. It requires us to set our agenda, understanding and even church history aside for something bigger. Its time we stop thinking about us, and start thinking about others. Its time we stop pursuing comfort and choose impact instead.

The true church, the focused church, the gospel-centered movement Jesus died to establish is found only when we choose to set self aside, take up our cross and choose to walk in the footsteps of our creator.

It requires focus.

Focus is a core value at FInding Life Church. It is the core value I am preaching on this Sunday in our current series titled, “The power of a values driven life.” Here is the statement we make about this value…

Focus: “What matters most is people finding Jesus, we will be intentional about it.”

This is what the church exists for. This is what the church was called to in the wake of Jesus’ death. This what its all about, and everything else comes second.

Church is not about… being fed, having a powerful experience, great music, Bible education, developing a social club, or even social justice. Its not about having opportunity for my gifts to be used, or being given a platform for my personal passions.  It is about one thing…

People connecting with the grace of God, being freed from the clutches of sin and death, and walking an empowered, purposeful, kingdom engaged life for the sake of others experiencing the same thing along the way.

If you get up this Sunday morning with anything else as your focus, you will miss the point of why we gather in the first place.

All those above pursuits are not wrong in and of themselves, they are simply not the most important thing. They are all the natural outcome of a life focused on what matters most.

I will ask you this.

Will an all out pursuit of Bible education always lead to a heart for others to know Jesus? Nope… (Scribes and pharisees)

Will a pursuit of worship through music, ultimately impassion a person to engage with gospel impact? Nope

Will a pursuit of social justice always lead to eternal life change? Nope, probably a better chance here, but still still not automatic.

Here is the reality. A heart focused on others, experiencing Jesus will naturally lead to a hunger for the word, a passion for the broken and displaced, an intentional engagement in community, etc. It will breed a lifestyle of worship, a passion for others and a natural desire to serve. We have to choose to prioritize the one thing that will ultimately spiritually form us in all those other areas. Focus is not about saying only one thing matters, it is about saying, only one thing will accomplish the big picture in my life and in others. Only one thing will populate heaven, only one thing will transform the world with the love of Jesus.

Focus.

What matters most is people finding Jesus. Check everything else at the door, and watch how God begins to form it in you in ways you have never imagined, enhancing your church experience like never before.

Luke 15 reveals the heart of Jesus for those who are lost. They are his number one priority… They are what He cares most about… they are what He gave everything for. They are more important than you (If you are a church going, salvation professing Christian). Are we, the church today, giving our lives for the same? Are we prioritizing something different than what Jesus did? Absolutely. When we align our hearts with what Jesus valued most, the windows of heaven are opened, and the power of God can take root in us like never before. That is the picture of the true church.

Focus.

Its graciousness or nothing…

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Ok, so I know my last post came with a cliff hanger…

“Stay tuned for part two…”

Well life happened… actually more accurately, “Jake,” happened. If you don’t know me I am an incredibly passionate guy, often given to moments of emotion. I am currently having one of those nights. Emotional I mean. It is Tuesday and it has already been a long week. Emotionally. Maybe it’s just my life right now, maybe it’s God attempting to shape something unique in me, I don’t know, but I am feeling like an emotional roller coster right now. So even as I am writing, forgive me for being scattered, for being potentially incoherent at times. Hopefully this post will be more Holy Spirt than Jake… we’ll see.

I am in the midst of a sermon series called, “the power of a values driven life.” We, at Finding Life Church are taking our annual trip through our core values. Its a yearly opportunity to re-focus on why we exist as a church, and what God is calling us to live out… collectively, every day, from a position of the heart.

This week we come to graciousness. I think I make this statement all 7 weeks every time I preach through these values…

“This is my favorite one!”

Stupid, I know, but remember when I said I was emotional? Yeah, this is just another manifestation of that, and the fact that I am head over heals in love with these 7 core values. Want to bring meaning to your life? Want to have close powerful relationships? Want to live a peaceful, joy-filled, powerful life? Want to live a life reflecting the heart of Jesus?  Pursue a heart posture that is in pursuit of these 7 values, and you will. I promise. Ok, there I go rabbit trailing again.

Graciousness.

Grace is the central, driving and defining concept to the Christian life.

“Christian,” what the heck does that really mean? Seriously? Church attendance? Bible memorizing? false comfort stemming from a common system of beliefs that we gather to affirm for each other with our religious ritual and boring, lifeless and repetitive gathering? Teva Sandals and North Face back packs? Seriously, what are we really doing here?

One word…. Graciousness

It means living like Jesus, and the pursuit of this value, graciousness toward others, that stems from an understanding of my deep brokenness and desperation is what it really means to be a Christian.

To live like Christ is to embody what He came to live and die for.

Tonight, as I sit here, praying, singing, reflecting and writing, I am consumed by one thought. To call myself a Christian, and not be on an all out pursuit of a lifestyle that seeks to love, unconditionally all people, from my best friend to the most unlovely of human beings, is to embody the term, Hypocrite, thereby making me the antonym of the word Christian.

The irony of that is, the word Christian more often than not embodies something completely different. To the world that the grace of Jesus came to ransom, the word Christian most often goes down harsh, painful and anything but smooth. I know, this conversation is getting old… I am just another one of these post-modern lunatics that is far to passionate, and equally uneducated.

Well, call me what you wish… I am right.

Being a Christian means embracing a very simple, yet equally counter culture concept… grace. And not the over-used word put in every single worship song ever written because it rhymes with the word “embrace,” which is also another word us Christians like to put in songs… real grace.

Grace flies in the face of everything we want, love and feel comforted by. Justice? Grace takes a big fat dump on yours and my understanding of justice. Its true.

Grace requires violation: It needs it, it cannot exist without it. There is no such thing as showing graciousness to someone who is nice, kind, or compliant. In order to live the most important value reflected in the life of Christ, we must first be violated. You are not living like Jesus until you have been utterly violated and then chose to love anyway. As people, especially Christians, we run away from violation don’t we? This is not about being a door mat, but about expecting to be violated, choosing it, and then choosing love. It comes from a position of strength, not weakness. It is what Jesus Lived out with every breathe he took on this planet.

Grace is not a response to a request, in fact, if someone asks for it, it is not really grace. Grace in its purest form is given regardless of the actions of another person. Once the violator recognizes the violation, grace is out. You can forgive, be merciful, loving, etc, but true grace… is no longer available to give. This is what makes it so hard. Graciousness is a posture of the heart that responds immediately with love when violation occurs.

Grace does not take actions into account. Graciousness looks past the actions, and loves simply because a gracious heart believes with the very fabric of their being that it is the only option. As I have received grace, I give it away. I cannot claim Grace from Him, and not respond that way when others actions deserve something else.

Grace is not fair. Oooh, fairness. man, that word is a tough one huh? In my family we call that the “F” word. The “F” word is the enemy of grace. If it doesn’t hurt, it is not grace. If it is easy to give, you haven’t given grace. Grace doesn’t seek fairness, it simply chooses to love. True grace doesn’t weigh the situation to see if it is, “fair.”

We have a fairness complex in America don’t we? As long as you are looking for, “Your slice,” what you are owed, or what you deserve, you will never, ever understand what it means to live the grace that you and I as “Christians,” place our hope in.

Grace is thoroughly life altering. True grace is.. the kind Jesus gave to you, and to me as He hung on the cross. The kind that traded Kingly position for slavery, majesty for mire. The kind of love Christ showed to each one of us is the kind He is calling us to turn around and give away.

If you and I, do not immediately choose to start posturing our hearts and lives in pursuit of living out the grace we claim, we cannot continue to call ourselves Christians. We can’t, period. We also cannot continue to place our hope in the concept of salvation that’s footing and foundation is firmly based in the scandalous grace we are claiming yet withholding with those around us. When we do, we become a hindrance to the gospel. We become a fog that clouds the image of Christ, the purity of His love and the power of His bloodshed for those far from Him.

Wanna call yourself a Christian? Start living graciously… or stop calling yourself that. Period.

It’s grace, or its nothing.

Your call.

At Finding Life Church we are choosing to forgo fairness and justice. Instead we embrace violation understanding that only in the face of violation are we given the opportunity to truly love like Jesus. To embody the true meaning of the word Christian. We are not perfect, but we are on that pursuit.

Lord form it in us! as only you can…