We are awaiting the transition from the earthly and imperfect; to the eternal and perfect. The paradox of the Christian life is that though we die, death does not have the final word. Just as the weakness of the cross gave way to the power of the resurrection, we have the same hope in Jesus. And that is why despite our earthly struggles, we do not lose hope in our eternal future.
As a pastor and someone who travels the world, I am aware of the profound struggles and suffering many people face. And let us face it, this is a traumatic time.
For as long as I can remember, I have battled with cycles of depression to varying degrees. I recently just came through two of the worst and longest-lasting episodes in quite a while. Two of the lowest points in my life during these cycles were the day my first book, a book on Hope, was published and my master’s degree graduation day. What should have been two of the most joyful days of my life were instead two of the most depressing days of life.
Have you ever thought of faith being creative? Or how about the need for faith to be demonstrated in a creative way? I think many times we get stuck in the same routines and traditions that we fail to think outside the box and find new ways of doing things. Or maybe we see certain needs but think we are powerless to do anything about it and we give up rather than get creative.
Pentecost means there is a way to be brought together around the person of Jesus, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of our Father in heaven. It means we can worship and fellowship with those different than us. You cannot choose your family. And neither can you choose your brothers and sisters in Christ. When was the last time you worshiped with those who viewed life differently than you, spoke a different language, have a different culture and life experiences, or even a different political view?
Greetings from Nigeria, the country with the largest population in Africa! I just wrapped up my first international trip in a YEAR due to COVID. It was so good to get back out there on behalf of ServeNow, the mission organization I lead. Being ServeNow has always heavily emphasized serving in, with, and through national leaders and churches, we have been able to carry on our work without skipping too much of a beat over this last year. In fact, we served far more people in the previous year over COVID than even the year before COVID! It may have looked different, but the impact is still just as incredible, if not more so than years past.
I believe if there is one universal need right now in these turbulent times, it is true hope. The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13 boiled down the Christian life to the three most essential and irreplaceable basics: faith, hope, and love. But where do we find that hope? Or, how can our hope be renewed? My book tackles those questions and more through real life stories from around the world via the international mission organization I lead called ServeNow, and stories from those I know here in the US.
The only word or phrasing that I think comes close to what pastors and leaders will have to deal with is the reality of an age of cultism. In my opinion, I think a case can be made that cultic like behavior is manifesting and growing more and more. At the least, which I have written about in past articles, we see identity politics influencing more and more people on both the right and left. In this article, I will briefly share some of those cult-like characteristics. However, I want to focus more on some possible solutions going forward. My fear is that violence and division will only increase, not decrease, unless a different kind of radical change happens in our hearts, lives, and worldviews. Really, at the root of it all is that of idolatry. Our hope is being misplaced. The level of fear and anxiety is disproportionate to reality, driven by much misinformation and misguided in its focus.
Over the last couple of years, I have mostly been vocal about the dangers and idolatry of much of the evangelical conservative church wedding themselves to politics and its damage to our witness. I have also been vocal about our call as believers to serve the most vulnerable, whether refugees, immigrants, the disadvantaged, persecuted, or the oppressed. I have preached that racism has no place in our hearts, lives, families, or churches, even when it has cost me relationships and support. However, there is another philosophy on the other side making a lot of inroads among a portion of the church and believers in the US.
The good news of Christmas, the Good News of the Gospel, is that Christ has come for all, and all can come to him by faith in hope and find rest for their weary souls. This is the very promise of Christ himself. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Besides COVID in 2020, perhaps the next thing that has taken our culture by storm is “Baby Yoda!” Our family just returned from a trip to Disney World, and yes, we enjoyed Galaxies Edge where we got to pretend like we were in Star Wars! Perhaps that is part of why I cannot help but think as Christmas approaches, there are certain similarities between this “special child” in a galaxy far far away and the real Chosen Child born here on earth over 2,000 years ago.
2020 will be a year that will go down in history as the year of COVID-19! What a year it has been. 2020 has been full of challenges, uncertainty, disrupted plans, canceled trips, restrictions, limitations, hoarding, hunger, pivots, conspiracy theories, emotion, drama, protests, politics, riots, and our rights. And all in an election year, which added fuel to the fire! In this article, I want to reflect on some of these central themes and lessons I have learned from a Christian perspective and what I hope might be a helpful perspective for you as well.
I am so excited to announce the arrival of my first book, Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World! In this blog post, I want to give you a little of the backstory and context for why I wrote this book, along with the Founder (Lars Dunberg) of the mission organization I lead, called ServeNow.
God has his own Sovereign purpose and plans for whoever is in power! Sometimes those reasons or purposes can be hard to see, but even more so when we are blinded by our own political doctrine or agenda. Our job as followers of King Jesus is not to fight the good fight of politics; but to fight the good fight of faith, no matter what happens. In other words, we are called to remain faithful to Jesus no matter who is in power, and no matter what policies might be prevailing in the land. Some things are more important than politics.
I loathe election years, and in general American politics. But it is not politics itself that I see as the problem. Instead, it is the relationship of the evangelical church in the United States to politics. I believe the great sin of the American church is an obsession with power and politics.
These are embarrassing and sad days for the church of Jesus Christ in America. These are days we may look back upon with deep shame. But when that day comes, it may be what finally brings us to our knees in recognizing our need for the only one with power to save, heal, redeem, restore, and deliver. We need Jesus. Only Jesus.
Take whatever challenges COVID has meant in the US and multiply that by at least 10X or more in other parts of the world. Additionally, it has officially been projected that an additional 130 million people (double last year) could be facing acute hunger (starvation) this year worldwide. In just one Asian country where the mission organization I lead serves, it is estimated that 300,000 children could die in the next 6 months. 350 million people in this one country alone are being thrust back below the poverty line of less than $2 a day.
However, the verse that most struck me and has stayed with me is how, the Lord had promised to keep the lamp of David’s kingdom burning brightly. Amid human failure, was still divine faithfulness! Among a people who had lost their way was a promise that not all was lost. Towards a nation living beneath their calling, was a word of eternal hope.
We have elevated lesser earthly values above more important kingdom values such as mercy, justice, grace, forgiveness, and love (Matthew 24). We have lost the spirit of Jesus who came not demanding his rights; but laying down his very life and “rights” for our sake and salvation (Philippians 2:5-11). I think we have become disconnected and disoriented from our primary passion for Christ and his eternal kingdom. I believe we have lost perspective and lost our way because it is not about us, it is about God being glorified in our lives. It is not about our rights above all or above the good or consideration of others. I want to get back to the heart of worship. I want to see only Jesus
Take a moment with me and press the fast-forward button on your life. Go to the end (for we know how it ends!) and hit pause. Imagine this day when you will stand before Jesus, the King himself. Imagine what that moment will be like. At that time, we will not have the luxury of looking ahead, but behind. What did we do with our lives? How did we demonstrate our love for Jesus in the brief time we were given on this earth? Who did we serve in his name and for his sake? How many received hope because we acted out of our love for Jesus?
Say what you want about the merits of climate change (maybe we have a defensive and dismissive posture to not have to examine our lifestyles?). Still, there is no disputing from a biblical perspective that our sin has thrown the earth off in ways that play out in real consequence around the world. Specifically, I would say our greed, selfishness, consumerism, and materialism.
There is no doubt we are a very divided nation this Fourth of July in 2020. And I have no answers to offer in this post (not that I think will change anyone’s minds anyway!). Instead, I just want to acknowledge that this Fourth of July, I see a flag tattered and torn not by outside enemies, but its own citizens internally. I see hope, and I see despair. I see stains, and I see beauty. In this, I see a reflection of the paradox that lies within us as it’s people. We are a mixture, a mystery, a contradiction.
What Jesus was teaching his disciples and us, is that when we pray, we pray not only in terms of intimate relationship personally with God but in view of our collective family relationship with one another as God’s people and community of brothers and sisters in Christ. God is not just my Father. God is our Father together. We are brothers and sisters in Christ despite our unique differences and races. In a culture that is so polarized, divided, and at odds with one another, I believe this is a message needed now more than ever! When we come together in worship and prayer, we come together diverse and different, but united in terms of who we are in Christ and with God as our Father. We come equally as brothers and sisters adopted into the family of God.
I hope we can all learn something beyond where we started in our views, opinions, or despite political leanings. There is a way to hear others out, strengthen relationships (instead of destroying and dividing further) even if we still come away not fully agreeing. Also, if we never dive deeper into issues and others experiences, except becoming more entrenched in our pre-determined views/cliches/experiences, how can we ever grow as a people, emphasize with one another, love one another, and gain a deeper appreciation for others and their cultural dynamics even if different from us?
George Floyd, Minnesota, Pentecost. What do these three things have to do with each other? If you have been following the news recently, you know the connection between George Floyd and what is happening in Minnesota and other cities as I write this. But did you know this Sunday (May 31st, 2020) is also Pentecost Sunday? What does Pentecost, though, have to do with George Floyd and current events 2,000 plus years later from that historical event?
In times like this that are uncertain and unfamiliar, panic and fear grips hearts, and people begin to focus on their personal needs and concerns in a way that can lead to hoarding, selfishness, and self-preservation. In times opposite of this however, people become arrogant and overly confident in the stock market or their comfortable lives that they take for granted. That is why this passage caught my eye in a new way…
But as God keeps reminding me of in this interaction with Peter, following Jesus is not about making our lives comfortable, convenient, or experiencing spiritual highs all the time. It is about growing up, becoming mature in our faith, being stretched by our faith in uncomfortable ways, and living a life of sacrifice and service like the One we claim to follow.
I just wrapped up a beautiful trip to several Asian countries! So I wanted to share a few reflections specifically regarding a couple day journey in the majestic foothills of the Himalayas.
These scenes remind me of passages right out of the bible. But I am not talking about the ones where God himself tells us he is with us. I am not diminishing those promises at all, but what I want to focus on in this blog is the fact that not only is God with us, but so are angels and other saints, both past and present. We are part of a much larger community and spiritual family than we often realize or remember. And it is this message that we are not alone that I believe needs rediscovered today.
One of the things contemporary cultural Christianity rejects or tries to ignore, downplay, explain away, or not honestly wrestle with is the fierce and wild judgment of God found throughout Scripture. Not only do we reject or ignore it, but we seem embarrassed by it. Because of that, we overemphasize God’s love to the exclusion of talking about his judgment and justice. In this article, however, I want to address the reality of judgment and speak directly to it. I want to make the case that God’s fierce judgment is a significant part of and evidence of his passionate love. Further, I want to make the case that the reality of God’s judgment is something the American church needs to hear and reflect upon more deeply.
I believe what I am about to articulate addresses, perhaps, the single greatest crisis at the core of our current cultural issues. Let me state these two truths and then expand on them a little further: The greatest current cultural, political, religious, societal, personal, family, organizational, leadership, ministry, social media crisis at present is a crisis of emotional intelligence. We are allowing our emotions to control us, divide us, and destroy us in many unhealthy ways. Secondly, I have come to realize that my most significant and personal regrets, failures, and mistakes in life, leadership, ministry, and relationships revolve around a lack of emotional intelligence, not so much spiritual depth or technical skill. The same is probably true for you too when you think about it!
I believe what is most needed is a call back to unwavering loyalty to Jesus Christ as King and pledging our full allegiance to his kingdom and Gospel regardless of who or what party is in political power. Earthly kingdoms and kings come and go, but his kingdom is eternal and his Gospel the greatest and most urgently needed message in this world. I believe we need to recommit ourselves to his Word and our Witness of him in this world, without the fear that it is dependent on who is in power. I believe we need to tear down this idol of fear and politics in our hearts and pledge ourselves to follow Jesus and stay faithful in our witness to him regardless of what happens in this fallen world. I believe we have and will continue to lose a whole generation who has no tolerance anymore for leaders who are more concerned about who is in power on earth than seeing a church pure in its witnesses for Christ and following the way of Christ. This is a real problem.
The first Christmas (and subsequent ones after) for Mary and Joseph were filled with interrupted plans, inconvenience, plans for divorce, monumental decisions, drama, death threats, murder of toddlers, rejection, uncertainty, narrow escape, refugee status, confusion, bewilderment, chaos, danger, and so much more. Joseph and Mary were swept up into an epic story far more significant than themselves. This was far beyond anything they asked for or were looking for.
One of those dreams that most resonated with our hearts on this specific trip is the dream of one of our partners adopted daughters. She wants to run a trade school for widows and young girls who either can’t go on to college or want to work with their hands. This young woman is just graduating with a degree in fashion, has already started her own business, and is very capable and gifted.
This blog article is a call for all believers to recommit themselves to being disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples of Jesus Christ. If we are not doing this, we need to question whether we are truly living as disciples of Jesus. Even providing aid, combating issues like human trafficking, seeking justice for the oppressed, poor, widow, orphan, refugee, serving the most vulnerable, giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name are all worthy and noble causes that we are called to as disciples of Jesus. I, too, have a great passion for these things. But our primary calling is not a cause itself; but Christ himself. He alone truly transforms lives. Spiritual transformation is even noted by the atheist I quoted at the beginning of this article, as what is bringing real change to Africa.
In this brief blog post, I want to make a case for the biblical importance of hospitality and even issue a prophetic warning about closing our hearts and homes to especially others different than us. Hospitality or the lack thereof is one measure by which we can judge a culture, church, or self-professing Christian. Hospitality is one of the core character traits that are necessary when considering and selecting leaders (1 Timothy 5:10). Of all people, Christians should be the most hospitable of all and are in fact commanded to show hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9) and without fear (Hebrews 13:2).
And this is where my insight into suffering and God’s seeming silence and absence enters. I think we have confused God’s silence with God’s absence. I think his silence is evidence of His mercy rather than evidence of his absence. I think we have this all backward!
Two young kids. Two young parents. Take a good look into their eyes in the picture below. Their eyes were the first eyes that mine locked in with when I arrived at the border. They had just spent their last day at the nearby detention center and finally were on their way to their sponsor family in another location in the US. They are here because they had no other choice. A criminal gang had taken over their land in Mexico. If they stayed, they would be killed. As many of them said, “”We would rather die on the journey trying, then go back and definitely die.”
There is a growing crisis in America that is beginning to become “normalized.” It is manifesting itself in the dehumanizing political rhetoric we hear everyday and also in the gun violence that seems to play out on a near weekly basis at this point in some city, school, church, store or location around the United States. What in the world is happening in this culture that has brought us to this point? How do we see real change?
Let me cut to the chase: too many who identify as “America Christians” are putting “America” ahead of the “Christian” part. Yes, I am an American myself, but I am first of all a follower of Christ. I am a citizen of the United States of America; but I have a higher citizenship as a citizen of heaven. I was born an American; but I was born-again into the family of God when I trusted in Christ. This identity and citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is one that is eternal; while any earthly citizenship is temporary.
In other words, it’s a lot of work, time and care to see anything of value grow and be sustained over time in a healthy, fruitful way! The same is so true most of all with our hearts and relationship with God. Sin, like weeds, springs up so quickly and easily, choking life and fruit. Our hearts are in constant need of the nutrients of God’s Word and the water of the Spirit. Our relationship with God also needs guarded, protected and tended to with time, care and effort.
Here’s the problem however for us: we want to understand with perfect clarity in the present what often only makes sense looking back. But as followers of Jesus, we need to come to a place of understanding that we won’t always understand everything right away…and that is ok! Part of what it means to follow Jesus is to submit to an authority higher than own, to One who sees a picture bigger than we see, who knows the end from the beginning, and whose ways are not our ways and thoughts not our thoughts.
We are living in the midst of a culture that is polarized, anxious and fearful. Even among Christians, there is a sense of insecurity and instability. In an age marked by the rejection of eternal, absolute, objective truth and one transcendent God; there is a corresponding lack of deep rooted trust, peace, security, confidence and stability.
Ironically, it might help to begin this post with something that could upset everyone on the two main political spectrum’s. First, the title of this article has probably already upset many of my conservative friends, as apparently 68% of white evangelicals believe that the US has NO obligation to accept immigrants. I find that revolting. However, this article, and my views, are not some left-wing liberal propaganda either.
We live in a culture and age (even among professing and church-going Christians), where much like the book of Judges, people are doing what is right in their own eyes, according to their own standards, feelings and desires. There is a loss of respect for God, awe of God and reverence for God that leads to a real relationship with God. There is a lack of engagement in taking Scripture seriously, let alone even reading it anymore. There isn’t a sense of daily seeking the Lord first in our lives as more important than anything else and living in light of eternity. There is a nonchalant attitude towards giving, missions and praying. There is a lack of trembling at his word, being aware of his presence, and being convicted of our sin. There is barely any talk even of hell or the judgment to come from many pulpits.
Yes, the world, because of sin, is a battleground, but God created it first as a playground. It was sin that made us serious and caused us to lose our joy, playfulness and child-like awe.
While it would take too long to cover all aspects of what Jesus’ ascension means for us today, one of those aspects is that because Jesus is Sovereign over all, there is no greater authority above him. This is what gives us assurance, security and confidence in knowing that not only is God for us in principle and with us through his very presence in the person of the Holy Spirit, but he also possess all authority over every other authority that would threaten us, accuse us, condemn us or undo us.
The desert is a familiar place for the most anointed people and leaders and prophets of God! Of course the desert speaks of obscurity, hiddeness, dryness, uncomfortablness, challenge, danger, even isolation. Yet, this seems to be the place the Spirit of God himself leads his most trusted servants. It seems to be their “proving ground”, the place their character is forged, sharpened, and strengthened. It is the place they are tested and tried, and although feeling weak, emerge with a strength of spirit unrivaled by others who have grown up in more pleasant circumstances.
Pentecost: The descent of the Spirit of God on the people of God to make real the reality of God. When the Spirit comes he comes with power and gentleness. When the Spirit comes he fills us with a sense of the Divine Presence of God inwardly and externally. When the Spirit comes, it is heaven interacting with earth. When the Spirit comes, there is a passion and fire that rests on and fills God’s people to declare his glory to all people. When the Spirit comes he disrupts our lives and transforms our lives. When the Spirit comes, he fills us with the reality of God and sends us out to take that reality to others.
I just returned from a fantastic time and trip to Ukraine on behalf of ServeNow, the mission organization I lead as President. I thought I would share a few personal highlights of this trip as a means of conveying the needs we saw, but especially the ways God is working in transforming real people’s lives and hearts in Ukraine.