Monday, July 06, 2020

Born in the USA...Born Again in the Kingdom of God (Part One)


I’m blessed to have had many profound life defining epiphanies. Indulge me a few moments please, while I share the highlights of a few of these definitions.


Like many of you reading this, I was “born again” into the Kingdom of God. I did not have a single moment altar call experience, but I found the reality of Jesus Christ as a high school kid searching for a way out of a world of internal misery locked up in me. I grew up in a home with significant addiction issues and the “new birth” pains in me led me to a Love in Christ for which I am forever grateful. Trust me…this is a very long story made very short for this blog. 


Now on to another epiphany…


I went to a denominational Bible College who taught me an appreciation for listening to the Holy Spirit…an internal, beautiful, supernatural GPS, if you will. That denomination began the process of ordaining me when (drum roll please) I followed the Holy Spirit to work for a beautiful expression of the Kingdom of God outside the aforementioned denomination. My relationship with them was terminated due to my failure to keep the Kingdom of God as the sole property of their organization. Broke my heart…


But what began as a flood of tears for the loss of that relationship, has evolved into one of the best decisions of my life… and a pattern setting epiphany for my future. The Kingdom of God won my affections, yet again.

You might say, I was born again…again.


Which brings me to another new birth epiphany. After a 38 day fast my wife and I discovered a spiritual family, 1200 miles away, who taught us the phenomenal beauty of the Kingdom of God! And, with yet another long story made short, we happily jettisoned doctrinal/theological confines that had been restricting our full embrace of the Kingdom. 


And you might say, I was born again…again…and again. See a pattern developing here? For the sake of time and space, I’ll need to condense the next few epiphanies…


One day while preparing a sermon on my passion for Pro-life, my internal GPS (Holy Spirit…remember?) whispered, “While you may wax passionate about this, remember there will be women in your audience who have had the heart crushing experience of an abortion. See them with the eyes of Jesus.” 


New birth was the result of months of training myself to walk in that revelation. 


Years later, a local Republican party leader called me and invited me to pray at a George W. Bush reelection rally. Initially, I was all a flutter…but then another request was made; “Could you provide your church’s email/mailing list so we can contact them?” I simply refused to cross that ethical line… and my invitation to be seated on the platform with a President was withdrawn. 


Born again…and so, my political persuasions bowed to a Higher Power.


Fast forward to the night President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by our brave military. When I fist pumped the air, my Holy GPS alerted me; “Recalibration required.” And my life turned abruptly toward a more profound and lovely revelation of the Kingdom of God. 


You see, part of the life in the Kingdom of God is a journey toward, “…they will turn their swords into plowshares…learning war no more…those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” I could’ve remained in the safety of my spiritual womb…or be born again to the Kingdom of God.


More currently, I found myself completely surrounded by an association of people of faith whose mantra was something like this: “Christianity is the same as and equals conservative Republican politics. God has chosen a new President and this is prophetically affirmed.” (See January 11, 2020 blog ~ "This Was Bad Behavior...")


My GPS went off like a tornado siren. 


In this context I have witnessed an avalanche of correlations and equalizations to our nation as it relates to the Kingdom of God. Most are subtle, some are not. I’ve learned an awareness of the subtle hybrids and the blending of America and the Kingdom of God…such as churches where they fly the flag of the USA with the Christian flag symbolically lower as an expression of submission. 


An easy way to apply this is to try this exercise: If the King of any third world nation said, “Our country is the closest thing to the Kingdom of God on earth. We believe we are God’s gift to the world. God has told me I am His chosen and my nation is a chosen people. I’m fairly certain we would laugh him to scorn. 


And yet, similar statements have been made about the USA. “A City set upon a hill” and “the last best hope on earth” to name a few… but these are truths that only apply to the Kingdom of God! 


On a smaller scale, here’s condensation of another example; “the Democrates/Left are an evil force seeking to destroy our nation! Christians must speak up.” Read that again. Just typing it makes my spiritual GPS spin… 


Christians are present in the Democratic Party too. Christians have left-leaning ideas as well. Christians are not the sole possession of any ideology. And the only nation Christians are called to speak up for is…the Kingdom of God. Right leaning and left leaning Christ followers might rally AS ONE declaring, “Jesus Christ is Lord. We have no king but Him.”


I love the USA, but I love the Kingdom of God more. I love our fledgling form of government, but I love the Government that rests upon the shoulders of Jesus more (Isaiah 9). The USA has phenomenal freedoms, potential, and blessings seldom seen on the earth. I know I won the birth lottery when I was born in the USA…


But now, I must chose to be born again into the Kingdom of God. This is a Kingdom of Love seeking full expression “on earth as it is in heaven.” I have discovered that what our King said is profoundly true, “No one can serve 2 masters” (Matthew 6:24). Another way of saying that is, “You can only serve one Higher Power at a time.” (Dr. John MacDougal; Being Sober and Becoming Happy).


My loyalty to Kingdom values will always supersede my love for country. “For God and country” will never be my motto…


 “For God and Kingdom Come” is where I have planted the flag of my heart. 








 


 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

SANCTUARY: A Place of Refuge for Spiritual Refugees

Sunday Night Sanctuary
March 22, 2020

I’ve been painfully aware of the dwindling population among USA churches for the past 2 decades. Prior to that, I lived in a church fantasy world of believing the notion that if we would just, “win the lost at any cost” our pews would always be packed. Well Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore…

To be perfectly blunt right off the bat…the whole approach I just referenced is a value statement related to our decline. “They” versus “us” rather than the collective family of humankind in search of the Sacred, the Divine, the Beauty of God. Winning the lost often looked like counting how many people we could BS into saying the “sinner’s prayer” and receiving Jesus. I’m through with the bait and switch…as well as the other definition of BS.

A professional counselor friend of mine shared a parable fitting for this challenge: “If I’m strolling along a city sidewalk and suddenly I’m confronted with a scene of person after person leaping from a 3rd floor window, falling to certain injury or even death, I do not shame them angrily for being stupid enough to jump…NO! I quickly seek to determine what could be so bad on the 3rd floor of that building that makes jumping seem  preferential over staying up there! 

The church of the west continues to witness a steady “run for your lives” stampede from our once solid sanctuaries. Even a casual internet search bears out my point. Estimates range from 25% to 50% of the next 2 generations have exited organized Christianity. As a pastor of over 45 years, I admit the reality of my own participation in failing to seriously carry out and gather a collective healthy assessment of what could be so bad about who we are that would make a 3rd floor leap seem better than staying… 

As of January 2019 my wife and I left the church we pastored for 30 years and began a journey of discovery. We went out in search of “spiritual refugees”, or the “one sheep”, as described by Jesus. Our promise to any we would find was to “listen and love” as best as we could. No BS and no attempt to shame anyone back to the 3rd floor. Did we find dysfunctional excuses or blame without appropriate self evaluation? Of course! But I’d propose we are ALL  guilty of that, now and then. 

However, the great majority of those we have found represent a very real demand for an authentic renewal in the western Church. In ways great and small, multitudes are isolated within the church walls or simply walking away. They aren’t rebels flicking the bird at a steeple…they’re treasures with stories too compelling to ignore any longer. 

We were always supposed to be a “city of refuge” and a sanctuary for the pursuit of a beautiful spirituality. Many of them (myself included) believed the church would be a beautiful sanctuary for restoration but found too many sad compromises from that purpose to tolerate any longer. 

What compromises? Here’s a partial list of what my wife and I have discovered:

  1. Commitments to purity, culture wars, righteousness, and a determination to change everyone else to make them look like us. For instance, the “LGBTQ agenda” became our war cry against human beings made in the image of God rather than a construct for the potential of healthy, adult conversations. Think about it; the woman at the well (John 5) represented everything a good Jewish boy should shun! But Jesus took the risk of a healthy adult conversation that demonstrated his genuine interest in her life’s journey. I’ve learned to listen to ONE person sitting in front of me rather than fighting a group and their agenda. The more I fight a group, the less I’ll be trusted with one person coming to me with a trust for love. More to unpack about this at another time…
  2. Political marriage for the purpose of national influence. I do not care which side of the spectrum we’ve married, it was not a marriage made in heaven. “No one can serve 2 masters” according to Jesus, yet we’ve been determined to prove Him wrong. The Kingdom of God introduced by King Jesus can certainly participate and influence systems around us with salt and light…but we can only serve one higher power at a time. To hear some preach, you’d think the call to follow Jesus is stone cold equal to becoming a card carrying Republican. No! Two masters is one too many. More to unpack about this at a later time…
  3. Pure and simple ~ a failure to grow in an honest pursuit of LOVE. Loving our neighbor, our enemy, ourselves and God. Love; the final reality. Love alone is credible. Love; the ONE value Jesus proclaimed as THE value of His people. MUCH more to unpack about this at another time… 
In order to unpack the above (and more) we are offering Sunday Night Sanctuary. Stop by beginning Sunday March 22, 2020 at my Facebook page from 6pm to 7pm CST.


The definition of sanctuary is simply this; a sacred refuge and a space to become a whole spiritual human being. My wife and I want to do our best to provide that kind of space. A sacred place for becoming, belonging, and loving toward a dynamic of living beautifully and powerfully. During this time very Sunday night we’ll offer prayers, confessions, messages, and Communion toward that end. A brief Sanctuary to build upon for a lifetime of sanctuary Love. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sunday Night Sanctuary

Sunday Night Sanctuary

As of January 2019 my wife and I left the church we pastored for 30 years and began a journey of discovery. We went out in search of “spiritual refugees”, or the “one sheep”, as described by Jesus. Our promise to any we would find was to “listen and love” as best as we could. 

At first we went out to meet one on one, then it progressed to a group, and then to other personal contacts as schedules and life allowed. We’ll still attempt all of the above but as life allows today, in the day of COVID-19, the idea struck us like the promise of Spring ~ meet online, via Facebook Live (to start off) and provide a Sanctuary; a spiritual refuge for these refugees. 

The definition of sanctuary is simply this; a sacred refuge and a space to become a whole spiritual human being. My wife and I want to do our best to provide that kind of space. A sacred place for becoming, belonging, soul food and loving toward a dynamic of living beautifully and powerfully. During this hour every Sunday night we’ll offer prayers, confessions, messages, and Communion toward that end. A brief Sanctuary to build upon for a lifetime of sanctuary Love. 


So, stop by beginning Sunday March 22, 2020 at my Facebook page from 6pm to 7pm CST. 

Monday, March 02, 2020

Make choices out of clear headed, freedom based thinking ...

I just read another post/Tweet loaded with a command from “God” to vote for President Trump; unequivocally, unquestionably, and without a slight consideration for any other thought or choice. This post, along with dozens of others like it I’ve seen, makes it clear that any other choice is only a choice for evil. It places shame on anyone whose thoughts may be tempted to consider the dark side beyond “God’s choice” in President Trump. 

Read this carefully... I completely disagree with this process of shame based, broken rationale. Everyone, please...make your choices out of clear headed, freedom based thinking. When any church demands conformity for political ideals, run away from those demands and *think* for yourself. Vote President Trump, Joe, Mike, Bernie, etc...because you alone believe in your choice. You...alone...believe...in your choice. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

"This Was Bad Behavior. We Are Sorry. Please Forgive Us."

At age 66 I've lived through more public church scandals than I care to list. All embarrassing, some catastrophic, and some requiring serious legal action. But none of them are akin to what I'm witnessing now. Today's scandal is far and away more baffling than any I've ever witnessed before.

This is NOT a political statement. This IS the voice of a pastor/elder/bishop with 45 years of experience struggling to speak truth for whoever has an ear to hear. This IS also one of the greatest heartaches I have experienced in my role of "preacher."

The doubled down, overtly "prophesied", spiritualized endorsement of President Trump by some high profile church leaders and their followers is a sadness that will haunt the Body of Christ for decades to come. Those of us who did not join this chorus will spend an inordinate amount of our future making sure that our listeners knew exactly how we felt about this but ALL of us will be picking up the pieces for a very long time.

When prophets declare our 45th President to be the Isaiah 45 Cyrus, we have sadly diminished our potential witness. When ecclesiastical leaders hold church rallies for the faithful to cheer and chant with near worship like praise for President Trump, we have placed a bushel over our lamp. When prophetic words are wrapped around the realities of this national political duress in an attempt to make it look like something other than it really is...AND, when TV preachers look at the camera and declare, "If you don't support our President, I doubt your salvation", the Good News becomes the evening news excusing thousands MORE of a generation who are already walking away, to break into a full sprint.

I am a lifelong pentecostal/charismatic believer. I LOVE the Holy Spirit and all the gifts and fruit available to me by the Spirit's power. Early in my training I was taught a simple principle of the prophetic; "No mates or dates." By definition and extension that meant, "NEVER use the Spirit for control, whether subtle or otherwise, for any kind of gain over a flock or person." NEVER. But what is happening now is well beyond "mates or dates"...some are in a full scale attempt at political endorsement via the Holy Spirit's gifts.

I repeat ~ this is NOT a political statement. Endorse anyone for any office you'd like, in your own name but NEVER in the Name of Jesus Christ. NEVER.

We have one way out of this embarrassment, one statement to attempt at making this right, and one opportunity to heal this terrible behavior. Even those of us who have not participated in this can participate in a solution. I'm not a Catholic priest but I am a member of the Universal/Catholic Church and as such, I have often offered apologies (for whatever it is worth) for the broken and evil behavior of clergy abuse. In that spirit, I invite all my sisters and brothers in Christ to the following effort...

As soon as possible and with as many of us as who are brave enough to do so, I believe we must say with authentic humility, "This was bad behavior. We are sorry. Please forgive us."

Sunday, January 05, 2020

21st Century Magi

To all who feel like a homeless spiritual troupe wandering/wondering with a simplicity of love for God BUT uncomfortable with and wary of brittle fundamentalism waving swords of Bible proof texts, BE OF GOOD CHEER. The Magi/Kings/Wisemen of the Christmas story are our forerunners. 

They had no Bible or established religious support for their journey...just a curious star in the night sky. They are the ultimate party crashers. No formal invitation except their deep contrarian spiritual instincts. They stepped onto a stage of profound harsh "Religion Inc." so bound up with Bible proof texts that the ultimate promise of the Bible, sleeping in a manger, was completely missed by professional blindness... in spite of the astrological radiance in the inky black skies. 

The Magi of the 21st century are still searching for the real Jesus. Modern Wise People are suspicious of political power brokers trying to trick them and those who posture for positional influence. They're looking for something unassuming, without the sound and fury of political noise. They are more at home finding a teenaged mama holding her baby who is being sought out by grave-yard shift workers who smell of livestock. 

21st Century Magi have traveled from strange places, long emotional distances, and refuse to be denied. They don't look or dress like "us" so they surely don't appear to fit in. But to ignore them is to ignore a future as bright as EVERY STAR in the sky!

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Potential of Ragged, Reckless Love

Very early in my journey of faith (circa 1970’s) I was confronted by the fundamentalist doctrinal establishment of the denomination God was using to draw me to Himself when I heard (loud and clear I might add) that divorce was a clear “Biblical” infraction. So clear an infraction that it would forbid anyone from serving in any leadership level in a local assembly. 

In Bible College, when I verbally noted (in contrast to this hard nosed view) that recovering drug addicts were beautifully preaching and leading us in a vibrant renewal, I was told that I was “young in the faith” and naive. And, after all, there was a "clear Bible teaching" about marriage and divorce. 

Well, I’ve observed that today’s “clear Biblical teaching” can easily become tomorrow’s sad commentary on our lack of love. There are so many examples I could cite …like racially mixed marriages (clear Bible teaching), men with long hair (clear Bible teaching), worldly entertainment (clear Bible teaching)... just to name a few.


What if today’s limited understanding of a wide range of cultural challenges will one day be compared to the ignorance about racial integration in the USA from the 1950’s and ’60’s? We had Bible verses! What if we’re so afraid of the extremes, the aberrations, and the fear mongering that we can’t see ONE person sitting in front of us asking for love? Asking for acceptance? Asking for a simple margin of patience from us while they sort out the madness (ours, theirs, and the wide world)?

Love refuses to lump anyone into a monolithic category. Love floods our vision with insight, sight into, and simply SEEING that one person beyond any and all character assumptions and assassinations. Love respects ALL humans even when a Bible verse seems to disrespect that very same human being. Love never fails.