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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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. 

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…

Christianity’s greatest hypocrisy

Since the church was first established with broken, weak and feeble people, it was destined for a history and legacy marked by hurt, violation, abuse and most of all hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy.

Identifying oneself with Jesus, but choosing to live blind to who He actually is.

Before I get too far into this, one of the things we have to recognize is that when broken people attempt to imitate the son of God in word and actions, there is bound to be a whole lot of hypocrisy. We are not perfect, and we never will be. The church will always hurt people. Christians will always fail to live up to the standard of God’s holiness. Pastors will fall, leaders will break and churches will split. When God chose to use people to accomplish His work on earth, it was a choice for that process to be incredibly messy.

The bottom line is, our behavior, as, “Christians,” will always leave something to be desired in the eyes of this skeptical world looking on. As one of those, “Broken Christians,” let me be the first to say I am sorry. I am sorry that my life so rarely matches my words. I am sorry for what that does to the name and reputation of Jesus. I am sorry for being such a bad representation of the most amazing man that ever lived on this planet. Frankly, I am not sure why God chose me to begin with.

I am sorry for the hypocrisy.

At the same time, there is a whole lot of hope to be found in just saying it out loud. I am a hypocrite. My dad taught me that…

“The church is the perfect place for hypocrites to gather.”

Its true… if we are aware of our shortcomings we can allow God to shape us, mold us and form in us the value of graciousness. Our failures then, become a source of hope to the world instead of pain. It’s about seeing it, identifying it, and being humble enough to admit that we don’t have it all together.

But there is another kind of hypocrisy. It is the kind that takes root in a person, blinding them to the realities of their own mess, and magnifying the mess of others. It’s the kind that causes a person to use the beautiful gift of the gospel for personal gain, for an individual agenda. It’s the kind that seeks to divide, the kind that tears down instead of building up. It’s the kind that sees personal agenda and belief system as more important than loving people. This kind of hypocrisy tears down, creates disunity, and leaves the world going,

“Huh?”

Blind hypocrisy is the single most devastating issue for the church today.

Christians get so fired up and passionate about doctrinal issues, worship style and carpet color that they are willing to cause division to have their voice heard. In doing so we find ourselves in pursuit of our own agenda in the name of Jesus while blindly ignoring His greatest commands on our lives.

Love people.

I am amazed at just how easily we allow ourselves to become blinded by selfishness.

As Jesus followers, we are called to prioritize one thing above all else in this world. Loving, valuing, and freely giving of ourselves to people.

  • In friendship… Love
  • With our enemies… love
  • In the face of violation… love
  • When its easy, when its hard, when its painful… love
  • When someone disagrees with my view of God… love

As Christians we have learned to, “Go to the mattresses” to defend our doctrinal perspectives, yet don’t care about who we hurt in the process. In our passion and zeal for our “faith,” we find ourselves ignoring the greatest commandment of all. To love people.  We become the worst kind of hypocrite.

How did we get here?

Friends, God will protect His own church, God will take care of the truth… we are called to love. Period.

Love is the most powerful force in this universe.

If you call yourself a Christian, my challenge for you, as you enter your church building on Sunday is to pursue unity, understanding and love. To give yourself fully to your church leaders, your churches mission and your values. Look for ways to create unity, not be divisive. Search for ways to build up, not tear down. Give the benefit of the doubt, trust first.

Jesus reminded us that there is really only one way that the world will know we are His disciples… by the way we love each other.

Let love and unity be the lens you see the rest of life and faith from behind, and then and only then will we be ready to take our broken, messed up hypocritical lives into the world and put Jesus and His grace on display in a powerful way.