"In your face" Jesus Style Mercy and Social Justice Ministry

"Bible education?"  We've got a program for that.

"Feeding the homeless?"  We've got a program for that.

"Seniors ministry?"  We've got a program for that.

"Greeting first time visitors?" We've got a program for that.

"Community outreach?"  We don't currently have that, but give us 6 months and we'll put a committee together to form a program for that.

Over the years I've come to notice that as the church, we love having "programs."  I'm not even sure many of us could define the word "program."   However, there is one thing we know, is that if there is a problem we are trying to solve, we know that a program will fix it.

Programs have become our one indispensable tool that we use on everything, and fulfills the prophecy that says if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will begin to look like a nail.  And if we don't have a program for something as a church, we tend to let things fall to the wayside, as collectively, we can only do so much.

Please don't get me wrong.  I think programs are great, and I believe they are Biblical. Organizing a group of mutually interested people to solve a problem, pooling mutual resources, and working together as a community, we can often do more together than we can individually.  We need food pantries, we need community outreach programs, and all these sort of things.

However, there still remains much for us to do at the individual level.  As much as we need church programs, we also have a great need for "in your face" Jesus style mercy and social justice ministry.

Jesus once said:

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' " ~ (Matthew 25:34-40; NASB)

One thing that has always stuck out to me regarding this passage is the very intimate and personal nature in which the followers of Jesus are supposed to reach out to people.

Jesus said "I was hungry, and YOU gave ME something to eat... I was thirsty, and YOU gave ME something to drink..."

There is something very one on one and up close and personal about this.   I, you, me.

I believe in my heart of hearts we need to reach out to people and connect with them in a way that programs simply will not allow.  Programs tend to get boxy and have steps and procedures and regulations and chains of command.  Programs become filled with red tape, and and as we institutionalize outreach, we sometimes make it impossible to reach out to people to meet their individual needs.

As a result, even our best of programs have tons of cracks for people to fall through, and if the program you have does not match the person, that person will become further neglected, marginalized, and unreached.

Jesus calls on us as individuals to reach out to individuals.

If we see somebody is in need, Jesus doesn't want us to simply refer them to a church or government program.  Rather, we need to look and see if there isn't a way that you as a person can meet them where they are at and help them.  You can feed them, you can give them something to drink, you can give them a place to stay, you can put clothes on their back, you can spend time with them when they are sick, you can visit them in prison.

You.... you... you!  This is one of the few times in the Bible that we read where it's really all about you.

You don't have to wait for the church or the government to solve the problems people and society face, rather you as an individual can look solve these problems at an individual level, within whatever sphere of influence you have.  You may not do a lot to fundamentally transform society and reach the masses, but you will be performing a service as if unto Jesus Himself.  And if we as individuals in the church all stepped up to do this, who knows to what degree society might be quietly changed and transformed.  I'm pretty sure there is a parable or two in the Bible where Jesus talked this sorta thing.

So, if you consider yourself a "social justice advocate" and think everybody should make a living wage, then when you go out to a restaurant to eat, instead of sitting back and dreaming about a democratic socialist utopia in which president Bernie Sanders leads a revolution that sticks it to greedy corporate fat cats, and forces them to better pay their employees, when you go out to eat at a restaurant, you could make it a point to leave a VERY generous tip (much more than 20%), regardless of how well your waiter performs, or the size of your food order.

Or if you think a particular government agency does a great job at something, and you really like what they do, you could always make a very generous donation to the IRS, and pay the tax level that you want to pay, instead of sitting around and waiting for the government to raise taxes on everyone else.

Or, if you think that college should be free, you could always head down to your local college registrars office, and find out the names of some students who need some tuition assistance this year, and bless one of those students with a scholarship or grant funded by you.

Likewise, if you think medicine should be socialized, there is nothing stopping you from randomly paying the bills of a stranger or somebody you know at the hospital.

Go, do these things.  Stop waiting for some program to be formed that addresses all these issues and ministers justice and mercy to others.  Rather, be an angel of mercy yourself.  Practice justice yourself.  Find individuals wherever they are at, be it friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even complete strangers, and think of ways that you as an individual can serve them even as Jesus would serve them.

Learn from Jesus, who when He healed the multitudes, He never did this by just waving His hand over an entire crowd and making everybody whole.  Rather, He did this by going through a crowd, and one by one, He touched people where they were at.  He ministered to people face to face, and He took the time to care for each person as an individual.  He didn't wait for a committee to organize something.  He was proactive, and took it upon Himself to do these things, because He knew that is what the Father wanted Him to do.

What does God the Father want you to do?  What has He purposed in your heart?  Who has He put in your life, that you know has a need?  Who can you reach out to as an individual?  Where can you make the difference?  Don't wait for a program to be organized to solve social ills that you have identified.  Don't simply talk a good game.  Put your hand to the plow, and work the field that is yours to work.



Lights. Cameras. Action.

I could be talking about the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon;  I could be talking about U2 in concert;  Or, I could be talking about your local Sunday morning worship service.

And in many ways these days, there's an increasing lack of difference between the two.

A dozen or so people may appear on stage on any given Sunday.  But for those dozen people appearing on stage, there is a supporting cast consisting of dozens more that are making the entire performance possible week after week.

Increasingly, churches no longer just have worship leaders and choir directors.  They have executive musicians, creative directors, audio/video technicians, graphic artists, and just about everything else that you need to pull off a full blown live production of a TV quality show or musical concert.

Worship has become a form of entertainment.

You may not pick up on it, but you hear it in the voice of every pastor who stands up and says "We guarantee the exact same experience at all 5 of our worship experiences this weekend!"

Oh really?  I'm glad.  Jesus and the apostles never did such a thing.  And with my busy life, I wouldn't want to miss out on something, as if coming to church were no different than watching my favorite TV show.  I would hate to think another church service heard a different set of songs than I got to hear.

And churches know that in order to compete with the church down the street, they will have to pull out a more elaborate production.  These are the "worship wars" of the early 21st century.

Worship has become an event to be performed and a commodity to be packaged and sold instead of a faithful expression of the locally gathered communion of the saints, who corporately assemble together to worship the Lord, and to allow heaven and earth to be bridged together in Him as they stand in His presence and minister.

Worship has become a thing for young hipster artists to perform, instead of a service offered to God by consecrated priests who know what it is like to minister to the Lord and to one another.

Gone are the little old ladies with a special song in their heart.  Instead, American Idol rejects literally dot our church stages all across the country and have taken their place.  Many of them know how to perform, and they will gladly do so for a few bucks (because it's probably one of the few musical "gigs" that they can make regular money from), but few understand how to minister as a priest standing before God.  Few understand how to bring heaven and earth together.  Instead, they know how to create sensual and emotionally manipulative environments, in which they substitute fog machines for the Holy Spirit.  And they measure success by the size of the crowd, how many people put their arms up in the air and sing along, and how many people bought this year's CD...  just like you would at a U2 concert.

Real priests aren't fooled by such things.  They know there is an utter simplicity in worship, and that God shows up powerfully in the everyday normal-ness of life.  They aren't as concerned about the size of the crowd as they are about what happens whenever two or three gather together in the name of the Lord.

They know stories involving guys like the biblical patriarch Jacob, who was simply camping out one night while on a journey, and woke up the next morning after having an amazing dream in which he saw a stairway linking heaven and earth together, and concluding "the Lord is in this place."  As a result, he built a makeshift altar of sacrifice from the rock he was sleeping on from the night before.  He used what was simply on hand and what was what was just laying around.  And he called that place Bethel, or "The House of God." It became a notable place of worship for centuries to come, yet it was very unassuming and unimpressive in every sense of the word.  But God was there!

Simplicity, not extravagance, should be the hallmark of our churches and our worship experiences.  

Worship services should consist, not of elaborate productions with professional musicians and top talent imported from afar, but of amateur saints who have grown up together in the local community, and simply want to share Christ together in mutual celebration.

Anything else might just be worship-tainment.


What Foster Care taught me about the Importance of Love

I'll never forget little Cheyenne...

We called her "little" because she was the younger of two different foster care girls named Cheyenne that my parents briefly took care of in our home at the same time.  Cheyenne was about 5 or 6 years old or so at the time we had her.  She came into our home shortly after some guy who frequented a local drug store, the kind run out of a hotel bedroom, reported her whereabouts to the authorities.

You see, at some point Cheyenne's mom came to the same hotel to engage in some "business" there.  And when she left, she didn't take Cheyenne with her.  She left Cheyenne with the drug dealers.  One of their frequent customers noticed this little girl was there quite often, and knew she didn't belong to any of the dealers.  Feeling concerned about her well being, he alerted the authorities, who came in and rescued Cheyenne out of that awful situation.

Cheyenne was a very sweet little girl.  She had a very vibrant and energetic personality.  But Cheyenne came to us with a lot of baggage, and was very broken as a result of her past, a past that nobody but Jesus quite knows about, as nothing is really know about her prior to her being found in that hotel.

We really liked this little girl.  Unfortunately, Cheyenne was unable to stay with my family for a long time, as she simply became too much for us to care for.  One day out of the blue, Cheyenne had a deep psychotic episode of some sort.

It was normal for Cheyenne to have "episodes," and my parents had been trained on how to help her when she had these events.  But one day she finally had an episode that she simply did not come back from.  She snapped, and became extremely physically violent and insanely loud.  Her strength was akin to the "lunatic" that Jesus healed in the Gospels.  My mother was unable to successfully use any of the techniques she had learned from her foster care classes to fully and safely restrain Cheyenne.  So, in an act of desperation, we were finally able to isolate Cheyenne in her bedroom while my mother alerted the authorities.  To keep her in her room, I used all 200+ lbs of my five foot eleven frame to physically pull the door shut and to keep it shut.  But much to my surprise, Cheyenne suddenly jerked the door from the other side and opened it up on me, and screamed at me really loudly, before I managed to pull it back shut on her.  It was like something out of a scary movie.

Shortly thereafter, a team of medics showed up to our home, and it took about 6 people to physically restrain her and tie her down to a stretcher.  They loaded her up in an ambulance, and we never saw little Cheyenne again.

Over the years, I've reflected on this event from time to time, and have been taught several lessons from it.  One of those lessons is the importance of love, and it's ability to mold lives, and impact a thousand generations.

The world is full of Cheyenne's.

It is full of people who, for whatever reason, simply have not had the blessing of being deeply loved.  And not only have they not been loved, but they've been neglected and abused at very crucial points in their lives.  Things have happened to them that will forever shape the rest of their lives in this world in a very negative way.  And not only will it greatly impact their lives, but it will impact many lives for many generations to come.

God only knows what happened to Cheyenne when she was being cared for by some drug dealers.  I shudder simply thinking about it.  And, God only knows what sort of care Cheyenne received before then at the hands of her mother.

I don't know anything about Cheyenne's mom.  Nobody really does.  But my guess is that at some point in her life, she didn't know what it truly was to be loved, and as a result, lacked the ability to give that gift to her daughter.  I assume she probably "meant well" in her brief parenting of this little girl.  But at some point those good intentions failed, and that love that God intended a mother to give to her child was forever stolen, and it will forever remain a very important missing piece of the life Cheyenne should have had.

I don't know what happened to this little girl that stayed in our house.

Sadly, I don't imagine much of anything good ever came of her.  I'm sure some doctors were eventually able to medicate her enough to the point where they stabilized her behavior.  And she probably was eventually placed back in foster care.  If Cheyenne was lucky, she might have been adopted by a loving family capable of caring for such a child.  But if she wasn't, and she continued to have episodes, there is a good chance she was eventually placed in a "group home" with a bunch of children just like her.  Such isn't exactly a great environment for children to grow up in.  Eventually little Cheyenne probably aged out of the system, and has since become a young adult, and is looking to find her place in this world.

And she's probably doing this without knowing what it's like to have ever been deeply loved. But in her gut, as someone created in the image of God, she probably knows that love is something that exists, and she will probably seek it out in a million different places.  Not knowing love, she will probably encounter a lot of coldness from a lot of people who could seem to care less about her.  And at some point, quite unintentionally, she will probably have a child one day, and the cycle she's caught up in will be passed along to the next generation, and a thousand generations after that.

Imagine how different little Cheyenne's life could have been, if she had simply been loved as God intended her parents to love her.  We live in a world full of such people.  And as Christians, God has called us to share the love He has shared with us to a world that desperately needs what we've been so richly given in Christ.

So the next time you interact with somebody, be it at work, at church, the stranger on the street, or even someone you deem to be your enemy, be reminded that there are a lot of people out there who know little to nothing of love.  Especially people who prove to be difficult to handle, and have abrasive personalities.  That person could be little Cheyenne, all grown up.

Knowing such things, let us make sure we pass along the love we have so richly received in Christ to people wherever we may go.  And we need to do so purposefully, and actively, not as passive folks who just so happen to treat other people nice from time to time.  But as people who intentionally love on as many people as we can.  And in doing so, we might just snatch a life out of the claws of the devil, and help to rewrite the future history of this world, as they come to know the love that God has for them through us, and we give them a love that nobody bothered to give them.


Cutting through the Crap and the mass Hysteria over North Carolina's HB2 Bill and Charlotte's Potty Ordinance!

Recently the North Carolina Governor and legislators passed the controversial "HB2 Bill" (you can read the full bill here).  The bill overturns a recent city ordinance in Charlotte, NC which allowed transgender individuals access to the restroom of their choice on publicly owned property, and made LGBT individuals a special protected class of individuals within the city limits, granting them additional civil rights protections that are not specifically granted to them by the state.

There has been a lot of uproar and anger over this bill.  The legislation is considered so awful, one would think Donald Trump wrote and approved this bill.

The LGBT lobby and Charlotte City Council (with mayor Jennifer Roberts) has whipped up the media into a frenzy over the perceived attack on the LGBT community and their civil rights.  Opposition to the bill has created a lot of made for TV drama, which the media has pounced on with great vigor, as it makes for great ratings and internet click-bait.

Petitions have been circulated in which major corporations CEO's, such as those at Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Facebook, Apple, have signed, expressing their concerns over the HB2 ordinance.  A lot of companies have threatened to take some of their future business elsewhere because of this legislation, which is considered a "step backwards" for LGBT civil rights in the state of North Carolina.  The legislation is considered hurtful, hateful, bigoted, and something that may potentially cripple the economy of North Carolina.

That's a lot of rhetoric to digest.  Now, let's cut through the crap.

Here are some problems I have with the HB2 Legislation, the Charlotte city ordinance. and a lot of the rhetoric/hysteria I see on both sides of the issue:

1) The only possibly negative thing the HB2 legislation actually does is take away the power of local cities in North Carolina to draft their own civil rights ordinances, and makes that as something that can only be done at the state level.  As a conservative leaning individual, I actually find this part of the HB2 bill somewhat troubling, as I believe in the rights of local government to make whatever laws they deem fit.  The city of Charlotte should reserve the right and power to create any ordinance it wishes dictating who can pee where.  Such power shouldn't be stripped away by the bigger state government.  Such an idea is actually anti-conservative, which is ironic considering it was legislation passed by an allegedly conservative leaning Republican government.

2) The LGBT crowd still has all the exact same rights they have always had in North Carolina.  This is simply true, no matter how much somebody may hee-and-haw over the HB2 bill.  LGBT individuals have had the same rights they've always had in North Carolina.  Some might not consider this much, but the truth is, they have the same rights as all their heterosexual neighbors have.  Period. End of story.  Anybody who says otherwise is simply lying.

3) The Charlotte City ordinance actually made transgender individuals a special protected class, giving them "more rights" than their non-transgender neighbors.  Now, this is something that is lost on many.  The city of Charlotte granted transgender individuals the right to use the bathroom of their preferred gender identity.  But in doing this, they were granting some of its citizens rights not afforded to others.  It allows transgender individuals to use the public restroom of their choice, which is not a right afforded to non-transgender individuals. Such is actually reverse discrimination.  If transgender individuals are reserved the right to use the bathroom of their choice, then non-transgender individuals must be afforded the same right.

4) Heterosexuals and the LGBT community were actually in the same discriminatory boat!  Prior to the city ordinance passed by Charlotte, a business could refuse to serve you or let you work at their establishment on the basis of your sexual orientation.  So, if you were gay, and somebody didn't want to do business with you because you were gay, they reserved that right.  You could be fired from your job for being gay.  But likewise, under the law, a business could refuse to do business with you because you were straight!  Under the Charlotte city ordinance, businesses could no longer consider your orientation a factor in their decision to serve you as a customer or employ you as an employee.  However, in saying this, one must realize, the knife cut both ways.  Without the city ordinance, businesses reserve the right to continue to discriminate against those who they do business with on the basis of their sexual orientation, no matter which direction that orientation swings, whether gay or straight.   Now that the ordinance has been struck down, your employer could fire you for being gay... but they could also fire you for being straight. And while it is very unlikely either is to ever happen, it could happen.  North Carolina is an "at will" employment state, meaning an employer can refuse to employ you for just about any reason at all (except over protected issues, like race and religion).  

5) Big corporations are engaging in very selective ethics. In reality, many are moral cowards only looking to make a buck.  A lot of big businesses have come out and voiced their opposition to the ordinance.  They've suddenly become civil rights leaders.  But make no mistake, they are only doing such for two reasons:   One, it's a great PR stunt, in which they get to stand before the cameras as champions of LGBT civil rights.  Second, they are scared to death to not oppose HB2, as the LGBT lobby is quite powerful, and these businesses are afraid of what would happen to their profit margins and stock prices if they were seen as being on the wrong side of a very public and personal policy debate.  In truth, many of these corporations are being hypocrites and moral cowards. Most probably don't care about anybody's civil rights, which is why many corporations such as Apple and Facebook, happily engage in business relationships with countries like China, a nation that is a gross violator of civil liberties of everybody everywhere, and these CEO's gladly turn a blind eye to the plight of the people there... because at the end of the day, they just want to make a buck, and will gladly do business with countries like China, never mind how they actively oppress billions of people.

6) North Carolina's economy isn't going to go belly up anytime soon because of this legislation.  In spite of the Charlotte Observer and Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts practically begging businesses to threaten to leave North Carolina over the HB2 bill (they need the leverage), the truth of the matter is that very few will do so.  North Carolina remains the same state the day it was before Charlotte passed it's city ordinance, and it is the same state since the HB2 bill struck it down.  Everybody still has the same rights they've always had.  And the state remains the same attractive place for businesses to do business, which is why it's population and economy has boomed over the last few decades.  Yes, a few businesses may limit their involvement in the economy of North Carolina in very selective ways.  But such will probably only be temporary and short term in nature, and very few dollars will be lost from North Carolina as a result.  For once the issue runs its length through the courts, and the hysterical attitude of some groups dies down in the media, then everything will return to normal, and will be as it was before.  I'd be willing to bet good money that North Carolina's economy continues to grow over the next several years, regardless of what happens around this legislation.  Why?  Because as I pointed out above, most businesses are going to continue to do what is best for their profit margins and stock prices, because they really don't care all that much about civil rights of anybody.  They mostly care about making money, and will engage in whatever activity allows them to make the most.

7) There isn't anything to be afraid of in the bathroom! The city ordinance was unnecessary to begin with, and so is the fear over children being sexually assaulted.  While it seems to be statistically true that transgender individuals might be a little bit safer by using the bathroom of the gender they identify with, such protections as granted under the Charlotte city ordinance are entirely unnecessary.  We already have laws against assault and battery.  It's a crime to attack somebody simply because they dress differently than other people and appear to be in the wrong bathroom... or any other reason. Therefore, transgender individuals are already protected under the law, just like everybody else is, and allowing them to use the bathroom of their choice is not necessary.  Likewise, the hysteria of some groups who worry about women and children being sexually exploited in the bathroom by a pervert is unnecessary, as we also already have laws against such things as well.  And while it may also create a safer environment to keep individuals of the opposite sex out of your bathroom, let's not forget that people are much more likely to be sexually exploited by somebody they know and trust than they are a random stranger in the bathroom.  The fears of both groups simply aren't based in reality, and are far too melodramatic.  and in my opinion, the odds of anybody ever being assaulted for any reason in a public bathroom are so low that no politician should be concerned over the issue from a public policy and safety perspective.  The bathroom just isn't that dangerous of a place, no matter who uses it.

8) There isn't anything in the Bible that says who should pee where!  It may come as a shock to some of my fellow Christians, but there isn't anything in the Bible that says that bathrooms must be gender specific.  So, seriously, simmer down on the rhetoric and the outrage.  It's entirely unnecessary, and you aren't standing up for Jesus by crying out against transgender individuals and which bathroom they should or should not use.  You are actually making Jesus and yourself look bad.  Personally, I think public restrooms should discriminate on the basis of one's personal plumbing, but I believe that such is simply as a matter of common decency and privacy that should be afforded to each gender in using common public restrooms.  And such is simply my personal opinion.  I don't claim it's the opinion of Jesus.

In my final opinion on the matter, if both sides cannot ultimately agree over this issue, then public restrooms need to be made completely gender neutral, with privacy dividers that completely separate each stall, so nobody has to worry about seeing anything they don't want to see or have anybody else see.  It's really very simple.  That way nobody feels discriminated against, and nobody has to worry about their public safety, or in anyway being violated.

Of course, as a guy, that's really going to stink for me, as I enjoy the quick moving lines at sporting events and other venues.  But I would rather have that than the mass hysteria we are seeing in public. This is definitely not an issue worth coming unglued over.  And I would really like to see both sides hash this issue out in a much more respectful way, without employing hateful rhetoric, or threatening economic sanctions against the state of North Carolina.  North Carolina is actually a great place to live, work, and play.  It's a state that is friendly for Christians, transgender individuals, straight people, and homosexuals.

If you think otherwise, something is seriously wrong with your noggin.