Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Good Samaritan and A Kind Navajo

 The Navajo and Me:

As many of you are well aware, the ministry I work for has had God open doors to us to serve the Navajo people. Our calling as a ministry is to bring formative and biblical theological training to those who would otherwise go without, and, over the last few years and for what looks like many years to come, our main focus is on some small, isolated churches and their leadership on the Navajo Reservation.

However, especially with racial tensions being what they are in our country and the history white persons, such as myself, have had with persons like the Navajo, it would be pretentious of me to go and “teach” these people without so much as an invitation. So, for years, before our ministry ever offered our true gifting as we have been called by God, we served in other ways in order to show the Navajo that we were not simply out there to complete a task or check a box off our list, but that we were first and foremost out there to love. Is that not what our faith comes down to, true love?

This hasn’t always proven easy for me. It is not that I am not a loving person, but we all have ways of showing love that are different from one another. Many people have come to call these “love languages,” a term popularized by the “marriage help” book by Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages. As the book points out, we might be very adept at showing love in our own ways, but persons speak other languages than simply our own. I might be trying to tell my wife I love her all the time by buying her gifts, which might make me feel special, but her love language might be “words of affirmation;” just a simply thank you might light up her day (and cost much less), while gifts don’t really speak her language.

I think this can perhaps be a reality, not simply on an individual level, but on a social level as well. I love people, and one of the ways my heart yearns to reach out to them is by teaching them. However, I am sure that the majority of people, who have heard me speak, even if they were moved by my words, did not pick up on the fact that the reason I stoodd before them is because I love them.

Likewise, I could have gone to the Navajo reservation and asked to speak in church, and, because they are such hospitable people as a church, they would have allowed me to do so, but that does not mean they would have understood my motives. They might simply think that I think I know more than they do. I wish I knew as much about living in faith and by the power of the Spirit as they do. If only…

Having said all of this, I have had to show my love for them in ways that make me very uncomfortable. I have to lead short-term missions groups to the reservation for the organization and execution of a Vacation Bible School. Let me tell you something about myself. I am not an administrator. I can lead people in class as a teacher, but when it comes to planning logistics, executing travel across the country for over twenty people, moving them into a place they are very unfamiliar with, and keep them together as a team, that is a challenge.

Likewise, I have been most gifted to teach an adult crowd, a serious crowd who will pay attention and wants to hear what I have to say. I have no clue how to impact children with a message. However, that is what all the planning and traveling leads us to do, four days of Vacation Bible School for a group of children that are harder to heard than cats.

But, you know what? That has proven to be the most effective way of reaching the Navajo people. We hear them say things like, “Thank you for caring so much for my children,” and “ We cannot believe you keep coming back year to year. Most white people we meet never come back.” Finally a few years back Becky, our partner at Pure Water Ministry, and I were finally able to ask the Navajo, “What is it that we could do for you as a church,” and we got an answer they would never give people they did not trust. They said, “Will you teach us the Bible?” In the end, all the discomfort God keeps putting me in to gain the love and respect of the Navajo has proven worth it all.

An Unexpected Incident on The Reservation:

If you have ever been on a short-term mission or know someone who has, you have inevitably said or heard it said, “The trip was more for us going than the ones we served. They did more for us than we could ever do for them.” That is true. However, when you go on a trip, you go with some religious sense of duty to serve those in need, and that is a good thing, but that mindset, if overblown, can become dangerous.

There are times to have pity on the reservation. When you meet a woman with a black eye from a domestic dispute, when you meet a grieving family because one of the children committed suicide out of a sense of hopelessness, when you walk into the home of two teenage boys whose parents abandoned them and there is no food in the house, all these times are for pity. However, the danger is then to grow a blanket sense of pity over the whole people. Just like any culture, yours and mine included, there are people in despair and there are people who are making an honest living who do not want or need our pity. Sometimes, religious duty overrides the heart that is supposed to look at each person as they are, not prejudge them.

I have been leading missions teams to the reservations since 2008, and we have had some bumps in the road, but nothing like being flooded in at our Church last year, but that is not the story I want to tell. Just know that before the flood, this next story was probably what I would have considered one of the worst things that had ever happened to me while on the reservation.

One afternoon after all our VBS duties had ended and we had dropped the children safe and sound back home, a few team leaders went out on our own to do a few things back at the church and to generally talk about what was next. As we were leaving the church, Becky Holland, a woman I would consider my “Reservation Mother” and close friend, had what she thought to be a brilliant idea. She pointed out across the desert and said, “You see that little spot over there. That is an artesian well they have dug. The cattle drink from it, but the church also does baptism there. It is a sight to see.” I would still to this day follow Becky on any ministry journey she has, but I will be a little more careful to follower her site seeing (love you, Becky).

The team in the car found themselves excited and asked to see it, but the driver, my cousin, Lane, and I protested. The only path was an ATV path. But, Becky, who admittedly knows more about the reservation than any of the rest of us, thought it would be a good idea. So, reluctantly, Lane turned down the path. We drove for a while, but eventually, we found ourselves stuck in the sand.

We were in the middle of nowhere, and no matter how hard we tried, we could not get ourselves unstuck. I had a credit card in my pocket and a number to a tow company, but I had no service. I was hopeless. So, I prayed. Just then, I heard a diesel engine roaring over the dunes. Off in the distance, a young Navajo man hoped out his huge truck at a little shack, and it seemed he was feeding or caring for his sheep in some manner. He also had his water tank on the back of the truck.

If you know anything of the Navajo people, you know that many of them do not enjoy the amenities we enjoy ourselves. They do not have running water or electricity much of the time, and so they plan their budget around their gas money to ensure they can get enough water at the filling station to provide for the month. Obviously, he was going to make one of those trips soon, and I knew that helping us would cost him gas and time. I had only a credit card and some small bills, nothing to make up for his help. So I did not want to ask.

Even though when he was pulling over the hill I was praying for a miracle, when he stepped out of the truck, I did not think, “Oh, thank you, Lord.” Instead, I thought, “Oh, poor, pitiful man.” And that is when God said to me, “You are the one stuck in the desert in the blazing heat, not him” So, I swallowed my pride and walked hundreds of yards to speak. He smiled and then laughed before saying, “What were you guys doing?” He gladly pulled us out, but it took him a long time and I could see in my minds eye his gas gauge needle moving to the E.

Afterward, I offered what little money I had, and asked, “What can I do?” He replied, “Just keep doing what you are doing. We appreciate it,” and he drove off.

The Good Samaritan:

Without having to tell the story here, I bet most you know the basics, and I am sure you can see how the man in the story above proved to be like the good Samaritan, but the story I just told was not simply about a man helping out, but another man who, even with good intentions, had prejudice towards his would be helper. At the end of this essay, I want to talk more about that issue, and I think it is an issue Jesus addresses here. But, before we look at this issue, let’s simply look at the primary meaning of this story. Hold the story I just told you in the back of your mind as we hear another story told by Jesus.

So, here is a close look at Jesus’ challenge to us all in Luke 10: 25-37:

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Just to set this lawyers challenge up, let me mention what has just happened in the previous verses. Jesus has just sent seventy-two disciples into the cities He is about to visit to prepare His coming. They have come back with great reports about the receptiveness of the people in these cities. Jesus then turns to the twelve and they are celebrating.

Obviously, this lawyer does not know what is going on, but he sees this rabbi with His disciples celebrating, and He undoubtedly knows of Jesus and apparently wants to burst His bubble. A lawyer and a rabbi debating was not an uncommon scene in this world. As a matter of fact, this debate style here in this passage is very common, and I am going to be pointing out the various practices throughout.

A lawyer and a rabbi both had to know the Torah, the first five books of the Bible known as the Law. Israel not only read the Bible to shape their spiritual lives, but their civil lives as well. So, the lawyer would be an expert in the law for civil reasons, to be able to discuss law in the courtroom so they could shape peoples’ civil lives. Likewise, the rabbi would be an expert in the law to show His followers how to shape their spiritual lives in light of God’s will. It was not uncommon for a match of wits between these two types of people to form.

The lawyer’s question here, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” is really a challenge to Jesus. Essentially, the lawyer is saying, “You think you know the law so well, see if you can sum it up for me. What is the big point?”

 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

In Israelite society, many questions were answered with a question. This is still the case today in Jewish society. This was another part of this common debate. Jesus is accepting the challenge by putting the ball in the lawyer’s court, giving Him the chance to share his big idea. 

27 He [the lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 

Do you recognize the answer here? It is the same answer Jesus gives in Matthew 22, an answer that impresses everyone. Jesus was asked to sum up all 613 commandments into one, and He does so with the same answer the lawyer gave above.

Now, if you are like me, you might be impressed with this lawyer. He must be close to the Kingdom, right? We might not have liked him at the beginning of the story for trying to burst Jesus bubble, but now it seems they are on the same page.

28 And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

Wow. Jesus says the lawyer is right. Of course he is, but notice what else Jesus says: “Do this, and you live.” This is a challenge. Jesus is saying, “You have answered correctly, but are you practicing what you preach?

Again, this is a common practice for the Jewish people. If you want to see another example of this, see the conversation between Nathan the prophet and King David. In 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Nathan tells David something. He says that there was a rich man with a lot of sheep and a poor man with only one lamb. A visitor came to see the rich man, and, as is custom, the rich man had to prepare a lamb for the man. But, instead of taking from one of his many sheep, he takes the poor man’s lamb and cooks it. David is enraged, and calls for this man’s life. That is when Nathan says, “You are that man.” In other words, Nathan says, “David, you know what is right, but you do not practice it.” David had a whole kingdom and could marry any virgin he chose, but instead, he took Uriah’s only beloved wife and killed Uriah to have her. David is immediately convicted and repents.

Likewise, Jesus says, in essence to the lawyer, “You speak correctly, are you acting on what you say?”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

This is proof that the lawyer sees Jesus command, “do this” as a challenge. The Bible says the lawyer wants to defend his self. So, he asks, who is my neighbor. Now, remember, when the lawyer says we are to “love our neighbor,” the lawyer quoted Leviticus 19:18. This verse clearly is speaking about a fellow Jew. So, in essence, the lawyer is saying, how many Jews do I have to help? He has a checklist, and wants to see if his matches Jesus. He might be able to say to Jesus that he is already doing all of this.

This reminds me a little of myself at times. I have often brought my checklist in unwittingly. One of my favorite verses is Jesus’ proclamation to the Church, the body of believers, is that they will preach in all of Jerusalem, in all of Judea, in all of Samaria, and, finally, to the ends of the earth. The concentric circles starts at home and move to the farthest reaches. Sometimes I pat myself on the back because I serve in Brunswick, in the county I live, at a downtown ministry. I serve in Claxton, a couple hours away, by teaching on radio, I serve on the reservation, on the other side of the country, by pastor training, and I serve people in Peru and Africa by financial support, and sometimes, in my mind, I think I have completed the check list of Acts 1:8, but that is not the point. The lawyer and I are asking how far is far enough, how much is good enough, and Jesus turns us away from our checklists.

This is where Jesus turns up the heat.

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 

A few things to point out here: The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous. The robbers did not strip the man simply to be cruel. Clothing was a sign of wealth and was costly. It would be something to steal. Finally, Jesus says he was left half dead. This would be to say the man appeared lifeless.

31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 

A priest had to be ritually clean to perform his duties. Touching a dead body would make him unclean. So, he does not want to get down to check to see if the man is alive. His religious duty kept him from helping. But, notice: He is said to be going “down” the road. In our day, we might say we are going up to Savannah or down to Jacksonville (that is if you live where I do. We mean we are heading north or south, but in this day, going up or down meant elevation. Jericho is downhill from Jerusalem. The priest worked in Jerusalem. He wasn’t even on his way to serve the people as priest. He had time to get ritually clean if need be. Instead, he not only passed by, but also he is said to have passed by on the other side. The Pharisees believed that even if one’s shadow touched something unclean, the person would be made unclean. In the priest’s mind, he helps hundreds of people by mediating between them and God, taking broken lives and making them whole. Here is just one man; he has a duty to so many more. Even if he wasn’t heading to work, he would have to take time out of his day to cleanse before he could serve as priest again.

32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 

A Levite had even less reason to worry about ritual cleanness. He was a temple worker, not a priest. But, likewise, he passes by

33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 

Two good Jews have now passed by. We know they are good Jews because they want to stay clean. Cleanliness was their religious sense of duty. Now comes a Samaritan. Not only was a Samaritan not a Jew, but Jews and Samaritans hated each other. But, in his heart, he is moved to pity.

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

This verse shows that the Samaritan went to great length, sharing his valuables to heal the man.

35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 

In fact, he goes above and beyond helping.

36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 

Remember the lawyers question: He is asking how far a good Jew must go to help a neighbor in need, and Jesus responds with this parable to suggest that it is not about being a good Jew. The priest and Levite were good Jews, but terrible neighbors. There is no checklist. It was about the heart.

37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

What this primarily means for you and me:

This parable is not too hard to understand. Everyone is your neighbor. We are to care for everyone God puts in our path and our hearts are moved in pity to serve, even those we might have prejudice against. The great truth is this, I can help as many people in Brunswick, Claxton, the Navajo Nation, and Peru as I can, but as soon as I pass by a person in real need and think to myself, “I’m in too much of a hurry; that will have to be someone else’s problem, I have proven that all I have done to help all the other people was simply for a checklist, not about love.

Religious duty is good when it is followed in service to God, but not when it becomes about “my” performance. Religion is about so much more: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27)

We can be as pious as a saint. We can have more quite time than anyone else around. We can know Scripture backward and forward, reading it hours a day. We can serve on every church committee there is. We can work three times a week at the soup kitchen, but if we do not do so out of love, but out of duty, we have gained nothing. We can have the whole world figured out, but if we have not love, we lose (see I Corinthians 13). Why do we act as Christ has called us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So, we must first learn to ask the question, “What is my motive?”

Quick Bible Study Tip:

Often times Christians, especially those in ministry, read the Bible to form lessons, but often we use those lessons for and against others. Sometimes this is good. A pastor preaches a message from Scripture that changes the attitude of the people to be more Christ like, and he has done well. But, we cannot be like the lawyer. He was using the Bible to attack Jesus, but Jesus turns it around on the man, and, in essences, asks, “Are you living like this.” Nathan as well asked this of David. When we read and discover truth in Scripture, we must always ask, “Do I live by this truth,” before we can ever tell others they ought to do so.

Yet another layer:

The beauty of stories such as the parables is that they often have multiple layers. For example, think about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The story is simple enough: A young man dishonors his patriarchal culture by asking the father for autonomy and his inheritance. In essence, he is saying he knows better what to do with his life than his culture or father. His father allows the boy to take what is his, but was meant to be enjoyed as part of the household, and the boy goes out on his own. The boy’s foolishness proves itself when he squanders what is his.

When he is at his lowest and is in danger of dying from lack of protection or inheritance, he goes back to his father with a plan. He will now no longer be a son, but a worker, a slave, but as he approaches home, before he can utter a word, his father lavishes him with everything the son had squandered and restored him to his place as a son. This is what God does for us when we finally realize our place is with the Father. We cannot earn our way back, but He gives us all we need to be His children. This is a reflection of the Kingdom of God. Straight forward.

However, there is another character, the elder son. He has worked diligently for the father and protests that it is unfair that the prodigal does not have to work for his place. The father shows the eldest that it has never been about work. Work in the father’s house is good, but is simply about being a part of the father’s accomplishments. Work is a privilege, but inheritance is based on being a son, not work. This too is a deeper image of the Kingdom.

Likewise, I think Jesus is giving us a deeper level to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Let’s look at the characters. The Priest’s and the Levite’s motives are clear; they are based on religious duty outside the context of love. Likewise, the Samaritan’s motive is very clear, for the Scripture says explicitly that he was moved with pity. But, what about the silent character, the man left half-dead. I had never considered looking at the story from his perspective until reading Dr. Elsworth Kallas’s, Parables from the Backside, but when I did, it cut me to the heart.

The lawyer was asking what was necessary for a Jew to do to help his fellow Jew. While it is not said, in context we assume the man left for dead was Jewish. It was his own people, his own religious leaders, leaving him to die. It was a Samaritan, a person that the whole of Jewish culture hated, that helped. Who do you imagine he would have picked to serve him, to be a Christ-like figure to him in his time of need. More than likely a fellow Jew, especially a priest or Levite

How many times have you been in a situation looking for help and someone that you normally would not associate with lends a hand? You almost want to say “No thanks,” if you were not so desperate for help. Jesus uses a Samaritan, and sure, He could have done so simply for shock value, but I think He was also trying to say something about the people of God. We need to learn to help and be helped by His people.

I think a big question Jesus was asking to us is this: “Who do you see as your brother and sister? Should they not be fellow workers of the Kingdom?” I can remember times when I have been around a group of people who talk like me and sound like me, but do not share in my faith, and yet have felt at home. I can also remember times I have been around fellow Christians, but they did not look like me, talk like me, or culturally act like me, and I have been uncomfortable. This should not be. We should be more at home with our family from all over the world than any person from our own neighborhood that does not believe like me. I should love that person as well, but when it comes to teaming up to do the Lord’s work, I need a brother or sister, not a buddy.

That day on the reservation, I was about to let my prejudice of pity steal away another man’s blessing of being able to help out a group of God’s children in need. We need to open our eyes. Jesus was the Great Samaritan (see Isaiah 53). He came to a world full of people who did not share His thoughts or ways, who did not like Him or the way He acted, but He loved them anyway, and He gave His life to and for them. We should do likewise.

Friday, November 8, 2013

My Coming Out For “The Other Side…"

Note to reader: I am writing this with the intention of releasing it as four separate posts for seetheotherside.com, but collectively, it makes up my defense for why I have chosen to join in the “See The Other Side Social Action Initiative,” and I am sure many of you will have questions about what it is and how a Christian can support such a cause. So, I wanted to provide the whole essay here to answer that question. It is long, but please don’t make a judgment until you read the whole discussion.

This cause speaks to my deepest convictions

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

I will have to be honest, when I first spoke to my father-in-law about this idea he was forming, it terrified me. What could be the ramifications for supporting such a project? Where could all this lead? Could I be a part of such a radical movement? However, what frightened me the most was how the essence of the idea resonated with my soul, with my deepest self.

How could it be that I felt it right and good to give a voice to people that fundamentally disagree with my deepest convictions? How could it be that I want to allow “the other side” my full, undivided attention? And, how could it be that I want my fellow Americans to hear their cry as well? Isn’t such conversation dangerous to the sort of America I dream of living in? It still shakes me to the core.

I made a commitment to my God several years ago to live as pure and single-minded towards His will as I absolutely could. I have not done this as well as I would like, but I have remained committed to doing my best. As a matter of making such a promise practical, I began to practice a life of testing all things, not just with my mind, although rationality is certainly a part of my process, but through my heart as well. The question that began to dictate my life was, “Does this resonate with the heart and mind that Christ has given me?”

When Curt first mentioned “The Other Side” to me, it resonated in the depths of my being, but I was not sure how I could put words to my convictions. How could I express and interpret the feelings in my heart with the biblical framework and language of my mind?

This essay is my attempt at answering this question: This is my coming out for “The Other Side.”

First, a word to the non-Christian:
My leveraging this campaign for my Christian purposes…

Who are we—the Christian and the non-Christian—in relation to one another? I feel like my introduction has already given you a look into who I am at my core. I am a Christian, a man who calls upon the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I am sure that gives some non-Christians pause. What could possibly be my motive for wanting to have a conversation with you? I know that many of you feel just like many in the Church, that Christians and secularists relate to each other, at least in the public/political sphere, as combatants, persons trying to vie for the continual formation of the nation as we each see fit.

At least on some level you and I are “against” each other. I want to force prayer in schools upon your children and push the Ten Commandments in your face in the public square, and all you are asking is that I shut up, that I keep my thoughts to myself. I have no right to talk to you when you don’t want to be manipulated by my outmoded worldview. Perhaps this isn’t how you feel. Me either. But, isn’t this the caricature we have painted of each other. I won’t speak for you, but I think that the American Church has blame in this. We have caused division where we are called to make relationships. As a matter of fact, if you can put up with a little Christian-ese, I encourage you to read the following sections of this essay as I address my fellow Christian on this very topic.

I hope that I have already made it clear that I want to hear your side, but I will be honest and upfront with you. I see “The Other Side” as an opportunity for Christianity. The See The Other Side Social Action Initiative is about everyone giving everyone else his or her attention in respect, and I have something I want to say to everyone. Yes, part of my joining the conversation is to influence our culture with Christian ideas. I am stepping into what I see as a burgeoning bastion of peace, made for a pluralistic society, so that I might influence you with my faith, but that should not deter you from joining this cause as well.

First of all, I do not believe in coercion, and I feel assured that the See The Other Side leadership would not tolerate any attempt at strong-arming or propagandizing since such action is antithetical to their cause. The initiative's leadership and growing community is made up of a diverse population of Christians and non-Christians, liberals and conservatives, and so on. So, I am sure that any attempt to control the conversation will be cut off by the leaders of this initiative as soon as it begins.

As a matter of fact, I only believe that supernatural grace can lead you to the same faith that I share with the Church. If you do not believe such supernatural realties exist, you can probably safely assume I will not have a chance at converting you. See The Other Side is simply a place to be heard, if people will listen, and I have something to say.

If I make a difference with my words, good, if not, at least I’ve had my opportunity. Second, you are not forced to read or listen to my views, or the views of anyone else for that matter. You might be here because you are weary and you simply want to locate peaceable persons with your own like views. Although the hope of this initiative is to have people dialogue, it is your prerogative to listen to other’s appeals.

Finally, you have the same chance to tell others how you see a better tomorrow and a better America. If your ideas are truly better than mine, then, perhaps, you will have a better chance than I at influencing those in this common cause. You can have a chance to influence me just as much as I have a chance to influence you. In my opinion, this is what made our nation so great in the first place. Diverse people with diverse ideas persistently debated with mutual respect and civility to form a great nation. That is the true genius behind America.

So who are we in relation to each other? We are fellow Americans, and America is diverse. Too often we hear snippets of others’ views, and, before they can finish their thought, the other side yells, “That is un-American.” I guess if you are a Marxist, that epithet could apply, but we use the term too loosely today. Just because you do not share in my faith and ideals, this does not mean we are not in this together. We have to learn to speak to each other with respect or our own internal bickering will dismantle this country from the inside out; forget about what the rest of the world wants to do to us; we have a problem right here in our midst we must address.

 While I will soon speak to my fellow Christians at length about Christian influence and winning people to the Church, I also believe in simple American civility. Even if you never come to believe what I believe, I still want to be loving and respectful to you. This is not simply about growing the faith. I also believe in the simple value and virtue of respect between all peoples. This will benefit, not only the Church, but also all Americans. That is something I believe a lot of us can agree upon. Are you in?

I am supporting “The Other Side”
Why support a group that is not “for” my views?

I want to raise awareness to my support for the See The Other Side Social Action Initiative, and I want you to consider joining me as a part of this initiative. What is See The Other Side? It is an initiative designed to promote civility in the public square. This group is dedicated to raising awareness to the negative effects of public hatred, name-calling, censorship, and hostility, especially as it relates to our political discussions about how we can move our country forward.

How do they plan to accomplish their calling to create a more civil America? They plan to tell stories. Without bias or blame, this organization will give society a look into the lives of various persons living with the ideals they have chosen and the consequences that go along with such ideals. See The Other Side plans to show both sides of various debates, such as gun rights, immigration reform, and LGBT rights. So, what is the position of this organization on all these various topics? Read their words for yourself:

Our SAI campaign is designed around a fundamental commitment to be as non-biased as a group can be that is biased against hatred, bigotry, and slander. Beyond this stance, this SAI is committed to remain neutral concerning the opinions, ideals, and stories we tell… The See The Other Side team values the views and opinions of others to such an extent that we want to provide a place in which all persons from all sides of our nation’s various debates and discussions can be heard. So, in fact, the larger community that makes up our SAI will be filled with people with deeply held convictions and varying opinions… As for us, the core leadership of this SAI, we are humbly forfeiting our rights to an opinion, so that we might reserve our right to have a larger discussion with everyone. Until we can accomplish our goal of influencing our overall culture to allow everyone, from the most traditional to the most progressive, the right to an opinion, while also providing all these people mutual respect and civility, we recognize that we live in a country that believes that if someone is not “for my side” they are “against me.” See The Other Side is not against anyone. We are for everyone. So, for now, we respectfully stand in the gap.

How can a non-Christian campaign ever serve my Christian ideals and purposes, especially when it presents stories from sides that I would consider “other” than my faith-informed side? Can a Christian really support a team of people that choose neutrality?

I will speak at length about this in a moment, but I think American Christians have confused their mission. They have made protecting America synonymous with protecting the faith, and I do not think this is our primary calling. We have become about defending America against the secularists and non-Christians, but our mission is not to protect America “against” the other, but to fight “for” the heart and soul of the other. For too long, many Christians have thought that the way to see a better America is to be combative, but this has actually been antithetical to our real cause. Our mission is to spread the Good News for the sake of the world.

Instead, the world has seen us take a position against them, in which we say, “We want things our way,” and those ways are not Christian ways, but the ways of selfishness as we try and make a more comfortable and tolerable America by the Pharisaical project of white washing tombs. I am worried that some of the damage has become almost irrevocable.  The meanness of some that call themselves followers of Christ has left a stain on the Bride of Christ.

I am concerned that no matter how sincerely I reach out with an offering of friendship through love for the non-Christian, my words might fall on deaf ears, and the deafness is not simply the fault of those to whom I am reaching out, but is a reaction to prior hurt caused by mistreatment and disingenuous offerings from “Christianity” too concerned to have our own way so as to experience comfort, instead of providing a real look into the freedom of Christ that we as the Church enjoy, no matter the worldly circumstances around us, as well as providing an offering to join that freedom through grace by providing the other an invitation into His family on behalf of the Father. To invite the other into the Church means we have to go out into the world that often makes us feel so uncomfortable. So, we have instead tried to insulate ourselves from the world. This was certainly not the way of Christ who was called “a friend of sinners.”

If Christ’s way is really viable, and the Church really wins hearts through love and respectful, gentle conversations that makes real friendships as a means of vulnerably providing a look unto how grace has freed each of us, then we, the Church, have to restore our ability to have discussion with the world, and I believe that this is what this SAI is going to be able to provide all, Christian and non-Christian alike, a safe place to simply talk.

They will encourage all sides to give each other a voice, and if our message is truly Good News and peaceable people on the other side can hear it, then I believe we will have a better chance at winning precious souls than we have at the present moment. If we want to have a conversation with the world, we have to be willing to join together with the world in some forum or another with civility and respect, and I believe the See The Other Side forum is a well thought out and safe place to step into such a community. If you believe this is a good direction for us, perhaps consider joining me.

Finally, a message to my fellow Christian: A Christian Nation?
What is our identity and heritage as the American Church?

It feels strange to think that what I fear most is that it will be my own brothers and sisters in Christ that will disagree with me most for acting on my convictions by joining this initiative. We agree on so much, not least that Christ is our Risen Lord who is to direct our every step, but many persons of the Church are probably going to disagree with me about the best direction for our country. Many Christians are not disagreeable because they are ill tempered, unloving people, but they find it their religious duty to “fight” for the moral well being of America.

I would not disagree that what is best for us as a nation is a revival of principles (and ideally, a revival of souls), but how we accomplish such a task is where we might disagree, and our disagreement probably lies in our understanding of our own history and the success of our faith in our nation’s past. For the sake of space (I have already written an article far too long), my address to the church is only going to hit the highlights of what I want to say. If you find yourself wanting a little more explanation, click here (coming soon) for an expanded version of this section. So, I will just come out with it. I am befuddled over the claims I hear from many of my fellow conservative Christians:

“America is a Christian Nation.” I certainly hope not. Have you been in the midst of a large public crowd lately and heard the language that is now the norm? Have you recently turned on cable television? Have you taken in any of the political conversations that are now being had? Have you not seen our culture accept more and more moral laxity? Are drone strikes the actions of “peacemakers”? Is spying on each other a “Christian” norm? Is the targeting of certain constituencies by the IRS as to prevent them what is proffered others a show of “justice and equity”? 

If this is the reflection of a Christian Nation, I have been mistaken on the impact, power, and nature of true Christianity for far too long. Some might say, “Well, I remember a time when we were, by and large a ‘Christian Nation,’ and that is the nation I want back when I say, ‘Take back America,’” another phrase that confuses me. At best, what I hear these persons saying is that there was a time when most Americans prided themselves for their involvement in church and, at least outwardly, acted accordingly.

But, that raises another question that I must ask, “How do you think this past version of America became what came to be called a ‘Christian Nation?’” I am not denying that there might have been a time in which Christianity had more positive impact on this country than this country had negative impact on Christianity, but I do find some of the suggestions for how this phenomenon came about a bit suspect, which lends to my discomfort with the common saying, “Take back America,” especially when it is used as a religious, political cry.

At least to me, this seems to suggest that America, as a concept, was simply Christian, and that firm foundation was stolen from “us,” the Christians of our nation who were the true heirs of this project, by an invasive and subversive secular sect that somehow played its tricks and sunk its teeth into the American identity and has not let go since. Isn’t that what happened? Isn’t that how the Church lost prayer in schools, the ten commandments in public arenas, and the right to reach out to others without being considered a “hate group”? Well, perhaps it was not the world’s attempt to subvert the Christian influence in our nation that permeated our culture that made the difference. Don’t we expect the world will always be at odds with the Church on the values we espouse?

Perhaps it is our combative want to defend an unrealistic idea that has given the church the black eye. Perhaps we are our own worst enemy. That we were founded to be a “Christian Nation” simply does not resonate with the history I read. Perhaps Christians had a say, and Judeo-Christian principles often prevailed, but that certainly does not settle this as a black or white issue. Proponents of the claim that we were created to be an inherent “Christian Nation” might say, “Ah, don’t you see? The history you read is all part of this secularist plot to change the past to fit its current paradigms.”

In all due respect, I think this sort of blind defense of an alternative history steals away the supernatural and profound witness of our own story as the Christian Church in our earlier America. At best, our nation’s founding history, from the first settlers to the Founding Fathers, is a mixed bag. Many came to this country seeking religious freedom and utopia, but many others simply came to seek fortune. As for the Founding Fathers, many were perhaps Christians, but many, perhaps the most influential, were Deists, not Christians. This includes Franklin, Jefferson, and more than likely Adams.

Perhaps our coming to be considered so Christian as to make confusing America and Christianity such a common phenomenon was not the work of a carefully laid plan in which our founders would construct a practical Christendom through the construction of the American government, which, in reality, is a project that can never really produce a faithful nation, but, perhaps, the story is much more profound. Perhaps, as profound and intellectual as men like Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were, we actually owe our thanks, not to politicians, but to evangelists. Sure, some of the freedoms provided by our Founding Fathers made for fertile soil for evangelist to sow freely the Word, but it was the evangelists’ faithfulness to their message to which we owe thanks for the explosion of faith in early America.

So, what happened? It is undeniable that Christianity has throughout our past had great moments of explosion, sweeping the nation like a wildfire and influencing even our government in the process, most often for the better. How did we become a nation of Christians when we were not founded as a Christian Nation? The answer is revival.

The first awakening (during the time of the thirteen colonies) began in pulpits under the preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards and on street corners by men like Whitefield.  After people began to stir in their spirits, other Christian movements began to latch onto the move of God’s Spirit. Methodists and Baptist began their own outreach and perhaps benefited the most in terms of converts. Indeed, this movement led by citizenry began to solidify the thirteen colonies that at first did not really identify with each other with any sort of deep commonality.

After the War of Independence, as war often does, the zeal of the weary citizenry simmered. Westward expansion made for an unchecked and somewhat lawless frontier, and men and women found a new sort of freedom, a freedom from rules. However, towards the end of the eighteenth century, a Second Great Awakening began. It started on the Northeast coast, but the sudden devotion to Christian living, demonstrating real freedom in Christ, took over the imagination of many, as they saw that faith lived in earnest provided people with rich character and zeal.

Soon many evangelists began to travel westward to preach and teach the Good News to the settlers of the frontiers. While the citizenry gambled and inebriated themselves, the evangelists would preach, and those seeking solace in play and drunkenness often soon found a faith that would prove truly restorative. The awakening became more and more emotional for people as they wept in sorrow for their sins and joy for what God was doing in their lives.  Again, the Methodists and Baptists were the most willing to embrace this move of the Spirit, setting up camp meetings and revivals across the nation. They did not only use deeply studied theologians to spread the word, but average citizens, excited to share what they knew. Farmers and circuit riders alike preached and preached, and Christianity grew and grew. America has been reaping the benefit of the preaching of these average folks ever since.

This, I think, is a truer and a more exciting narrative than many American Christians tell. Equating Church growth with the success of the state is backwards. Instead, I see many of the successes of the state as the result of the growth of the Church. If we want this sort of America again, perhaps we should learn from these everyday men and women who spread the faith in our land in the first place. Our current cry, “Take back America,” is a battle cry against an enemy, real or imagined, that takes on political overtones.

But, Christians of the Church are not to fight against our enemies or legislate our morality. Instead, we are to fight for the other, and this is what the evangelists of the Great Awakenings did. They did not go running off to D.C. to make change the problem of Congress, but ran headlong into society with a message of love and hope. They welcomed people to a better way. They offered grace. If we do not get this, we have no chance of winning the American public back to the Church. We do not need a political revolution, but a Spiritual revival. This is the way of Christ who was accused and being a friend to sinners. I hope I can live up to that insult. I am a friend to sinners.

Where do we go from here?
What does it mean to be a Holy Nation?

So, what does it mean to change our attitude about regaining an imagined “Christian Nation,” and, instead, go for the much more spiritually realistic goal of becoming “a nation of Christians” once again? It means we must live up to our higher calling as God’s representatives to the world, His priests to the lost and dying. We must come to realize that God, in fact, suggests that a “Christian Nation” does exist, but that nation is not America, it is the nation of all believers, also known as the Church:

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (I Peter 2:1-5, 9)

Can we win America for Christ? I hope beyond hope that this could be a reality. Maybe, just maybe, we can, but not in the manner many within the Church have been thinking. It won’t be a political take over, but a cultural and spiritual revival. Perhaps we can win the culture back over to Christ if we radically live as the Church is called and ought to live, as a kingdom of priests. The world, and often our own America, says that to win and get our way, we have to do so by the acquiring of power. We must forcefully impose “right” on others, but the Bible says that we, the Church, will be defined by sacrifice: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:5,9,10).

Yes, we live in America, but, if our primary identity is the Church, then we are first citizens of the Kingdom, and we need to, as ambassadors, model the values of our own heavenly nation before we concern ourselves with “being American.” For so many Americans, church is something that we happen to do, but the reality should be that for so many Christians, America is somewhere we happen to live.

The true Holy Nation to which we belong, the Scripture tells us, is an invisible nation, made up of all peoples who call on the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. And our mission is to be an example of His way, as a Royal Priesthood. This is the will of our Lord:  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5: 14-16).

So, how should a priest act towards those to whom he or she ministers, in our case, the lost and dying world?

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed… Hebrews 5:1-5a

Our position towards the world should be one of understanding and gentleness. As Christ lived, by His grace, so shall I. Are you with me. Are you willing to a blessing for America by showing her people a better way than simply the way of the world? Do you love your country and wish for its prosperity? Then let’s act like the Church should, for the Church is often the best influence on her nation. I love America, but I am not merely an American.

I am a citizen of New Jerusalem living in a fallen Babylon world. My Kingdom to which I have citizenry is not of this world, but it is emphatically for this world, even when this world is in rebellion against it. Christians of this age are all resident aliens, citizens of another realm, but we are not against our own place of residence: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). However, no matter what might befall us, we all have eternity:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21).

Ours is a life on mission, in which we interact with the world as Christ did, as a friend to sinners, to the other, not as an opponent to sinners.

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools” (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

“With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9,10).

All this leads me to one conclusion: Civility is a virtue of the Kingdom, and this initiative is a practical means for me to practice such a virtue.

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