Monthly Archives: January 2013

How to Pray for a President

In honor of Inauguration Day, I am re-posting of my latest piece on RELEVANT Magazine‘s website, “How to Pray for a President”.  Head on over and check it out.

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“In God We Trust.” Since 1864 it has been stamped on every U.S. coin. In 1956 it was added to our paper currency. During the Civil War this motto came to represent the reality that, in moments of national turmoil and strife, our ultimate trust is not in any earthly authority, but is found in God alone.

The relationship between faith and country has always been a tenuous one. Yet regardless of how you might feel about having this motto on our currency, the question of who we trust is ultimately an important one to consider.

For those of us who are Christ followers, the truth is that no administration, no party and no political system will fully represent all of the values that we hold as members of God’s kingdom. And Christians, like everyone else, have divided over who they voted for in our recent election. Regardless of how you voted, it’s clear our nation is facing many challenges and the debates over what needs to be done from here are deep and complex.

So how do we come together today on the Inauguration of Obama’s second term? Well, I think that we do what we have always done: We pray and we work for transformation. Now, as in times past, we must be people of prayer who humbly serve alongside those in authority for the greater glory of God.

But how do we pray for and work with our government, even when we won’t always agree with its policies or decisions on every point? In Romans 13, the apostle Paul gives us some powerful words by which to measure ourselves as we consider our relationship with the governing authorities. He writes:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God…For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good….They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

Of course, our democratic context is far removed from the totalitarian state under which Paul lived. However, the main thrust of Paul’s message was to help the early Church view their own interactions with the state through the lens of God’s authority, realizing that all human authorities ultimately stand under God’s sovereign reign.  As a result, they were to live as God-honoring citizens who fulfill their duties to the state in a way that ultimately pointed those in power back to the God as the rightful ruler of the universe.

This truth in our current context requires us to engage in the political process as citizens of the Kingdom by playing a transformative role in our society and by pointing all authorities back to God as the ultimate sovereign. We do this not by criticizing and condemning those in authority from afar, but by serving them in ways that ultimately reflect our commitments as members of Christ’s kingdom.

Paul’s words here remind us that those in authority have a staggering responsibility. In verse 4, Paul notes that the authorities have been charged with pursuing justice in a world broken by sin. As such, we should honor them where honor is due and pray for them because they are, ultimately, going to be held accountable by God for their actions.

Because of this incredible responsibility, we, as God’s people, must diligently pray for and lovingly serve those in authority. As President Obama today stands for his inauguration into his second term, we pray for him and for his cabinet and advisors, that they would use their power wisely, exercising justice for all people and pointing them back to God as the source and definer of what true justice ultimately looks like.

Furthermore, we should partner with those in authority as much as possible to pursue ends that advance the kingdom of God. As children of God, we are supposed to have a transformative effect on our society—and that means that we are all called to political engagement.

Of course, sometimes having a transformative effect on society also means holding the authorities accountable and calling them to a higher standard. Martin Luther King Jr., who we also celebrate today, is a model example of this. As a Christian minister, Dr. King understood what it meant to be prophetically engaged with those in Washington. During his last speech, Dr. King spoke these powerful words:

“All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’ If I lived in China or Russia or any totalitarian country maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges because they haven’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”

Dr. King embodied what it means to faithfully and lovingly call our authorities to the greater calling of justice, and to work alongside those who did so. He had plenty to criticize America for, but he chose the difficult road by engaging this broken system rather than standing apart and condemning it. So must we.  In God we trust.

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A Prophet’s Life Verse

This week I have had the privilege of posting on one of my favorite blogs:  “Release the APE”.  I’ve re-posted the piece here, but I encourage you to head over to their website and check it out for yourself.

Jeremiah

Since becoming a Christian I’ve heard lots of people talk about having a “life verse”.  Usually it is a passage of Scripture that they feel embodies their own journey with God.  It could be something that they received at their baptism or during confirmation, but whenever they discovered it has (hopefully) become a motto for how they live as a follower of Jesus.

For a while I was unsure whether I had a life verse or not.  There are tons of passages in the Bible that I love, but a “life verse”?  I wasn’t too sure about that.  And then I attended a staff training event with InterVarsity.  During one of our sessions together we were encouraged to pray for each other.  Eventually it was my turn to be prayed for by my team, so I sat in the middle of the group as the others gathered around and began to pray.

Suddenly, one of them said, “I’m getting the sense that I should pray a verse over you.”  And this is what she read:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.  Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.”
~Jeremiah 1:4-10

I wish I could say that it was a lighting-bolt moment, a moment when the heavens opened and I heard the voice of God.  But honestly, I walked away thinking, “Wow that was cool,” and pretty much forgot about it after that.

That is until I began to transition off of IV staff and into pastoral ministry.  I was taking a look back over my 6 years with InterVarsity and saw a theme:  everywhere I went I was uprooting and tearing down, building and planting.  With each ministry assignment I was questioning old ways of doing things, offering up new and different paradigms, and calling out systems and structures that hindered our witness and were stalling people in their walks with God.  Without realizing it, this verse had become my life verse.

For those who have the prophetic edge to their ministries, I believe that this verse contains within it some important lessons.  But the one that I want to really hone in on is verse 10:  “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  Often, the prophetic calling is described in light of the first portion of this verse:  uprooting and tearing down.  Prophets are talked about as those people who stir things up, get things moving, and critique established structures and paradigms.

As such, being a “prophet” has become pretty sexy in our postmodern, post-churched society.  Nowadays anyone who has an opinion or a bone to pick is a prophet.  In fact, I think being prophetic has started to become a code word for simply being a jerk.  The truth is, just because we have a critique does not mean we are serving in a prophetic way.  Too often would-be prophets have simply absorbed our surrounding culture’s disdain for the church and cynicism toward any kind of structure.  Such an attitude is not redemptive and ultimately does more harm than good.  I say this as someone who has fallen into this trap so many times that I’m a bit embarrassed.  My first two years with InterVarsity I was, for lack of a better word, a jerk.  There was no humility in my work.  I was constantly cutting down what others had to offer.  I was being an idiot.

The truth is, the prophetic calling does involve stirring things up, getting things moving, and critiquing established structures and paradigms.  But it involves something else too:  building and planting.  Prophets are not people who are obsessed with attacking the status quo.  Prophets are people who are captivated by a greater vision of what could be. This is where their desire for movement and change comes from.  It is a putting off of the old ways of the world in the pursuit of the new ways of the Kingdom of God.

The image of building and planting is a powerful one.  Like trees planted near sidewalks, prophets break up the concrete as new roots take hold and the tree expands.  Prophets cultivate the growing of the kingdom of God and, as such, will critique and question things that would seek to hinder that growth, whether within or outside of the church.  But such critique is not malicious or self-serving:  it is always in service to the greater glory of God.

The reality is that being a prophet is hard work.  You can’t just come into a church or organization, spout off your angry platitudes, and run.  You have to commit to the long haul.  Uprooting and planting takes time, patience, gentleness, wisdom, and insight.  It takes submitting ourselves to the timing of the God who calls us.  And it often means that we need to know when to speak and when to listen.  We do all this so that the church might grow, not so that it will be torn down.

This is a calling that will take a life-time to learn.  It will be filled with disappointments and frustrations, difficulties and challenges, hurt, anger, pain, rejection and so forth.  We will make mistakes.  We will hurt others.  We will fall on our faces more times than we can count.  But it is also a calling filled with joy, excitement, and new life as we participate in the work God is doing in making all things new.  That is the life of a prophet and it is a life worth pursuing.

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Losing Our Religion

Losing Our Religion

walking-away

Recent studies are showing that there are a growing number of people in the United States who, when asked about their religious identity, are classifying themselves as “None”.  In light of this growing trend National Public Radio has begun a series entitled “Losing Our Religion” in which several young people who classify themselves as “Nones” share their stories about losing faith or becoming disenchanted with organized religion.

I’ll be honest, listening to these stories was heart breaking.  It reminded me of something that David Kinnaman once said in a talk he was giving:

Today’s young people live in an increasingly complex world.  They want complex answers to complex questions.  And honestly, we as the church are failing them.

Much of what these young people shared was how their churches and religious communities never helped them find meaningful answers to their deepest questions.  Their stories were stories of heartbreak and disillusionment.

As hard as it was for me, as a pastor, to listen to these stories, I was really glad I did.  The truth is, when stories like this go up many evangelical Christians tune out; writing them off as another example of liberal bias in the media and as indicative of the press’s oppositional stance toward religion.  I think this is a sad trend.  We need to listen to these voices.  We need to hear other perspectives.

So, I wanted to ask a question to those of you who have found yourselves turned off by the church:  what caused you to lose your religion?  What is your story?  I genuinely want to hear them and will not judge what you share.

Sound off in the comments below or in the comments section on my Facebook page.

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What Does the Next Generation Want from Your Leadership?

AND book coverI have been reading the book AND:  The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay for our church’s strategic planning team and I came across one page that really struck me.  It spoke about what the next generation of church leaders wants from the present generation of leaders.  I was so moved that I literally highlighted the entire page, partially because this is exactly how I feel as a young pastor, but also because it is a reminder of what I need provide the next generation as I grow as a leader.  Here is what it says:

“Let me give you a few hints as to things that the next generation of church leaders probably don’t want or need from you:  your building (if it carries a big mortgage), your debt, the unchurched culture’s present level of disrespect and disdain for the church, and your parishioners’ apathetic consumer tendencies.  Younger leaders won’t want our iron-clad denominational loyalties, outdated ministerial codes of ethics, insensitive and unrealistic success measurements, or lengthy academic requirements that make them put real life and ministry on hold for a paper degree.  They won’t have much use for our massive wood pulpits, our pews, our individualistic communion trays, or our choir robes.

But here’s what they do want from us:  they will want your Bible commentaries and some use of your buildings, as long as it doesn’t carry a lot of cost or control over their lives.  Other than that, and a little cash, what they want most is your expertise, your mentoring, your encouragement, and a chance to hear the stories that will inform and inspire their leadership roles.  They want tangible memories of how you modeled sacrifice, humility, teachability, risk, and courage in the face of ecclesial political pressure.  They want to be inspired by how you gave away ministry, prestige, and power.  They want to be entrusted with levels of responsibility that make them desperate for God’s help.  They want freedom to invent new ways of cultural engagement, discipleship, and teaching without being belittled if they fail.  They want you to trust them to know how to reach their own generation.  In short, they want a concerned but nurturing coach and someone after whom they can pattern their faith and leadership.  The biggest gift you can hand down is faith.” (Halter and Smay, pg. 199)

Powerful words to live by and strive for.  Thanks to the teachers and mentors who have poured so much into me over the years.  You know who you are and you mean more to me than I can express.

PS Buy the book.  It is worth the read:)

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