The Needed American Revolution

I hear the word "revolution" thrown around these days. Maybe it's the rural area I live in. Violent rhetoric. Thoughts of a new government. Freedom. Liberty. The American dream.  It's like we're in the last days of America.

The revolution sounds more like a nightmare to me. I've walked the dirty streets of Liberia, traveled the crumbling roads, and seen the results of a modern-day "civil" war. There is nothing glorious in it. Electric boxes that haven't had power flowing through them in thirty years hang lifelessly on the wall. It's not good. Children starving. Dirty water filled with microscopic death. It's more than not good. It's the face of evil.

I get asked questions after giving a lesson that I cannot even fathom despite being in what was once one of the most prosperous African nations. They ask me, "Can someone still be saved if they've killed a man?" Because many of them have killed others in the "civil" war. They follow it and doubt, "Why should I have faith in our bedtime prayers that God will feed me tomorrow if my family went to bed yesterday hungry and are going to bed tonight without having anything to eat?" Imagine going to bed with starving children. Imagine clinging to faith in that situation. We say that we would just go out and hunt, but you can't when all the animals have been killed because of decades of hunting. We say that we go and live in the country and start a better life for ourselves, and we can't because we  will be overtaken by a rogue group stealing, raping, and slaughtering us. When I hear "revolution", I hear echoes of the Liberian "civil" war. I see our children and grandchildren starving, our nice men and women turning into killers, and our village streets flowing with unnecessary blood.  Our pleasant country estates will become unsafe. Our bustling cities will become cesspools of disease, depravity, and death. All the things we take for granted will become luxuries. I see an aftermath that is even worse than the situation being revolted against.

We do need a revolution. But like the things of God typically arrive, the revolution will not be like that.

The discouragement around me is palpable, like a shroud smothering our communities, reminiscent of the blanketing fog in spring. Except the sun doesn't break through and shine its light.

That is a lie. The Son always breaks through.

But we aren't helping ourselves. It seems like many are comfortable electing liars and thugs to lead us. We reward laziness. We promote greed as a virtue. We instigate violence. We encourage debauchery. I say this knowing that the thugs, liars, lazy, greedy, warmongers, and sexually depraved are all made in the image of God. Yet they have been wallowing in the mud of this world. Tarnishing their shine. Losing their gleam.

The solution is still a revolution. But a different revolution. An unusual revolution. A Kingdom Revolution.

Jesus established a kingdom that conquers by changing hearts through love and truth. Sacrificial love and unpopular truth.  

But what does that look like?

We have to focus our efforts and energies in creating local communities that create something greater. The church is God's ideal instrument for this, yet the change must start in each of us who call ourselves Christian and spiral out of hearts permeated by the truth and live lives of loves.

We are struggling to find our identity as followers of Jesus in a post-Christian America. We're like a debutante who hasn't prepared well for her first dance. We dressed up all pretty and look the part, yet we haven't learned the steps. God knows the dance. He's playing the music. And He hasn't given up on us despite all of our missteps. He will forgive us and work with us where we are at. But, rest assured or hesitantly fear, he loves us too much to let us remain where we are at. He has something better for us.

Nebuchadnezzar was once given a prophecy. Not the sort any of us would like to have. It was a prophecy of judgment.

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity (Daniel 4:27 ESV).

Like all prophecies of judgment, Nebuchadnezzar could avoid the upcoming punishment by changing his life. He had the opportunity to avoid the prophesied punishment and continue in prosperity. To do this, he was challenged to practice righteousness and show mercy to the oppressed. Daniel gave him this advice, which I think all of us who are greatly blessed would do well to take to heart. Nebuchadnezzar didn't change and was punished by being like an animal for seven years.

I feel that God is saying a prophecy of judgment over us. We don't like that. We're prosperous. We're doing well. So was Nebuchadnezzar. He didn't listen. Will we?

We would rather receive a prophecy of success, health, and wealth.  So would have Nebuchadnezzar.

But like all prophecies, the upcoming wrath can be avoided. The message is the same: Stop our iniquities and practice righteousness. Show mercy to the oppressed. Truth and love. An unpopular truth and a sacrificial love. A truth that we don't often want to hear, and a love that we often don't want to live.

If we're honest, we're in the state we are in because of you and me -- because of our churches. We have lived in such a way to make us who we are. Let's change. Let's have a Kingdom Revolution. Let's start with our churches. Let's start with ourselves.

Witnessing Through Community

Saint Patrick, who is remembered yearly by people wearing green and drinking green beer, has a tremendous story that exemplifies what the kingdom of God should be about. Patrick was taken prisoner by the Irish in a raid on England. One night, he escaped his prison and fled back to England. While back in the safety of England, he felt the call of God to go back to the people who imprisoned him in Ireland - the very people he had escaped from - and share the gospel. His ministry to the Irish was an amazing success, and Ireland became a nation filled with Christians.

These Irish Christians then moved on to evangelize mainland Europe with an interesting approach. They would establish a community filled with love for each other right outside of the town that they intended to reach for Jesus. They would welcome people, take care of people while taking care of each other, and their love would overflow into the neighboring town.

It was through these healthy communities that mainland Europe was brought to the Lord. Not through some method of apologetics like we often attempt to bring people to Jesus through. Not from solid doctrinal statements, which the church at that time was unsuccessfully using to reach people. They won Europe to the Lord by exemplifying the life together that should be normal for people living together in the kingdom of God.

The good news of the kingdom of God is about us being a healthy community that will focus on using our blessings from God to be a blessing to those around us.

Instead of a physical empire to conquer the world, Jesus established a kingdom that was to consist of communities of believers who would love the people in our world.

"Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed,  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20-21 ESV).

The kingdom of God, the kingdom we are citizens of if Jesus is our Lord, is “not coming with things that can be observed.” This was strange to the original listeners. The Israelites were not expecting a different sort of kingdom. They wanted a kingdom that would free the nation of Israel from the rule of Rome and establish Israel as a physical power in the world again. Jesus' take on the kingdom was a countercultural take on the traditional concept of kingdom or nation, and it still is today. When we think of a kingdom or nation, we think of a place with physical boundaries, a capital, a military, a human leader, laws to the keep the peace and the like. But God's kingdom is not what we would consider a normal kingdom. His kingdom has no boundaries,  no capital, nor military. It has one high priest. His kingdom is not in the process of taking over the world and bringing about its will by force. His kingdom intends to transform this world by love and truth.

God often surprises us by doing things differently than we would do them. He had Gideon lower the amount of soldiers in his army from 32,000 to 500 before invading another nation. He had Joshua conquer Jericho by marching and blowing trumpets. He saved the world by having Jesus die on a cross. In hindsight, his acts are glorious, just like his kingdom. But at the time, they seem to our mortal comprehension to be a little off.

Who would have ever thought that a kingdom could conquer the world with love and truth? Yet that is God's seemingly irrational plan. In hindsight, we can see that the plan has worked very well. And it will continue to work as long as people like us are faithful, surrender our lives to Jesus’ will, and live lives of love together.

The kingdom of God was there among the Pharisees, yet it could not be seen in a physical and tangible way. And it is here among us. Although I live in America and am an American citizen, my true residence and citizenship - my ultimate loyalty - is in another kingdom. All of us who profess to follow the lordship of Jesus are acknowledging that we are part of a kingdom that is among us, the people. Our primary nationality belongs to the kingdom of God, not to any of the kingdoms of this world. When the will of God contradicts the will of our nation, we gladly submit to the consequences of our nation while we rebel and do the will of God. And through radically following Jesus, no matter what the cost, we bring the kingdom of God into our broken reality. A city on a hill. The light of the world. Salt of the earth.

I invite you, if you are skeptical that the Good News is the kingdom, to read through the Bible and search for the truth. The good news of the kingdom is found throughout the New and Old Testament.

If you already believe that the good news is the kingdom, it is my hope that we will work together to be a more loving community and be a blessing to Antwerp, and from there to the rest of the world.

And I invite you, if you have not surrendered your life to the kingship of Christ and joined a community of believers, to make that decision and become a brother or sister in the kingdom of God. There is always room in the kingdom, but don’t just stay in the doorway. It’s crowded, and God has so much more in store for each of us.

Some Research On Abortion

The other day, I was in a discussion with a friend over whether making abortion illegal would minimize abortions. There was an article going around the internet from 2012 that said it wouldn't. So here is what I found.

To begin with, here is the 2012 article: Higher abortion rates where procedure is illegal.
Abortion rates are higher in countries where the procedure is illegal and nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, with the vast majority in developing countries, a new study concludes.
Here are some good arguments that make the logic of the claim of the 2012 reports a little sketchy: Making Abortion Illegal Reduces the Abortion Rate.

The main highlight:
Even if we take the Guttmacher numbers at face value, however, the claim that criminalization does not effect the abortion rate does not bear scrutiny. Abortion in Ireland, for example, is illegal in most cases, whereas across the pond in England and Wales it is basically legal (though with more restrictions than in the U.S.). According to Guttmacher, the abortion rate for Ireland in 1996 was 5.9. For England and Wales, 15.6. That is, by Guttmacher’s own numbers, the abortion rate for England (where abortion is legal) is several times what it is in Ireland (where it is not). Presumably the lower Irish rate is not due to the country’s fanatical devotion to sex education and contraception.
And another highlight:
How, then, does Guttmacher come up with the claim that abortion rates are no lower in countries where abortion is illegal than where it is legal? Simple. Abortion is disproportionately legal in the developed world and disproportionately illegal in the developing world. And, at least the way that Guttmacher calculates its statistics, the developing world tends to have much higher abortion rates generally. Once this is corrected for, and one is comparing developed countries where abortion is legal to developed countries where it is not and developing countries where it is legal to those where it is not, it becomes clear that criminalization has a significant effect on the abortion rate.
This is an interesting article that I ran across. It shows that when Chile made abortion illegal, the actual deaths of women having abortions went down, which combats the myth that making abortion illegal would encourage back alley abortions resulting in the death of more women.

All Banning Abortion Does Is Make It Unsafe (Rebuttal Part 2)
We observed that reduction of maternal mortality in Chile was paralleled by the number of hospitalizations attributable to complications of clandestine abortions. While over 50% of all abortion-related hospitalizations were attributable to complications of clandestine abortions during the 1960s, this proportion decreased rapidly in the following decades. Indeed, only 12-19% of all hospitalization from abortion can be attributable to clandestine abortions between 2001 and 2008. These data suggest that over time, restrictive laws may have a restraining effect on the practice of abortion and promote its decrease. In fact, Chile exhibits today one of the lowest abortion-related maternal deaths in the world, with a 92.3% decrease since 1989 and a 99.1% accumulated decrease over 50 years.
And a little quick compilation of research. I used two sources. The Kaiser Family Foundation's Rate of Legal Abortions per 1,000 Women Aged 15-44 Years by State of Occurrence to show me what the abortion rates were in each different state. CBS News' report Abortion: 19 states with toughest laws.

To note, all the States that have over 20 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 are not listed in the toughest abortion laws section.

For the top 10 toughest States, here are their rates.

1. Louisiana - 9
2. North Dakota - 10
3. Mississippi - 4
4 (tie). Arkansas - 8
4 (tie). Missouri - 6
6. Kentucky - 5
7 (tie). Utah - 6
7 (tie). Nebraska - 7
9 (tie). South Dakota - 5
9 (tie). Ohio - 13

One cannot necessarily conclude that the stricter laws are the cause of fewer abortions. It could be the anti-abortion climate that causes the stricter laws that influences less abortions. Whatever the case, the states with stricter laws have less abortion. In similar cultures, like England, Wales, and Ireland, the one where abortion is illegal has less abortions. And in Chile, where abortion was made illegal, the death of women dying from abortions actually went down when the only way to have an abortion was the dreaded back alley abortion. 

Recommended Book - Against Calvinism by Roger Olson

I cannot recommend Against Calvinism highly enough. Calvinism is a pervasive thought in our times, especially in the community I pastor in. With the new resurgence of Calvinism, Calvinists try to set themselves up as the only intellectual/theological approach to being a Christian. Many young people are bamboozled by this. They want an alternative to the empty Christianity their youth ministries are giving them, and Calvinism seems to be the answer. This just isn't the case. Roger Olson does the best job I have ever seen making the case against this approach to Christianity.
Who would believe that a teacher who withholds the information students need to pass a course merely permitted them to fail? What if that teacher, when called on the carpet by parents and school officials, said, "I didn't cause them to fail. They did it on their own"? Would anyone accept that explanation or would they accuse the teacher of not merely permitting the students to fail but also of actually causing them to fail? And what if the teacher argued that he or she actually planned and rendered the students' failure certain for a good reason--to uphold academic standards and show what a great teacher he or she is by demonstrating how necessary his or her information is for students to pass? Would not these admissions only deepen everyone's conviction that the teacher is morally and professionally wrong? (85)

A Look At Fellowship. What Is Koinonia?

What is "fellowship?"

Some times translations do not adequately get the point across of the word they are translating. "Fellowship" is not one of those cases. It is a great translation of the Greek word “koinonia." The word is just the combination of two words put together that in their essence really do grasp the meaning of the original word. Unfortunately, the word "fellowship" has become so common that it no longer strikes us as being the combination of these two separate words. With "fellowship," we have the word “fellow” and the word “ship" melded together. "Fellow" is not a commonly used word today unless you are from the Deep South or involved in a university. A fellow at a university is someone who is considered an equal in a group of peers. When you become a fellow, you become part of a group who make decisions together. There is no superior in a fellowship.

When you combine fellows and put them together on a ship, you have a group of equals heading in the same direction. People on a ship have to work together to get where they are going. This is not your typical ship though. It is not a ship with a hierarchical structure; it is a ship of equals. The key to being a fellowship is that we are going somewhere together knowing that our success on that journey depends on us working together. If the ship sinks, all of the fellows on the ship sink. If the ship gets to the destination in record time, everyone gets to the destination in record time. We rejoice together. We weep together. We struggle together. We celebrate together. Life, in a fellowship, is shared.

Koinonia, the word translated fellowship, was used in Greek times as a union between people. It was most often used to describe the relationship of people who were in business with one another, but it was also used to describe the bond between two people in marriage. This means that fellowship with one another is not something to be taken lightly. It is not something that can be lived out with just a simple handshake. It is not something that we can have with one another just because we share doctrinal concepts. It is not attained through just gathering together at a specific building at a specific time. It is something that has to go much deeper than that. Koinonia, as shown in its traditional use describing business partners and marriage partners, shows a bond between people which is focused on the idea that the success of one is linked with the success of the other.

Imagine that I opened up a business with you and another. Let's say in our case it is a restaurant. Our friend would be the cook. I would run the floor, and you would do the bookwork and ordering. Say we shared ownership in the business, each of us owning a third, making us financial partners. Your financial success as the bookkeeper would be dependent upon my success in serving the customers and training others to do a great job serving the customers. My success would be dependent upon our friend, the cook, making great meals and training others to make those same savory meals. We would be in the business together and our success or failure would depend upon each one of us doing our jobs well. If one of us fails, our business fails. If each one of us succeeds, our business succeeds. That, in a nutshell, is what koinonia or fellowship is – it is a link between people in which they share mutual dreams, actions, and respect. The success of each person is intimately linked with the each others' success.

Koinonia is a family relationship of sorts. Not a fragmented and fighting family like many that we see around us, but a healthy family. The Bible describes our relationship with other believers as a family in various places. Peter describes us as the “family of believers” (1 Peter 2:17). Paul describes us as the “family of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Maybe you know an amazing family. What is experienced in that well-built family is a great example of what it is to be a family. People look at good families and want to be like them. They see the fun the family has together at family gatherings and want to join in. That is fellowship. The main difference between the fellowship of biological families compared to the fellowship we are supposed to have as the church is that a biological family's fellowship is based upon a shared bloodline and is typically exclusive to people who are either born into or married into the family. (I am not saying there is something wrong with a healthy biological family like that. That's sort of family fellowship is one that I wish to emulate with mine.)

The fellowship in a church should be just as great or even greater than any biological fellowship. But is it? Are we the type of people who share our lives together in a way that others long to be part of our community? Do we know each other intimately like a family? The main difference between the fellowship Christians should experience and the fellowship of a healthy biological family is that our fellowship is not exclusive to bloodlines; it is inclusive to anyone who is seeking God. Our family should be growing as God continues to draw fellow sojourners in Jesus together to bring about His will here on earth.

Our fellowship should be a fellowship that other churches would long to emulate and people would want to join in on, but that is not our goal. Our goal should be to remain faithful to what God has called us to and to be the group of people He intends for us to be. Being a follower of Jesus is not just adhering to a set of doctrinal statements, attending a worship gathering, or some other legalistic ritual that we have morphed it into being; it is living our lives together in such a way that we exhibit the life together that Jesus intended for us to live. This life lived in fellowship would give credence to the authority of Scripture and the doctrines we share. This life would make God known in our world today. Let us strive to be the people Jesus died for us to be. Let us live in His resurrected, eternal life today, together.

Let love be genuine. 
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  
Love one another with brotherly affection. 
Outdo one another in showing honor.  
Do not be slothful in zeal, 
be fervent in spirit, 
serve the Lord.  
Rejoice in hope, 
be patient in tribulation, 
be constant in prayer.  
Contribute to the needs of the saints 
and seek to show hospitality.  
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  
Rejoice with those who rejoice, 
weep with those who weep.  
Live in harmony with one another. 
Do not be haughty, 
but associate with the lowly. 
Never be wise in your own sight.  
Repay no one evil for evil, 
but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 (ESV)

A Placebo Faith

We may think that because we're spiritual that we're right with God.

We may think that because we are part of a church, we're right with God.

Both seem to be popular approaches to feeling good about ourselves depending on the circles we are in.

We post "praying" on Facebook at the appropriate times. We read popular spiritual or Christian books. We tell our hurting friend that we will pray for them. We read our Bible. Whatever it is that we do to think we're right with God may just be a placebo.

A placebo "is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient." It's given because some people get better just from the thought of being treated. It's fake. It's not real.

And we fill our spiritual lives with so many placebos.

James wrote, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless" (James 1:26 ESV). Talking religion can make people think that they are religious. The right answers. Impeccable theology or witty spiritual guidance. James recognized the danger in words. It can lead to a worthless religion. Just talking, even though it may make us feel like we have done something, is not religion. The focus of James' letter was to emphasize that having the right beliefs or saying the right things is no substitute for actually living out true religion.

When we think that we're right with God, yet it is not leading us to love the lease of these, we're just taking a spiritual placebo. It may make us feel good, but it is not true religion.

James continued, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27 ESV). To visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep unstained from the world. True religion is living the life that we read or hear about. True religion is truly helping rather than just saying that we will pray in passing. True religion is living out what we read in the Bible and not just memorizing it. It's about living the sermons we hear rather than just listening to and critiquing them. It's keeping ourselves free from the chains of this world that will bind us, so that we can love the way God wants us to love.

Our times spent together as a church and learning together are important. That is not to be discarded in our search for true religion. For those outside of a flawed yet reclaimed community, it is something to be part of. True spirituality is not found outside of relationships with God and other sojourners. Without authentic relationships where we learn together, we will not know the direction God wants us to go. But we always must remember that talk is not the goal. Knowledge is not the goal. Attendance is not the goal.

God has a different plan for humanity. When we are in touch with Him, our hearts hunger for that reality. We know it is there. We know things aren't supposed to be this way.  We can see something greater than what we are experiencing. Glimpses grow greater.

Jesus wants us to love like He loves. He doesn't need a bunch of people being spiritual or going through the religious motions. If our hearts aren't breaking when we see injustice around us or when we see suffering - if our hearts are calloused to the pain around us or we have developed excuses to just let people suffer, then Jesus is asking us, whether we profess that we are already Christians or not - Jesus is asking us to follow Him. To bring His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. His kingdom. His love. May we learn to follow Jesus. May we learn to love sacrificially and completely. God, help us.

Out Of Pessimism

I read about the pessimism of Americans, and it disappoints me.

In a recent AssociatedPress-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey, 54% of respondents felt that life was better in the 1970s in America and that life will be worse in America by 2050. Only 23% of respondents said that life would be better by 2050.

Seriously, we need to stop being Debbie Downers and Negative Nellies. No offense meant to the Debbies and Nellies out there. And really, where is the negative male name?

We can make a better tomorrow. But we can't if we are discouraged and give up. We can throw our hands up in the air, adopt the victim mindset, and let circumstances control us. Or we can dream and work toward something greater.

Get involved in an organization making your community better. I'm biased toward the church, but even if you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, or Hindu, get active in some organization making the world better. Stop attacking and start improving. Stop hating and start loving. Stop sitting and start changing.

If we have a gloomy outlook about our future, then our future will be gloomy. That is nearly a given. Don't confuse this with me saying that a positive outlook will automatically bring a better tomorrow. It may not, but a better tomorrow will not come with a gloomy outlook.

Start living today the way you want to be tomorrow.

And my Christian friends, abandon the escapist/combative mentalities that have infiltrated our Christian culture and start making this world a better place. Your faith is supposed to spur you into action, not make you feel comfortable about complacency.

I recently ran across an amazing story. This is an edited version from the original told by Mark Forstrom, a youth minister from that community who just celebrated twenty years of youth ministry at the same church.

On April 28, 1999, just eight days after the Columbine School Shooting, Marilyn Manson was scheduled to perform in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The shooters following of  Manson and the lyrics of his songs sparked some Christians into outrage, spurring a local protest movement that planned to picket, protest, and petition the concert. The police, the media, and the community began to prepare for angry protests and ugly brawling between Christians and Manson supporters. The outlook was grim. In contrast to the opposing and aggressive approach, a small band of faithful believers had been fervently praying for four weeks that God would be glorified through the Manson concert. God was about to answer their prayers.

Suddenly, something totally unexpected happened. Another movement sprang to life that believed the only way to truly change our moral climate is to soften hard hearts. They perceived that the heart of Manson and his fans had been hardened by their perception that Christians are mean-spirited, hateful, and judgmental. Thus, the idea was birthed to unravel that stereotype by encouraging Christians to show the pure love of Jesus to these fans.

The concert day finally arrived, and tension filled the community. The media geared up for an ugly battle between Manson fans and the Christian opposition.

Instead, they observed an amazing example of the love of Jesus. Scores of Christians converged on the sidewalks outside the Five Seasons Center to show unmistakable love.

The list of tangible loving actions is a mile long, but here are some of the highlights. One church purchased 100 pizzas and gave them to the fans in line. Over 1,200 cans of pop were given away. Cookies were given out. Candy bars were distributed. After the concert, Christians paid for the parking of the concertgoers.

People continually asked, “Why are you doing this?” and listened to the answer about the love of Jesus. Faces of fans looked surprised as they approached the arena, expecting conflict, but finding love instead. Motorists passed by and did “double takes” as they saw tables heaped with food instead of picket lines. In school the next day, many reported being impressed with the love showed by the Christians.

As for the concert itself, God worked there as well. After only an hour, Manson abruptly ended the concert early. During his "Nazi/antichrist” stage set, he suddenly flew into a rage throwing his microphone to the ground, knocking the drum set off its platform, and storming off the stage. Everyone in the audience looked around, puzzled by what they had just witnessed. The crowd shouted, “Manson! Manson! Manson!” but he didn't return, never reaching the point in the set where he would have ripped up a Bible.

What was the cause of his temper tantrum? News reports say he went into an absolute rage when he saw a large “smiley face” on a stage prop that had been placed by one of his own crew members, presumably as a joke on the last concert of the tour. God can use the “simple” things of the world like a smiley face to humble the "wise." Many fans felt the concert was a letdown.

To summarize Marilyn Manson’s visit to Cedar Rapids in early 1999, it can be said that many fans came to the concert convinced that Christians were irritating and that Marilyn Manson was impressive. Many left the concert feeling that Marilyn Manson was irritating and that Jesus was impressive. Think of how much closer to the kingdom thousands of kids might be as a result of this unforeseen outreach event.

We need to not spend our time and energy being opposed to the world. We need to spend our time and energy being the Kingdom Jesus died to establish. Let's be for something; not against something.

If we went to a pagan nation as missionaries and they were going to have a pagan concert/celebration, we wouldn't ask, "How can we protest this event?" Instead, we would ask, "How can we love these people?" Why do we find it so hard to live as followers of Jesus in our own culture?

Jesus taught us to pray, "Your (that's God) Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." His will. Here. Now. Can you see that kingdom? Through us loving, growing, changing, and giving. Drop the pessimism. Live for Jesus.

Live. Truly live.