Make A Difference - Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, and President Obama

President Obama was inaugurated last week, and some Christians took to Twitter to once again remind the world that Christians can be arrogant jerks.

For example, Mark Driscoll, at 8:17 AM on January 21, 2013, tweeted, "Praying for our president, who today will place his hands on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know."

While Andy Stanley, one of my favorite preachers, shows why he deserves that title. Stanley had the privilege to preach a sermon at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. This was inauguration Sunday and President Obama and his staff were in the congregation.

Stanley decided to preach from the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. When Jesus came to earth, He was God in the flesh. The most powerful person in any room. And He washed feet. He spent time with the undesirables. He came to serve rather than be served.

Stanley said to the congregation filled with Obama, his cabinet, and other churchgoers, "So what do you do when it dawns on you that you're the most powerful person in the room? You're the most powerful person, in this case, in the world?" Then he shared with them what Jesus did. Jesus "laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him" (John 13:4-5 ESV). Jesus, God in the flesh, humbled Himself, went around the room, and washed his followers' feet. The followers had just been arguing about which one of them would be the greatest. And Jesus showed them what the Greatest should do. Serve. Not be served.

Now that's some powerful stuff. Some real powerful stuff when spoken to the powers that be in this world. Stanley ended his sermon with these words, " Mr. President, you have a very big room. It's as big as the nation. It's as big as our world. And my prayer for you is that you continue to leverage this stewardship of power for the sake of our nation and the world."

Back to my initial thought. What approach do you think had a chance to influence the President? Driscoll who attacked him on Twitter? Or Andy Stanley who proclaimed the tough teachings of the Gospel with him? The sad thing about the whole situation is that Christianity gets another self-inflicted and deserved black eye. But we're not all that way. Look at Andy Stanley. Who I propose was actually acting like Jesus would in the situation.

You may be thinking that a pastor shouldn't associate with a person like Obama. And if that is your view, then you don't understand the Jesus that pastors are professing. Jesus wasn't scared of associating with those who held opposing views. He didn't hole himself up in a monastery and expect believers to come to Him. Him was out among the people, teaching and preaching a way of life that would change lives if adopted. A way of life that we would all be better off to follow today.

So when we're faced with the option to quickly lash out against someone on Facebook or on Twitter, we should think again. It won't do any good. It will actually make us look foolish and hurt whatever cause we are fighting for. Instead we should spend time investing in the person who has wronged us. We should forgive them. Now, it won't always change them. That's not why we do it. Investment in another doesn't mean magic. Everyone is given the ability to choose. But investment in another is always the better option when contrasted with tearing them down. We invest in them because we have the example of a leader who humbled Himself and washed His followers feet.

This isn't to say that there isn't a time to confront someone about a destructive problem in their life. But the place for that confrontation is not in the public arena. It's in private, within the context of an already existing relationship. We must always keep in mind a teaching that Stanley professes, " Make a difference. Don't be satisfied with making a point."

Jesus taught, "Go and sin no more." But He was with a sinner after He had earned her love when He taught that. May we do the same.

What I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career.

What's skills are you developing? Who will you be tomorrow? The harsh fact or, maybe, the encouraging fact is that you will be tomorrow the skills you develop today.

In the movie Taken, Liam Neeson's character, Brian Mills, was a former CIA operative. When he received a phone call from the person who took his daughter hostage, he said in a dark, mysterious, and firm voice, "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you." Brian Mills had skills that I don't have. Skills he acquired over a long career in the CIA. That skill set enabled him to pursue the kidnappers of his daughter and save her.

Although Taken was a fictional story, skills in real life work that way. We can only do things today that we set out to learn and do yesterday. This is a theme that I regularly repeat in these articles because it is something I need reminded of along with it being something that we all need to grasp if things are going to be better tomorrow than they are today.

Nothing is more dangerous than getting caught in a rut and just going through the motions. Our wheels just spin, getting us nowhere. We've all seen this happen to people, churches, communities, and other organizations. When we become comfortable or complacent in our rut, life will just pass us by. We have to strive to be who we want to be because we will never be able to accomplish the dreams we want to accomplish tomorrow unless we work on developing ourselves today into a person who has the skills to do those things tomorrow.

However, this isn't just some pop self-help idea despite being a practical concept useful for businesses or any other organization. On the individual level, many people imprison this idea of working toward a better tomorrow to their financial and personal realms. It becomes only about making a better me. A better me that the world values. We want to work hard and study hard so that we can get a good job that will provide us with nice houses and good vacations. But on the other side of having a good job, nice house, and good vacations is meaninglessness if that is all there is. Those are all good things. I hope that you can all have good jobs, nice houses, and good vacations. And I believe you can if you set out a plan, work toward it, remain disciplined - if that is what God is calling you to.

Which brings me to something more important than creating an environment conducive to bringing us personal pleasure. We need to be faithful servants to God. People who bring His kingdom here to earth as much as possible. Sometimes God calls us to experience Him in ways that aren't immediately perceived as blessings. When that happens, we need to be faithful. Sometimes he calls us away from the good job, the nice house, and the good vacations. Again, when it doesn't make sense, we still need to be faithful because it is more important that we become who God wants us to be rather than invest our time and resources chasing after the fleeting pleasures of this world.

Being who God wants us to be - like the good job, nice house, and good vacations - won't happen by accident. It's something we have to think about. It's something we have to work on. It's something we have to pursue. We might not be saved by works, but we can't be involved in bringing about God's will into this reality unless we work. Unless we get busy doing the things God wants  us to do.

Augustine said, "For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them." Too often, we are only concerned about being saved, but God has saved us for something other than just getting to heaven. It's amazing how when we are faithful to him today, he calls us to do greater things tomorrow. We can be involved in bringing God's will into this broken and fallen reality. Even if heaven were not a reality on the other side of the grave, the life God wants us to live today is far greater than selfishly pursuing the things of this world.

You were saved for something. Are you going to get there? Are you going to realize God's dream for your life, or are you going to miss Him and His plan for you among all the physical things this world throws our way. The distractions. The blessings. The trials. They are all things there to shape us into someone spiritually better than we currently find ourselves. But they will only transform us into someone better if we let them. 

God is not going to force His will on you. You must choose to accept it. You must decide that you are going to invest your time into developing the skills that God will use tomorrow to fix the broken things in this world. To comfort the hurting. To restore justice. To help the oppressed. God's plan for this world is bigger than you or me, but the amazing thing - or should I say the peculiar thing -  about God is that we are in those plans. He is not going to force His will on us. We must choose. We must act. A better tomorrow depends on it.

Toward Civil Disagreement

 We seem to be returning to tribalism.

In Liberia, tribalism exists in its ancient form.  There are many different groups of people, and these groups generally separate themselves from one another. They go to church with people from the same tribe. They do business with people from the same tribe. They spend time with people from the same tribe. All the while, those from other tribes are outsiders in every situation.

Welcome to the new American tribalism. We aren't much better than the primitive tribalism of Liberia. We aren't segregated by a common heritage, but by where we get our news, the internet sites we visit or don't visit, the views that we hold, and our approach to the government. To see the new American tribalism illustrated, go to any controversial article on the internet, scroll down to the comments, and see people treat those who disagree with them like they are idiots, ill-intentioned, or uneducated.

This new tribalism is not for us. It will not create a better world. We have to learn to disagree and still love the people we disagree with, not call each other bad names or think ill of one another. The other day I got into a conversation where we wouldn't find common agreement. I said, "As long as we don't denigrate the people that hold the opposing views, I am fine with that. We can denigrate opposing views, but not the people." Surprisingly, it was amicably received.

Maybe the demonization of people entrenched in opposing views is all an overreaction to the pseudo-tolerance that is preached from all of the popular modern-day prophets on the television, the internet, or the radio. The same prophets who will demonize those that don't agree with them in the name of their "tolerance." But underlying that pseudo-tolerance is really a hatred for anyone that disagrees. We must not participate in rhetoric that destroys others. Instead, we should strive to love everyone, even when we disagree. During this period where we struggled to never disagree with one another as we became inundated with new ideas, our society appears to have forgotten how to participate in civil disagreements, how to love while still being at odds.

We should never participate in the rhetoric of demonization or the isolation of the new tribalism; especially those of us who claim to follow Jesus.

How can we be the salt of the earth if we separate ourselves from the world? Our saltiness would be of no use. What good would it do if we are the light of the world, yet we just congregate with other light and never go into the darkness? Our lights would be pointless. Light was made to displace the darkness. Our salt would be useless. Salt was made to preserve. Yet salt and light cannot do their intended tasks if they separate themselves from those who are different.

The other day I left an organization that I have been a part of for eight years. I felt that the conflict going on wasn't worth my mental time and emotional energy. But in leaving, I also disqualified myself from bringing any change to the group. The reason I bring this up is to illustrate the principle that we cannot be the salt of the earth and the light of the world if we remove ourselves from the world. Once we have removed ourselves, we have lost our opportunity to bring about change.

The Apostle Paul wrote, " For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:27-28 ESV).

This is the way that it is supposed to be among believers in Jesus. It's God's ideal. In Christ, there is neither liberal or conservative, there is neither Buckeye or Wolverine, there is no male and female, educated or stupid, rich or poor, for we are all one in Jesus our Lord. We are all one. Despite our disagreements and differences, those in Jesus are all one.

Mix that idea with the teaching that we are to bring heaven to earth as much as is possible, a prayer that we pray every time we recite the Lord's Prayer, and we see that the world is to be different than this course of hatred that it is currently steaming down. God has a different plan for humanity.

It's our opportunity as Christians to be used by God to bring this plan into reality. This cannot be achieved if we just conform to the new tribalism of the world. We must intermingle. We must develop relationships. We must never demonize. We will disagree, but we must behave differently when we do. We must be salt to prevent spoiling. We must be light to push back the darkness.

Missing Beauty

From Knowledge of Today's Facebook page:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people.

The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

The original Washington Post article: Pearls Before Breakfast.

Tony Campolo, Disney, and Three Child Prostitutes

Some of the young people I work with and have recruited for ministry are working right now in Haiti. They've been there for many years. I went down and visited them. They dropped me off at the Holiday Inn right there in the middle of Port-au-Prince. I was walking across the pavement to the entrance when I was intercepted by three girls. I call them girls because the oldest one was seventeen.

The one in the middle said, "Mister, for ten dollars you can have me all night long."

I was stunned.

I looked at the girl next to her and said, "I'm an old guy. Would you sleep with me all night long for ten dollars?" She said, "Yes."I looked at the third one. She tried to conceal her contempt with a smile. But it's hard to look sexy when you're seventeen and you're hungry. Your mother and father are dead. And you got a brother and a sister to feed. And there's nothing you have that can earn money except your body.

I said, "You're in luck. I've got thirty dollars. I'm in room 210. You be up there in a half hour. Not before."

I rushed up to the room. I called down to the concierge desk and said, "I want every Walt Disney video that you got in stock. How many you got?" He said, "Eight." "All eight of them."

I called down to the restaurant. "I want banana splits. I will pay you extra, but I want extra ice cream, whipped cream, cherries, nuts, syrup - I want four of them."

Then the girls came. The videos came. And the banana splits came. We sat on the edge of the bed and watched Disney til about one o'clock in the morning. That's when the last of them fell asleep across the bed. 

As I sat there in that stuffed chair, looking at their little bodies strewn across the bed. I thought to myself, "Nothing's changed. Nothing's changed. Tomorrow they will be back on the street selling themselves to dirty, filthy men. And there will always be men like that who for ten dollars will destroy a girl. Nothing's changed. Nothing's changed."

And then something welled up inside of me. I don't know if it was the voice of God or what, but I just felt these words come to me.

"But For one night, Tony. For one night you gave them back their childhood. For one night you let them be kids again. For one night you let them be children once more. You didn't solve the problems of their lives. But you did what you could. You did what you could." 

That's all Jesus wants of you. To make a commitment today. A commitment to do what you could.

We talk about your hope. I want to know this. I want to know Christ's hope for you. Jesus does have hope for you. He looks at you, and he has hopes. He has expectations. He has plans for you. And He's hoping you will become the kind of person he wants you to be. And the question here this morning is are you willing to say, "I give in to you. I want to actualize your hopes for me. I want to become the person you hope I will become. I will do the good you are calling me to do." 

Excerpted from Tony Campolo's message at Christ United Methodist in Jackson, MS on February 26, 2012.