America 2.0 – An Episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, or a New Mission Opportunity?

Planet of the ApesRemember the ending of the original “Planet of the Apes” movie with Charlton Heston? It was so dramatic with Heston’s character falling on his knees in the sand and cursing the human race as the camera pans out to show a nearly destroyed Statue of Liberty, half buried in sand and water.

The film was universally seen as part Science Fiction, part morality play, but who among us dreamed it was also part prophesy?

The America I grew up in is gone; relegated to TV Land nostalgia and reviled as an ignorant, unenlightened piece of human history. America 2.0 is here. It looks similar to the original, but nearly everything beneath the skin has changed. For those of us who grew up in the first one, America 2.0 is like being in a parallel universe or waking up in an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.”

In the new world, Morality has been transformed into something personal, situational and democratic. We used to speak of truth, right and wrong, good and evil; now it’s Your/My truth, or how we identify.

Here in America 2.0 ‘Religion’ is bad and has been supplanted by ‘Spirituality’ as the preferred philosophy of the day. This NEW spirituality is tolerant of every world view except one based on the Bible, even if that world view wants to eliminate the one they hold.

The people of this new America have a different perspective on Government and our relationship to it. They look differently at social institutions like marriage and the family, as well as matters of life and death.

America 2.0 creates, embraces, enforces or overturns laws based on democracy and popular opinion rather than the constitution. I am not sure the Constitution is relevant to America 2.0 other than in some quaint, historic way.

It’s a strange feeling to live in a place where so much looks and sounds familiar, even comfortable, but beneath the surface is fundamentally different than what I know. Sometimes I become disoriented and confused, unable to get my bearings.

Looking back, I’ve had some of these emotions before. Thirty Five years ago, I moved from my familiar Old Kentucky Home, to the already Post Christian, United Kingdom, and my world was dumped on its head.

The U.K. was stunningly beautiful and offered great opportunity.  The language was (mostly) the same, and on the surface the changes in culture were only slight. I thought adjusting would be a snap. Boy Howdy was I wrong.

I should have taken a cue from the fact that they drove on the opposite side of the road as I was used to doing, that there was a different way of thinking.

As the days slipped into months, the differences piled up, and I went into what’s called, Culture Shock. The Brits generally viewed EVERYTHING differently than I did. To one degree or another, culturally, socially, educationally, spiritually, morally, economically and politically, I was in unfamiliar, often uncomfortable, territory. The only similarity seemed to be that the British Politicians were just as stupid as American ones; just with differently cut suits.

Slowly, it dawned on me that I was the outsider and if I was ever going to reach people with the Gospel, I was going to have to accept that and would need to make some adjustments and learn to communicate in ways that were understood by the wonderful residents of my adopted country.

On the whole, I was able to adapt, and had a delightful 13 years in Great Britain (mostly spent in Scotland).

Those of us who are Christ Followers would be way ahead of the game, if, instead of railing against how our country has changed, and wasting time and energy trying to recreate the America of our past, would recognize we live in a different country; the one I call America 2.0, and treat it like a mission field.  (How’s that for one complex sentence? Grammar Police, beware! Oops, too late.)

If I understand my Bible, and I think I do, our citizenship is in Heaven. We are foreigners here, and don’t fully belong.  We are ambassadors of another Kingdom. We are here to promote the benefits of our home and encourage emigration from here to there (Remember, Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and that Peter reminded us in 1 Peter 2:11 that we are ‘strangers and aliens in this world’).

There are going to be many uncomfortable encounters as our world views collide. We must stay focused on our task, sharing good news and setting captives free.  Paul reminds us in his second letter to Timothy that ‘a soldier does not get entangled in civilian affairs, but does his best to follow the orders of his commanding officer (4:2). Jesus’ Good News never changes, and sharing His hope and love is our singular mission. As men and women respond to Him, cultural, moral and even political challenges will work themselves out.

I urge the Church, to focus on people over culture shift, to keep the main thing the main thing. These things I’m suggesting are counter intuitive to what many of us have grown up believing related to faith and patriotism. I dare say, many of us, especially those of us on the social, political and religious ‘right’ side of the spectrum, have a hard time separating our Christianity from our patriotism. As a result, we lean towards conflating a ‘revival IN America’ with a ‘revival OF America’.  The culture that WAS America has moved away. Whether it was better or worse than this America 2.0 is of no consequence. The Church, if we are truly the Church, we were foreigners then, just as we are aliens now.

We used to sing a song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  I’m challenging the body of Christ to return to that philosophy.  As I understand the Bible, it is by HIS stripes, rather than the stars and stripes, that we are healed.

I went to Scotland as a Christian Ambassador, not an American one. It was not my place to get involved in their political wrangling. It was my job to preach Christ and Him crucified.

As Christ followers, we are not citizens of America OR America 2.0. What good does it do when we are obvious foreigners to them? We don’t even speak the same moral, spiritual or political language.

It is my deep conviction that we would do a better job pointing the citizens of America 2.0 to the true freedom of the Kingdom of God, rather attempting to turn the whole culture of a country back to a system that didn’t work any better than the one they’re trying to create now.

If you’ll permit an overly simple analogy, there is very little value in telling people not to play with matches if they’re house is already on fire.  Our task, if you will, is to rescue people from the flames. We can worry about putting out fires, and fire safety after the rescue is completed.

The fact is, America has been replaced. We live in America 2.0.  I suggest that rather than fall in the waves in despair and anger along with Charlton Heston, that we delight in the pioneer opportunities of bringing God’s Good News to a brand new place.

 

Are Immigrants The American Church’s Greatest Untapped Outreach Opportunity?

World Map DarkI stood transfixed by the sensory overload as I was assaulted by the array of sights, smells and sounds of the open market. I had seen similar markets throughout the world, from Mexico to Mumbai, teeming with people of all ages as they searched for everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to rebuilt household appliances.

Looking around, I found myself standing next to a table overflowing with cockfighting DVDs, while the aroma of taquitos, empanadas and tamales tantalized my nostrils and the sounds of a myriad Spanish dialects flooded my ears with both spoken and musical words.

Like being suddenly awakened from a dream, it took me a few moments to adjust to my surroundings and realize that I was not in Mexico, or Honduras, or Bolivia, or Argentina or any of the countries my travels had taken me. I was, in fact, right here in NW Georgia, just a few miles from our little farmstead.

On any given Saturday, metro Atlanta provides an opportunity to visit, Jamaica, Nigeria, India, S.E. Asia, and a host of Latin American countries without ever leaving the I-75 corridor. The abundance of flea and farmers’ markets in our region can virtually transport us anywhere around the world. It’s like EPCOT without the outrageous admission fees. And I love it!

As someone who has spent much of my adult life as a Christian Missionary, or working for Mission organizations, I can’t help but see an opportunity for the Gospel that in most cases we are allowing to slip by.  So I thought I’d take a few moments and hopefully move it to the front burner.

Recently, David Platt, President of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, and author of the best-selling book ‘Radical’ announced that due to lack of resources, the FMB was being forced to reduce the number of personnel stationed around the world. I’m not a Baptist, but my heart still sank. The fact is, what’s true for our Baptist cousins, is true for the rest of the American Christian Church as well.

If we look under the covers, we can find several reasons why our ability to send more dollars and missionaries has been reduced, and someday soon, I’ll tackle some of those, but for now, I want to highlight a silver lining to our predicament. While we are being forced to cut back on ‘going’ and ‘sending’ (God have mercy on us), the world is coming to us!

Leaving aside the thorny political issue of illegal immigration, the fact is, millions of foreign nationals live in our communities with millions more on the way.  This influx provides the Christian Community with unprecedented opportunities for outreach and service.

Off the top of my head, I’m thinking our congregations could offer English classes, job opportunities, classes in how to find a job, basic literacy, how to budget and handle money classes. We could offer basic services like assisting a family to find housing or basic auto maintenance. We could assist these new arrivals in finding medical care. In fact, what if health care professionals in our churches volunteered time to serve these families in the same way we often go overseas to set up clinics? (Think, ‘Doctors without Borders’ who don’t need to cross boarders).

Perhaps we could begin offering worship and outreach services targeted at immigrant populations, or even planting Churches among them. (For the record and before some of you blow a gasket, yes, I believe in assimilation, but I don’t believe in waiting for that before reaching out with the hope and love of Jesus.). I can close my eyes and see a mighty army of world changers who already understand cultures and languages that would take American nationals years to learn, being sent out from our Churches to places we’ve never gone, or maybe never been allowed to go.

We have the world at our doorstep; and unlimited opportunity to serve in Jesus’ name. We don’t need mission boards or parachurch organizations to reach them.  Our opportunities will vary with the immigrant makeup of our own communities. Where my wife and I live it will be mostly Hispanic, but other places may be Haitian, Jamaican, Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian, Filipino, Chinese, or a host of other nationalities. All we need to do is open our eyes and hearts to discover ‘the fields are ripe for harvest’ right outside our windows.

Our colleges and universities are also home to large numbers of young adults from other places. Many of them are confused and lonely and could use some real friends, even if we do look and sound funny to them. I have been an immigrant, far from what is familiar, and know first hand how wonderful it is to be truly welcomed by someone in my adopted country. The Church should be leading the way in welcoming foreign students.

I don’t mean to bore anyone with a Greek lesson, but when we look at Matthew 28:19, 20 (The Great Commission) in the Greek we find the command is ‘Make Disciples’. ‘Go’, ‘baptize’ and ‘teach’ are participles describing HOW we make disciples. I have some great news, sometimes we don’t have to ‘Go’ very far.  Sometimes the world is no farther away than, well, the other side of our front doors.

Why The Command To Love Your Neighbor As Yourself Is So Hard – You May Be Surprised – Hard Teachings Part 2

SamaritanMat 22:39 The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  (Good News Translation)

Somebody out there is shaking his or her head saying, “I don’t think I’d pick this verse out as one of the hard passages, Sambo. Challenging, yes, but hard?  I think just maybe that farm of yours has had you working too long out in the sun. Just sayin’.”

I totally understand that sentiment. Most sermons and lessons on this text are built around the, ‘as you love yourself’ part. And I get that.  Loving your neighbor sounds vague and nebulous as a stand-alone concept, but by adding, ‘as you love yourself’, it has depth and focus and raises the stakes.

In my opinion, focusing on that last phrase alone misses the mark. I want to spend a moment on the word ‘neighbor’, because I think that’s what makes this command so tough.

When we read those words, “Love Your neighbor…” it’s really takes some effort not to picture Mr. Rogers, in his cardigan, singing, as he changes into his slippers. ‘Neighbor’ is a good guy word. It’s safe. It implies proximity, barbecues,  connection, coffee, relationships worth investing in…or does it?

In Luke Chapter 10, after Jesus quotes this commandment, in verse 29 we read that one of the Jewish leaders asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?’  It is Jesus’ surprising answer that moves this teaching into the ‘hard’ category.

As an answer to this loaded question, Jesus gives an equally loaded response. This is where Jesus tells the famous story of The Good Samaritan. I have absolutely no doubt that the Jewish leaders were outraged when they heard the parable.

Unfortunately, 2000 years of time have separated us from the social and religious context of The Good Samaritan Story and it kind of loses some of its scandalous nature to our 21st century western minds. Please allow me to retell the story as Jesus might tell in in 21st Century Georgia.

“A guy was driving from Nashville down to Atlanta for a big Prayer and Worship conference, when he was mugged at the Georgia Welcome Center just south of Chattanooga on I-75. The poor man was pistol whipped, robbed, stripped, carjacked and left in the parking lot to die.

After a while, a preacher, headed to the same conference, stopped by to stretch his legs at the rest area and saw the man there in a pool of his own blood. He looked at his watch and said, “If I stop here, I’m going to get all bloody and will be late for my sermon. Besides, who knows what kind of guy this is.” Then he drove away.

A few minutes later, a couple of deacons who were also headed for the conference drove into the rest area, but when they saw the victim lying there, they got creeped out and just kept going.

By this time, the poor traveler has lost a great deal of blood, is in a lot of pain and is pretty sure he’s going to die.

Just when he’s about to give up hope, a young Middle Eastern Muslim man pulls up and sees him lying there. The Muslim immediately stops his car, gets on his phone and dials 911. Then while waiting for the ambulance, he does his best to tend to the man’s wounds.

Later, he follows the ambulance to the hospital where he goes to the window and speaks with the E.R. admissions team; “The person just brought in is very badly injured. He has no I.D. or money on him. There’s no way of knowing whether or not he has any insurance, so here.”

At that point, the Muslim stranger pulls out a wad of cash and lays a stack of $100 bills on the desk along with a business card. “If the cash doesn’t cover his bill, this card has my contact information. Call me, and I’ll take care of whatever you are still owed.”

When Jesus finished telling the parable, He looked at the horrified people and said, “Who do you think acted like the injured man’s neighbor?”

“I suppose the one who took pity on him”, someone murmured in reply.

“Exactly,” Jesus answered. “Now you go and do likewise.”

See why I say it’s one of the Bible’s hard teachings? It flies in the face of all our natural, national, religious, cultural and political instincts. But it’s precisely at this point, where our faith claims and the real world collide, that our allegiance to Christ is tested. Real life, real faith, is hard. It is messy and it is counterintuitive.

Remember this next time you want to scream, “Enough! Its time to get rid of those stinking _________, fill in the racial, political, religious, cultural, lifestyle blank.  Every drop of blood that dripped from Jesus’ crucified body was spilled for her/him/them, just as surely as it was shed for you and me.  He loves every single human being as much as he loves me. Wow!

Love my neighbor as I love myself? Man, that’s hard!

The Most Secular Cities And States In the USA. Will Number 1 Shock You?

USAWhile flipping through radio stations this morning, I heard someone mention ‘the most secular/non-religious cities in the country.’ Frankly, I kept flipping. As the morning progressed, however, that statement kept haunting me, so about 11:00 I stopped what I was doing and headed for Google.

My search for ‘most secular cities in the United States’ turned up quite a few results, some of which were quite recent, but many were several years old, so I’m sure certain data points have changed. The most recent list comes from April of this year and it’s the one I’m going to share in a moment.

In an obvious follow up, I searched for the most secular States. I found some convoluted pages of fairly recent information, but they were not really easy to make sense of, so I settled for a list from 2009 published on “The Friendly Atheist” page on Patheos.

The lists didn’t surprise me much, but they did hurt my heart. I am committing starting today, to pray each day, for one of the cities and one of the States in a 10 day rotation for 30 days. Essentially then, each of them will be prayed for 3 times during the month. I would love it very much if you would consider joining me. I’m also going to pray for my State, Georgia, and our County, Bartow. I encourage you to pray for your State and County, too.

I’m going Pray for God’s blessing. I will pray for the Leaders, The Churches, The economy, and the people. I will pray that God will send a revival among the Churches and will draw unbelievers to Him. I will pray for peace and wisdom.

Every great revival in history has been preceded by and accompanied by, prayer.  It is time, no past time, for the Church to rise up and stop seeking answers in the voting booth, but in the prayer closet. Vote, yes, but remember that real change can’t be regulated or legislated, because it comes from the inside out.

Please use the comment section to let me know if you choose to join the ‘knee party’.

Top 10 most secular cities (Source: Christian Century, April, 2015)

10: Detroit, MI, 9: Columbus, OH, 8: Boston, MA, 7: Los Angeles, CA, 6: Tampa/St Petersburg, FL, 5: Phoenix, AZ, 4: Denver, CO, 3: San Francisco, CA, 2: Seattle, WA, 1: Portland, OR.

Top 10 most Secular States (Source: The Friendly Atheist 2009)

10: Connecticut, 9: Nevada, 8: Rhode Island, 7: Oregon, 6: Washington, 5: Alaska, 4: Massachusetts, 3: Maine, 2: New Hampshire, 1: Vermont.

 

Today we pray for Detroit and Connecticut. Ask, Seek, Knock.