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Global Pastors Speak About Global Trends

 

Every year global leaders meet somewhere in the world to build relationships, learn from each other and leverage what God has given each leader. This group consist of about 20 global leader which represent approximately 11 million followers including their networks. In December 2017 this group met in Bethlehem to share what God is doing in their part of the world. One of the question we asked all of them was “What were the 10 top global trends which they thought will significantly influence the coming years?” Here is the list of trends they selected.

Media/Social/Tech

The Church has unprecedented opportunities to enhance social connectivity, influence right social action, and extend its evangelism and discipleship efforts by utilizing these rapidly emerging technologies. New possibilities will exist to employ aggressive strategies to reach people broadly or in a specific way through technology. This will allow continued and expanded communication into difficult-to-access countries or people groups. It will be important that new models are researched and best practices are shared broadly. More than ever, Global South partners can and should participate in these wide-reaching conversations as equals.

Rise of Radicalism & Grassroots Religious Persecution

A continuing rise in radicalism, especially in failed states, will be a consequence of disillusionment and anger over lack of economic opportunities and of ideologies that emphasize ethnic, tribal and religious differences. Christ’s call is higher than mere tolerance – it is to show love and respect in a language that is understood. Following Christ’s teaching to be peacemakers would call for appealing to common values and reducing antagonistic rhetoric. The global Church has the opportunity to set an example in respect-based diplomacy.

Growth in Islam & Christianity

Both Islam and Christianity will continue to see rapid but uneven growth. Islam’s growth will be fueled by high birth rates in some traditionally Muslim countries, coupled with immigration to Europe and aggressive expansion in other regions. Christianity will grow in the Global South, primarily driven by Pentecostalism and indigenous mission movements. Conflicts will intensify between these two major religions in many parts of the world.
The global Church’s challenge can be summed up as learning how to love one’s Muslim neighbor in the name of Christ while seeking respect and reciprocity. Both Islam and Christianity will face challenges from the tendency to see the other as a monolith. Both will have trouble dealing with extremism and theological shallowness from within. Conflict management and peacemaking initiatives will be needed, as will increased levels of advocacy and dialogue on the issue of religious freedom.

Young People

There is a crying need for role models for youth, from elders and peers. Traditional structures, often bound by the culture of an older generation, are seldom appealing to younger generations. By dealing with institutionalized issues of hierarchy, the Church could empower youth to get involved, take initiative at a much younger age, and offer fresh thinking to aging organizations.  The global Church can equip youth to become prepared for all spheres of society by providing discipleship and leadership training, recognizing the practical need for employment and livelihood, and developing and practicing an “integral theology” through education and skills training. It will take an openness to significant change while not losing a biblical center.

Broken Families

Since the 1960s the family has undergone significant transformation. In many countries, the extended family has all but disappeared, and the traditional family consisting of a married couple with children has become much less widespread as divorce rates, cohabitation, couples “living together apart”, single parenthood and same-sex partnerships have all increased. A rise in migration has made cultures and values more diverse. Families have seen more mothers take up work in the labor market.  Adolescents spend longer and longer alone and the elderly members of the family live longer. This disintegration and reshaping of the family unit is creating massive social problems around the world. This environment puts a demand on the global church for holistic, multi-generational, multi ethnic and multi-cultural approaches to ministries.

Nationalism/Tribalism

There is a resurgence of tribalism and identification with religious factions. Identity conflicts are, and will remain, the most important source of international violence and war in the world. Nationalism is on the rise, the belief that your own country is healthier when it returns to its ethnic and historical roots.  This rise is due in part to globalization and the sense of rootlessness that it has caused.  Sometimes nationalism makes people not want to work with other countries to solve shared problems and isolate itself from the world. It is important not to confuse nationalism with patriotism. Patriotism is a healthy pride in your country that brings about feelings of loyalty and a desire to help other citizens.  The challenge for the global church is to rise above the politics of the day and call people to a higher standard of living and relating to this world where its identity is rooted in Christ and not some temporal entity, where people are called to live as kingdom citizens in this world.

Terrorism/Violence

Terrorism and Violence is on the rise in the world. So, what does this all mean for the world today? If massively destructive terror attacks continue, terror management theory predicts that societies will grow exponentially more chaotic and divided. Heightened aggression towards dissimilar others produces a tendency to favor war over peace. Right-wing nationalism will thrive along with prejudice and intolerance. Islamic fundamentalism will flourish while terror attacks grow more frequent. Raised tensions between nations, ethnicities and political groups will lead to further conflict, creating a devastating feedback loop of suspicion and violence. The Challenge to the global church is live out the mandate of being peacemakers, to be reconcilers and not dividers. To love our enemies and bless those who curse us.

Refugees

Every minute, 24 people around the world are forced to flee their homes. That’s 34,000 people a day who leave everything behind in the hope of finding safety and a better tomorrow. THERE ARE 65 MILLION REFUGEES IN THE WORLD TODAY. A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. Right now, nearly 5 million people have fled the conflict in Syria, and there is no end to the crisis in sight. The global church must see this as an opportunity and not a problem. We must welcome the stranger in our home. Let the government entities deal with the geopolitics of this issue. Our role is to love and take care of people when they knock on our doors. 

Decline of Religion

Modernity will be expressed differently across generational lines. One common face, however, will be materialism and a move towards religious nominalism. Traditional religious institutions will be eroded. Developed nations will see a growing worldliness in their religious congregations. Some developing nations will follow the same trend, as modernization leads people to lose a living sense of the supernatural. The Church’s greatest challenge in this area may well be to interpret culture in light of the Gospel rather than reading the Gospel in light of culture. Diversity not secularization is to be celebrated. Our Christian distinctive should remain unambiguous. We are to be relevant but not relativistic, proclaim absolute truth and provide a contrast for people who are hungry for a Kingdom reality. The need for investments in leadership development has never been clearer.

Sex/LGBTQ

The relationship between religion and the LGBTQ community is a complicated one and everyone experiences it differently. It all depends on how you feel and what you choose. Historically many orthodox religions have treated LGBTQ people harshly. However, within nearly every religious denomination there are now supportive groups that have adopted different interpretations about LGBTQ people. Some denominations, such as Reform Judaism and the Episcopalian church, are openly supportive of LGBTQ members. As society shifts to be more accepting of LGBTQ people, many other denominations are starting to grapple with this issue. The question is how will the global church communicate its conviction on this issue without alienating people who are part of this community. How do we speak the truth in love?

 

(Thank you to First Fruit Global Trends and www.care.org for some of the data included in this blog)

Religious Leaders as Peacemakers

[THE THIRD POST IN A BLOG SERIES ON RELIGION & GOVERNMENT BY BOB ROBERTS]

I’m a part of a small group of twenty global evangelical pastors that gather yearly somewhere in the world.  We’ve become close friends and co-laborers.  Each of us started our church and each of us start churches.  All of these have thousands in their movements, most have millions.  We learn from each other, compare notes, and see what’s happening globally and how we can help each other.  Each of us is very unique and bring a different set of gifts to the table that are all complimentary.  We tackle hard issues, visit one another’s churches, and talk about what it looks like to live as the global church.  This year we decided to meet in Bethlehem.  We had no idea about President Trump’s announcement on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or we probably would not have met there – and that would have been a mistake.

We heard that the announcement might come once we were there.  The night of the announcement we were eating at a local restaurant and happened to be with Bishara Awad who started the Bethlehem Bible College, Jack Sara the current President of the college and Pastor Munir Kakish, the President of the evangelical church council there.  I interviewed them, prior to the announcement and you can hear it on a pinned tweet on my twitter feed @bobrobertsjr if you want.  We actually wound up watching President Trump live on our iphones.  Once it was over, we went back to our hotel to keep a low profile, especially those of us that were Americans.

The next day was calm, but around 11:30pm while we were eating lunch in a café in the hotel we heard a loud banging we thought was some hammering on the roof.  I’ve been in war zones and thought it could be guns, but at first didn’t think much.  Plain clothed guards in the hotel begin to bolt the windows.  A huge interior iron door was closed and bolted with iron rods.  I found out our hotel is ground zero for where they protest in Bethlehem.  Palestinian protesters went out into the streets to protest as they often do when something like this happens.  The Israeli’s responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as they do.  It was all very predictable.  I would agree with reports that protests were limited and not “raging” as some had called for but there were some incidents.  To them, more was being taken away and this was the only way anyone could or would hear them.  Out one window down an alley you could see young people, male and female, putting on Palestinian headgear that covered their faces and run out into the rode and throw rocks towards the Israeli check point that was a few yards from our hotel.  The loud banging came again, followed by guns with rubber bullets.  The loud banging was tear gas and water canons.  All of a sudden a strong wave tear gas entered the hotel and all of us cleared the café literally running to our rooms.  Our eyes were watering our throats parched and impacted from the tear gas and skunk water.

I didn’t like my wife being there – I’ve been in places in the world that were tough but never take her with me to those places.  I prayed for God’s protection over us and especially Nikki.   As we were running another pastor and his wife were running beside us and that pastor’s wife, from a church of tens of thousands in a Muslim Majority nation began to pray outloud, “Oh Jesus for the pain of the Palestinian people, please be with them Lord, help their suffering.”  The pastor’s wife was praying for God’s protection over the Palestinians.  Man was I convicted.  The rioting went off and on all day, the next day we left for Abu Dhabi.  As we drove past the checkpoints, past the 30’ concrete walls to the other side, though glad for us, I was heartbroken for all the evangelical Christians who cannot leave, stuck behind those walls facing an uncertain future.

Governments and Presidents and Kings will do what they do, but what about the global body of Christ?  Aren’t we to be peacemakers?  What does that look like?  Do we mix the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of the world to force God’s hand?  It bothered me more than anything how some far far right evangelicals, that live in the media in America were perceived by part of our brothers and sisters in Christ in another nation, even worse as being a part of creating their pain and suffering.  The geo-political and non-essentials theological views of fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus from a nation across an ocean, a sea and two continents was creating hardship, pain, suffering, and fear among fellow Christians in Bethlehem, the very place Jesus was born.

I’ve been grateful over the years to see many evangelicals, especially younger evangelicals who still support Israel nevertheless challenge Israel when she is unjust taking homes and land that people have owned for centuries.  With the evangelical leaders we were with not a single high profile evangelical leader in America, except a lady who was working with our government, called to encourage them and let them know they were not alone. There were some global evangelicals that also reached out.   I asked the evangelicals I was there with, “How do you feel about the evangelical church in America?”  Their answers were alone, abandoned, ignored, and they don’t care about us.  However, many of them would also point to evangelicals who have befriended them, built relationships with them, and are aware of their situation and trying to make others aware as well.  Media for evangelicals was pretty one-sided in the news, some social media had evangelicals challenging what was taking place.  On twitter I encouraged other evangelicals to encourage them, regardless of their position on Jerusalem and gratefully many did – but others actually spoke condemnation to me for encouraging them.  Ten years ago, I would have been the same, I knew no Palestinians let alone Palestinian evangelicals and my view of the second coming was more religious populist hype than biblical let alone theological, so I understand.  I knew God had me and my wife there to encourage them and love on them – they needed an evangelical from America to know that there were evangelicals back in the States that loved them, supported them, and would stand with them.  Many evangelicals in the U.S. I reminded them were just oblivious that there were evangelicals there.

Personally, I support a two-state solution and a shared capitol in Jerusalem – which has been at the heart of the negotiations for decades.  President Trump has made it clear he supports that as well.   I have supported Israel all my life and will continue to do so.  I am sorry to say, I have only supported the Palestinians in the past decade.  I allowed my own “speculative” theology about the second coming of Jesus to determine my views on foreign policy.  I allowed fictional religious authors and bad hermeneutics provide me with a disjointed, sensationalistic, us against them ethic of escatology that shaped my entire view towards loving Jews and Israeli’s but not Arab’s and Muslims.  What kind of Great Commission is that?  I’ve had to repent of it.  The crazy things I was taught and swallowed like there were no Palestinian people.  If that logic is true, and this logic persist then the same logic means there can be no Lebanon, no Syria, no Jordan, no Egypt – at least not as we know it because the original borders of the land promised in the Old Testament involved all those nations.  God has a future for Israel, and he has a future for every nation!  God loves all the nations and in eternity he will orchestrate and put things as they are to be.  My response to the second coming is to live ready for Jesus to return at any moment and help others be ready.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.  We are called to be peacemakers.  We are called to the Ministry of Reconciliation.  We are Ambassadors for Christ.  We must be very very careful of trying to drive foreign policy.  We need to understand there are consequences for our positions, statements, and pushing politicians to do things because we move as voting blocks instead of the people of God, filled with the Spirit, living out the presence of Jesus in the Kingdom.

If you want to live as a peacemaker, let me give you six things that I try to do.  I’ve learned being a peacemaker requires me working on me more than people I would seek to reconcile!  I’m sure there are more things than these, but this is what I’ve learned so far in working with Arabs and Israelis, Muslims and Christians, and Christians mad at Christians!

  1. Love them all as equal as possible.  All are created in the image of God.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book, “Not in My Name” has got to be one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read.  Anything he writes is good.  The book is basically a commentary on Genesis in which he says the essence of that entire book is for brothers not envy one another but each celebrate who they are.  Cain and Able, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers all illustrate this.  Jesus says love one another, love your family, and love your enemies.  He doesn’t say like, he says to love them.  You can’t love people you don’t know.  There has yet to be a race of people or a nation or a tribe that isn’t “lovely” in various ways.  When all you see is the dark side of a people or nation, you aren’t seeing them.  When all you see is the bright side, you aren’t seeing them as well.  Your ability to truly love is your credibility that enables others to sit down with you and those that they are at odds with.  We often want to sit down with people without truly knowing them.  Spend time on the front end knowing someone before you try to see them reconcile.
  2. Know history – both histories!  Everyone and every nation has a story.  Do you know the story?  When I’m asked to visit a nation I have never been to or don’t know much about, I start reading all I can about it.  When we began to work in Vietnam I read many books about Vietnam, the only problem was they were about the Vietnam war.  There is so much more to Vietnamese history than 1963-1975!  I began to read Vietnamese literature.  Their poetry is incredible.  Their paintings and art work are incredible.  Vietnamese food is awesome.  For years the only way Americans could look at Vietnam was through the pain of a war, but there is at least 3,000 years of history in that part of the world.  If you’re going to be a peacemaker you will also have to look at your own history towards a particular people.  I remember the first time I went to Vietnam in 1995 and landed at the airport in Saigon from which many American soldiers were shipped home in body bags.  That was what my mind and imagination saw as we sat on the tarmac that day.  I had to get over my fear, anger, sadness towards Vietnamese because of the 58.000 soldiers that died there, some that I knew.  As I did, and I came to know the Vietnamese I found out that over 2,000,000 of them had died.  You have to be able to acknowledge the hurt from all sides, because all have been hurt.  I once had a Palestinian tell me that what made reconciliation so hard between the Jews and the Palestinians was that they were both victims.  The Jews were Nazi victims and the Palestinians were victims from the occupation of the Israeli’s.  Victims operate out of woundedness.
  3. Listen critically.  This involves more than anything a high level of emotional intelligence.  What is fact and fiction.  What is real and what is not real.  Often people’s positions don’t reflect them as much as it does the tribe that they’re associated with.  Sometimes individuals are far more open to negotiate and build bridges than their tribes are.  This is good.  This is the kind of person you want sitting at the table because of they have the respect of their tribe they should also be able to challenge their tribe.  To build peace there must be trust established between people.  It’s not always possible to fix everything at once, build it out over time.  All or nothing generally winds up with nothing.  Find places of agreement that you can execute on immediately.  Instead of a peace treaty we should be thinking peace treaties one at a time.  Emotional Intelligence on the part of the peacemaker means knowing how far to push and when to stop.  Emotional intelligence always demands your willingness to have both sides at times upset with you.  If they aren’t, you’re probably not an impartial peacemaker.  Emotional intelligence is important on the part of the peace maker also in the sense of not getting their feelings hurt or taking things personal.  A peacemaker also has to listen and yet ignore the critics from the outside.  A peacemaker is going to be shot at from every angle.  I learned long ago it isn’t worth responding to some people.  Let them say what they will, they want a fight, or they want to win, they don’t want to reconcile.
  4. Build a path from where you are not where you were or wish you were.     You can’t change the past but can create a future.   Knowing the past and how it got there is good.  Using the past as the starting point will stop you from moving forward.  Where are you?  Build your future from there.  Often peacemaking gets stuck because we view things as right or left.  Great peacemakers see third ways of doing things, just like Ghandi and his non-violence movement.  His was the first in the world that freed an entire nation through non-violence.  When I have gathered pastors and imams we do an exercise where we each write a sermon on peace from our Scriptures and then present it.  Then we give them blank paper and tell them, we will never agree on theology or other things, but if you would create bridges to each other so we don’t fear and fight each other and the sky was the limit how would you do it?  It’s been amazing seeing them come up with ideas and later execute many of those ideas.  We get stuck in old thinking and narrow solutions.
  5. Follow the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is orchestrating all kinds of things – as a follower of Jesus we have to stay open and follow the Holy Spirit.  So many unexpected good things happen when we step back and let God move.  When I read the book of Acts I’m amazed the Spirit moved in Acts 6 over how they cared for widows, and then in Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council, and Paul being exposed to all the Roman leaders through prison.  Always pray before, during, and after meeting with people to bring about reconciliation.  I was once in a country with some diplomats from that country that has said Israel shouldn’t exist.  We had been together several days, eaten meals, laughed, learned from each other, etc.  At one of the conversations around formal tables, I told them, “You’re country is incredible, the levels of education, the development – I had no idea.  If the world could only see you as I’ve seen you!”  They were beaming.  I then said, “You know guys, Israel isn’t going away – but your rhetoric makes the rest of the world afraid of you when you’re not as bad as what they think and what one of your leaders keeps saying.  You guys should chill on that some.”  I said it with a grin in a low key way hoping for the best.  One of them said, “You know Bob, I’ve been telling  . . . the same thing!  I think it’s a great idea – it’s just people being political.”  I responded, “I figured as much, but you shouldn’t be held back because one person can’t control their emotions.”  They nodded their head yes and we all went out to eat and talked the practicalities over a meal.  The Spirit opens people, moments, words, and ideas like nothing else.  This country still has a ways to go, but the reality is there are people always open, don’t paint with a broad brush.
  6. Lay down your life.   Be willing to put your heart and soul into it, if not even your life, for the sake of others.  I was asked to speak recently to hundreds of world leaders of different religions and governments and organizations on peace in Abu Dhabi.  I spoke why I as an evangelical am committed to peace and how Jesus was the Prince of Peace and why he went to the cross to establish a way for men to have peace with God.  But I told them there is another cross, and command of Jesus to every follower of Jesus that he gave in Luke 9:23  “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, daily, take up his cross and follow me.”  I explained that this is a cross that Jesus says his followers are to choose,  this cross is also a place of death and sacrifice but for the sake of someone else.  As Jesus went to the cross for us, so he calls us to go to the cross for others.  The cross of Jesus was for all of us to have peace with God, the cross we take up for others is to build peace between men.  What are we willing to die for?  Who are we willing to die for beyond our own families?  Who do we love like Jesus so that we die for others, even if they don’t appreciate it? I told them for me, “It’s you – that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m willing to be misunderstood by others in my own tribe – because you matter to God and you matter to this evangelical.”

Everyone is going to have different positions on various issues.  For those of us as followers of Jesus, we just have to keep in mind that our body is global and how we communicate in the public square can be a thing of tremendous pain that we unintentionally cause others.  Let’s be peacemakers, and be called sons and daughters of God.

Religious Leaders As Prophets

[THE SECOND POST IN A BLOG SERIES ON RELIGION & GOVERNMENT BY BOB ROBERTS]

We need really good prophets who are religious leaders today.  Nathan, whom David loves and listens to, stands before him and calls him out for sleeping with Bathsheba and having Uriah, her husband, killed. He says that famous line to David, “Thou art the man.”  Jeremiah is thrown into a muddy cistern for prophesying against the King of Israel and warning of impending judgment.  Jeremiah also had to stand up to false prophets like Hananiah when they said only what the King wanted to hear.  There are manhy prophets in the Old Testament, but few really speak for God.  Most are enamored by access, power, authority, and privilege.  It’s the same today.  1 Kings 18 is a powerful chapter where Obadiah is hiding 100 prophets from King Ahab for challenging him.  It’s here, when Elijah is going to meet King Ahab, that Ahab’s responds, “It is you, you troubler of Israel.”  1 Kings 22 is rather funny – when Ahab is seeking a word about going to war, his 400 prophets say do it and you will win.   He’s asked by King Jehosaphat of Judah if there are any other prophets who have anything else to say.  King Ahab says, “There is yet one man . . Micaiah. . . but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.”  Ahab should have listened to Micaiah. 

The prophetic isn’t limited to the Old Testament.  Though not exactly the same, it is actually a ministry and gift of the church.  Stephen spoke prophetically at his martyrdom to Jews who had become hard-hearted.  In Acts 21 Agabus prophesies Paul will be imprisoned to which Paul’s response was “let the Lord’s will be done.”  Church history is so filled with prophetic ministry.  Look at St. Francis of Assisi challenging the church and kings of the day against war and the crusades.  Look at Martin Luther challenging the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope.  Look at Roger Williams challenging England and the early American Colonies on religious freedom.  Look at Wilberforce and Livingstone challenging slavery.  Look at Charles Finney challenging the government in the 1800’s on child labor laws.  Look at Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenging Hitler, Germany and the Nazi’s.  Look at Mother Teresa challenging Bill Clinton on abortion at the National Prayer Breakfast.  THESE are the stories that lead to biographies that people devour. These are the examples that people long to emulate, not hob-nobbers and pundits and would-be prophets who are soon forgotten as kings rise and fall.  These are the prophets that change the world – the ones who fear God more than the King.

I hear the prophets all around us today – do you?  Beth Moore, Kevin Kelly, Derwin Gray, David Brooks, Mary Demuth, John Jenkins, Jim Mather, Chris Seiple, Tim Scott, Lecrae, Rich Nathan, Leonard Sweet, Brian Zahnd, Eddie Leo, Gabe Lyons, Ed Stetzer, Eugene Cho, Oscar Muriu, David Devonish . . . and I could go on and on and on and on.  They are with us.  No one really wants to be a prophet, at least not a real one.  You go through a lot of trials.  Your own tribe judges you harshly.  It’s not going to make you popular, if anything just the opposite.  The majority of the prophetic ministry is aimed not outside your tribe but inside it!  A prophet lives for eternity and truth.  A prophet isn’t looking for reward or recognition in this life.  A prophet has to have incredible strength and endurance and resilience when they get knocked down and trashed by others.  Prophets aren’t necessarily mean and harsh, they are just used to getting hit a lot!  We should all strive to be “happy” prophets.

Prophets speak about truth and injustice and how nations are treating others.  They see the big picture.  It’s always been fascinating to me that Matthew 25 is the judgment of NATIONS!  People are gathered as and by nations. This is profound.  God loves nations.  God has established nations.  Nations are not done away with throughout eternity.  God wants his will on earth to be done today and here are a few metrics he will hold all nations and all people accountable for.  Nations will be judged by God, and notice, according to Jesus, what they are judged on . . feeding, giving water, refugees, clothing, how we treat prisoners, health, how you treat “the least.”    These are the literal words of Jesus.  We can’t ignore them, soften them, spin them, side step them.  Morality and character and integrity have always been things that prophets have spoken to but now Jesus shows the fruit of real character, integrity, and morality.   These things cannot be ignored.  People can be very moral externally but unloving.  You are going to care about these things because you radically love all people just like Jesus.  Therefore, as faith leaders, if we would practice prophetic ministry and spare our nations God’s judgement, then these are the issues that we must be speaking to.  Thus today, as faith leaders have in the past, we must have a prophetic ministry. 

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I teach our young pastors that there are two reasons you stand before a King or leader.  The first reason is that you know someone.  The second is that you have earned credibility from your work and service to others and the King wants to see you.  Those are two very, very different meetings.  The first is a hand shake, a picture, a few statements of niceness.  The second, is a conversation filled with questions and a search for understanding.  I’ve learned it’s better to not meet a King at all than meet a King with a pundit.  You will forever be labeled by that King by how you met them.   Not only the King, but the company you are with before the King labels you by others as well. 

The goal of the prophet is not to win the favor of the King but to speak on behalf of God and truth.  Obviously there is no point in being antagonistic to a king.  When God opens the door, challenge them – but not in a mean and hateful way – rather, in an affirming and hopeful way.  Smile a lot.  Use laugher and self-deprication.  It goes a long way and may help you keep your head a little longer!  Pray for them, know all you can about them, be respectful and never underestimate why God might have you in front of a King.  I’ve been in situations where I wound up talking about my faith and what it means to follow Jesus that NOT IN A MILLION YEARS would I ever have expected.  I remember the first time someone labeled by the world as “significant” began to ask me about Jesus, what I believed about him, and what the cross was such a big deal.  I’ll never forget another leader asking me, “Why do you evangelicals believe we are the anti-Christ.”  Oohhh, the stupid, stupid, things we say that hinders the gospel.  That one took me a couple of hours. 

When I’ve stood before leaders, and I have young leaders with me – which I often do because I’m always mentoring – I have to talk to them about how to enter a room.  When to speak and when to be silent.  I tell them we aren’t tourist so don’t ask for pictures.  If they want a picture we will oblige, but don’t ask.  I tell them when we eat a meal with a leader, it’s not about the meal – don’t focus on the food, focus on the leader and listen to what is said and what is not said and how it’s said.  I could go on and on and on.  I’ve become friends with leaders by keeping confidences, saying little, challenging privately – and sometimes only when absolutely necessary, publicly.

Prophetic leadership challenges wrongs and promotes right.  The danger of being too public with a public figure is when they do wrong, and you remain silent – you loose your own credibility.  The quieter you are publicly about your relationships, the more you will have, as well as far more latitude to operate in.  No leader wants to be a sermon illustration, a photo opp, or news story.  Kings and Presidents come and go, truth remains and God is eternal. 

By the way, these principles are not just good for Kings & President but for how you treat everyone, and also how you want to be treated. 

Religious Leaders as Pundits

[THIS IS THE FIRST POST OF A BLOG SERIES ON RELIGION & GOVERNMENT BY BOB ROBERTS]

George Washington had a personal faith in God.  Daily he read the Bible and prayed.  He served at his church.  He didn’t talk a lot publicly about his faith, but neither was he silent.  He encouraged his men to worship and to be moral. 

Thomas Jefferson was a Deist.  Washington according to Chernow, he was very careful with religious figures publicly, perhaps because he never wanted to be seen as using religion as a means of gaining power or pandering to people for votes based on religion. 

He, as did all our early presidents (and even later ones), believed in separation of church and state but also believed the church should influence the country for good, morally.  He also believed in religious freedom and went out of his way to make sure the Jews in America felt welcomed. 

In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin believed in religious freedom so much that he built a pulpit so that even “if the Grand Mufti of Constantinople wanted to preach here, he could.”  In a healthy democracy, you need both religious freedom and separation of church and state to complement one another.  You don’t have one without the other. 

I see three roles religious leaders can play today that impact our nation and the gospel, the first is the PREACHER/FAITH LEADER AS PUNDIT

Historically, since the 1980s, we’ve seen an especially vigorous and overt wedding between religion and government. Before that, there was civil religion, deeply influenced by Protestantism, and politicians and leaders felt free to invoke God’s name and seek the prayers of Americans.  It was a generic religion that was found in the public square, and no particular faith tried to dominate that public square. But beginning in the 1980s, with rise of Jerry Falwell and the religious right, this changed. I was one of those young evangelicals that was glad about it – at first.  He called his movement the moral majority, and he sought to impose his particular religious values on the whole nation.  He became what I call a pundit.

When pastors and religious leaders become pundits—people who try to influence government to promote their particular religious values—they easily become corrupted by the pursuit of political power.  It starts to become more important that morality, character, and even theology.  Policies are promoted by pundits with talking points no longer looking at all sides of an issue.  You have to use Scripture and questionable hermeneutics and invoke the name of God at every turn to justify your politics.  Even though this approach was started by the religious right, I see people on the religious left doing this as well.

You wind up with all kinds of crazy rationalizations about the leader or party and why she/he/they must be supported at all costs.  I’ve heard pastors actually use Romans 13 as a basis for supporting political leaders, but that passage isn’t carte blanche, meaning there are still some moments when we have to disobey leaders.But Christians did not, for instance say Caesar was Lord and perform an act of worship to him. That refusal cost many early believers their lives.  

There would have never been a Martin Luther or a Reformation with that kind of hermenuetic.  There would never have been a United States of America with that kind of hermeneutic – we should have simply done whatever King George wanted.  They definitely disobeyed the King.  What about the prophets in the Old Testament challenging the Kings?  

There is something very significant about America: we aren’t governed by kings but by our constitution.  Politicians, the military, judges and law enforcement officials all swear allegiance to a constitution – not a person.  It is “WE THE PEOPLE” who govern together with all three branches of government.  NEVER in the history of humanity has a nation been built upon ideas like the United States.  What a tragedy to try to be like all the other nations and call for king or to give our president powers like a king, including unquestioned fealty. Israel tried to have a leader like that, and it didn’t work out so well.  Pray for your presidents, support them in every way possible, but be a responsible citizen of first God’s Kingdom. 

I have always prayed for every president and supported each in every area I could.  Less than half the time of my voting career have the presidents been people I voted for, but I prayed for them the same.  I hate this mutual hatred of political parties and how the church is now swallowed up in that. Guess what church:  not all Democrats are liberal, immoral, and demon possessed, and not all Republicans are mean, hard core, unloving, racist people!   For the follower of Jesus the Kingdom of Jesus must come first and political parties must not be allowed to divide us into voting blocks, or we wil have lost our Gospel and will cease to be salt and light.    

Part of President Trump’s appeal to evangelical pastors, particularly mega-church pastors, is granting them freedom to endorse candidates from the pulpit.  I’m sad about that – because it’s just another way to divide churches and body of Christ. I want Jesus loving Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents in the church I pastor.   I have my own views politically, but the reality is that we live and as pastors lead for the Kingdom of God more than any other earthly kingdom.  We already have a King–King Jesus. 

 Pundits love the lime light and photo ops.  I’ve heard this story from two different long-time friends and relatives of Billy Graham.  The first President that Billy Graham met with was President Truman once, and when the meeting was over some reporters asked him to pose praying in front of the White House, so he did.  When he saw the picture in the paper, he realized how bad it looked.  He later found out Truman didn’t like it at all, and felt like the young evangelist was using him.  Graham realized his mistake and from then on, when he went to the White House, he went in the back door and out the back door, and he didn’t tell other people about it unless the president first said something.  You can’t be a pundit and be humble and a servant. 

 The truth is the President needs pastors and faith leaders around him, but not pundits – they already have a lot of those.  Neither can a pundit always be quiet and save what he has to say for the backroom—otherwise, the the pastor will be seen to be endorsing wrong behavior or values.  Nathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, . . . . all provide models of how to relate to a king or leader . . . but that’s the next blog.  

 

Players, Lovers, & Learners by Nic Burleson

In this blog, Pastor Nic Burleson shares three really big lessons Timber Ridge Church has learned through global engagement in Vietnam.  This is what can happen to you and your church with intentional and ongoing investment in the world.

We started Timber Ridge back in 2011 and from the very beginning our church has been involved in global engagement, specifically in Vietnam. We’ve mobilized people from our local community to serve in various domains, such as education, medicine & agriculture. Along the way, we’ve learned some great lessons that have been a huge benefit to us as a church. Here are the top 3 takeaways we’ve learned as we’ve engaged globally:

#1: Everyone has a seat at the table. 

When a church releases its members to use their careers, jobs & education through the domains of society, it’s a game changer. This means that ministry and global engagement are no longer the sole responsibility of vocational pastors or missionaries, but that every person in the church has skills and knowledge that can be used to impact and serve others in the world. Through engaging in domains as we serve in Vietnam, the people of our church have realized that everyone can be used in God’s Kingdom to make an impact simply by using the trades, skills & vocations God has given them. That means that everyone in the church has a seat at the table when it comes to working toward good in our world and impact in our community.

#2: Love has no borders.

Our world is divided in so many ways. Borders. Languages. Religions. Political ideologies. One thing that transcends every border and every language is the outward practice of truly loving others. When we started to work in the mountains of north Vietnam, one of our biggest concerns were how we would make an impact with the existing language barrier. But we quickly realized that love is a language all its own. As we have learned to serve others and genuinely love people who are different from us – but no less created in the beauty and image of God – we’ve seen that love isn’t confined by borders or boundaries. And that’s not only impacted how our church serves globally, but has affected how we serve and love our own local community as well.

#3: There are lessons to be learned.

Far too many times, it seems that the only posture the Western Church has taken in regards to the rest of the world is the posture of teacher. But what we’ve experienced at Timber Ridge is that there are countless lessons to be learned from our friends all around the world if we’ll simply take the posture of the learner. One of the things that our church has become known for is hospitality. We didn’t discover that on our own. We learned it from our friends in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people are some of the most welcoming, hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. And as we learned what it meant to truly welcome and embrace strangers and guests, it’s had a huge impact on the culture and influence our church has had in our local community.

Global engagement isn’t a good idea or program for the church. It’s what Jesus has called his disciples to do. And as we engage globally, not only do we show and share the gospel of the Kingdom of God, we grow in that gospel as well. So get out there…it’s a beautiful world that we get to learn from!

Why You Should Give on Giving Tuesday

TODAY IS GIVING TUESDAY!  You are going to get many appeals and many of them will be worthy.  We would like you to consider GlocalNet as one of the charities you give to today.  Why?

  1. We are all about building bridges and promoting peace in the public square.  Whether we are starting churches, gathering Pastors/Imams/Rabbis, doing conferences on community development around the world, engaging nations with volunteers in all the domains of society, training churches, consulting with governments – some of which are very sensitive places, or convening the global church – it’s all geared toward how do we live and communicate our faith in a positive way in the 21st century that glorifies God and brings value to humanity.
  2. Last year through our training and family of churches we helped over 65 churches get started in the United States.  We have a special DNA we call KDSC.  K is for God’s Kingdom and the foundation of everything for us as we read in the Sermon on the Mount and all the teachings of Jesus.  D is for disciples that hear and obey.  S is for society and the 8 domains that everyone has a job in.  C is for the church as the body of Christ built around the mission of Jesus, not just a Sunday event.  This year we will move from 5 church planting centers to 8 across the country.
  3. We gather yearly 20 major global evangelical pastors annually from all over the world – India, China, Brazil, U.S., Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa, Middle-East, and other countries.  We all have started our own churches and we all have multiplied churches out of our church.  We teach one another what we are learning and we serve one another.
  4. We teach churches how to work in hard nations of the world by being transparent and going through the front door.  Each church is encouraged to adopt a nation to be there long term, not just take a trip there.  The key for us is to mobilize everyday followers of Jesus to serve nations through their vocations in the 8 domains education, business, health, government, agriculture, communications, civil society, science/technology.  We do the exact same thing with pastors and church planters in teaching them how to engage their own local cities in the domains. 
  5. We have been blessed with the ability to convene significant Evangelical Pastors, Muslim Imams, and Rabbis to connect churches, mosques, synagogues to address islamophobia, anti-semitism, and global persecution of Christians and other religions as well.  It has opened doors to nations and platforms that most evangelicals historically have had little or no access toWe practice Multi-faith engagement globally and it his having a very significant impact.  We partner with Imam Mohammed Magid of International Interfaith Peace Corps here in the U.S.  and more recently the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. has come beside us to help incubate our process called “My Neighbor’s Keeper.”  No one has helped us more or been a better partner than the Peace Forum with Shayk Bin Bayyah as we have taken the retreats to Abu Dhabi and Morocco with the Peace Forum.  It’s one thing to be with your tribe telling others how to treat you, quite another thing to do that collaboratively and globally with other religions and top religious and government leaders.
  6. Most of our churches are multi-ethnic.  Sermons and conferences on race relations have done little the past 100 years – the answer is the Church – but a biblical church with all tongues, tribes, and peoples present.  There is only the Church – not a black church, white church, Hispanic church.  When you work with the city, your church will be far more integrated because sadly, the city reflects the make up of communities more than the church.

Our dream is to redefine how churches engage the world in the 21st century.  Our Truth has not changed – our context to communicate that Truth has.  To not be relevant and clear to the time in which we live – is a sin.  Join us in this adventure!  Click here to support GlocalNet.

NOT BETTER … DIFFERENT by Kevin Cox

My wife, Kathy, and I have had the privilege of starting two churches. The first was in the Seattle area. With no assessment, no training, no coaching, and a little funding, we did the only thing we knew to do: knock on doors and send out mailers.  Unbelievably, it worked! We launched with a solid attendance, especially for the Pacific Northwest. We grew in spite of me and my lack of leadership skills. After 9 ½ years we had developed a reputation for loving on the children of our community. However, as I look back so many of our leadership conversations centered around how we could make the Sunday morning experience “better.” The prevailing thought for us, and for most churches in the early 2000’s was, “If we can just make Sunday morning better, people will want to attend.” And truthfully, for many churches, this mode of thinking bore fruit. We sought better performances on stage from the band. Better facilities. Better sermons. Better lighting. Better projectors and screens. Better children’s ministry. We were so worried about making Sunday morning better, mainly to keep up with the church down the street that was making their Sunday morning experience better, that we had forgotten the mission of Jesus to go make disciples capable of changing the world. The Father in his grace blessed our effort, but something seemed amiss.

After our tenure was over in Seattle, I vividly remember driving over the Cascade Mountains with our four kids in tow and turning to Kathy and saying, “We are going to do it differently this time.” I had no idea then the depth of that statement. We started Vista Church with a less than stellar grand opening. In fact, in the eyes of the church planting world it was horrendous. But in our eyes, that was irrelevant. “Butts in the seats” was not our primary goal…the kingdom of God was. We were not starting a better church in our new community. We were starting a different kind of church and the last 10 years have been the ride of our lives! What does this ‘different’ kind of church look like?

There are six characteristics that stand out:

1. Disproportionate influence

We do not ask the question, “How is my church?” Instead, we ask the question, “How is my city?” Since we desire to see our cities blessed, we often collaborate with city leaders and organizations leading to influence in our cities that far exceeds the size of our churches.

2. Start churches for the world

When you start with the world in mind, your church plant will be shaped by the world. And, when you start your church for the world, you will view your church plant as a sending base that affects the world rather than an isolated congregation in a single community.

3. New DNA 

Kingdom, Disciple, Society, Church (KDSC). Cut us and this is what we bleed. This is FAMILY DNA. Like a magnet, this DNA draws church planters and the Family is growing!

4. Public Square

As Paul engaged the city of Athens, we teach church planters how to engage kings, world leaders, city leaders, philosophers, business people and influencers by speaking ‘one message’ both publicly and privately.

5. Multiethnic

Jesus said, “…on earth as it is in heaven.” If we believe that all ethnicities inhabit heaven, then why should the church not look like that now? If we want to have a voice in the racial division of our country, the multiethnic church is the key.

6. Multifaith

Rather than denigrating other religions, we intentionally seek to befriend them for the purpose of building bridges of peace. Unlike the interfaith efforts of the past where “all roads lead to heaven” was the underlying premise, we have honest conversation based on the fact that we disagree theologically but the best of our religions compels us to work together for the betterment of our cities.

As I write this, I am about to participate in day 2 of a pastor/imam retreat in Ft. Worth, TX where we will make plans for our congregations to work together on a project that serves ‘the least’ in our respective cities. Last week I attended Family Gathering where we challenged our Family with a vision for planting 32 GlocalNet church planting centers around the United States and Canada in the next 10 years. I also received a text from the head football coach at our local high school if I would be willing to lead his team in a devotion before their first playoff game this week. This the different church we envisioned. Do we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings? You bet! But we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings to inspire and equip people for ministry. That’s different. If you are looking to plant a different kind of church, then check us out at www.releaseinitiative.com. We would love for you to be a part of the family! It will be the ride of your life!

Leadership From the Inside Out

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life – Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Leadership has been a topic discussed since the beginning of time. We humans intuitively know that everything rises and falls on leadership. Yet, we live in extraordinary times where the turn of the millennium has brought the realization that we need a new kind of leader to help navigate us through a new world. We have never been here before, therefore a different paradigm of leadership is required. We need leaders that can innovate and create–that can adapt to changing environments. However, all the special gifts and skills needed are still informed and directed by what lies inside a leader. At the core of this leadership issue must be the awareness that the business of leadership starts and ends at the heart level. The soul of a leaders determines the direction and the course of life no matter the context. Techniques, skills and natural talents are not enough to create a society that flourishes. Extraordinary leaders are those who transcend the work at hand and create change not only in the material world but leave behind people who are changed by their character and ethics for the better.  They leave themselves in others.  Here are 4 characteristics that define extraordinary leaders.

Extraordinary leaders are reflective leaders. These leaders listen carefully to others to understand before trying to be understood. They refuse to pass quick judgement or make hasty decisions without considering the impact it will have on others. They don’t sacrifice great and deliberate decision on the altar of immediacy. Reflective leaders take responsibility for their decision and don’t spend their time blaming everybody else for their lack of progress or mistakes. They always plan time, days and even seasons of reflection. Their lives are not  reactive but proactive.

Extraordinary leaders are present in the moment. These leaders are always in the present now with you. They don’t have shifty eyes always thinking about themselves or something else while you talk. They make you feel like you are the most important person at that moment. They focus on you and make you feel listened to. They are so secure in who they are and are quite content in their personhood that criticism or flattery does not move them. They exude kindness and friendliness to everyone.

Extraordinary leaders are authentic. These leaders are very honest about themselves and their deficiencies. They are people of integrity; or wholeness. They celebrate their imperfections in the context of needing others. They understand that our deficiencies are simply an invitation to participate in our collective humanity to create a better world together. Authentic leaders are really happy in their skins and celebrate other’s gifts and success. They are mostly called real when you meet them. People feel comfortable and at peace in their presence.

Extraordinary leaders live from a higher calling. These leaders live above just the mundane acts or doing. They are driven by a higher calling than just making money of having the biggest church or wanting to make a name for themselves. There is a sense of deep abiding rest in the midst of the work. They are not workaholics, yet they work hard.  They know when to play and are at peace in the times of rest and play. These leaders live from a sense of calling not competition. Usually, their vision transcends time and space knowing they are here for a season and they are simply playing a small part in the story of humanity. They prefer to leave a legacy and not just make history.

The displacement of jobs is upon us as machines take over many of the high skilled knowledge base jobs. The need for extraordinary leaders will be in high demand because machines are not reflective, are not present in the now, are definitely not authentic and have no sense of a higher calling. Their souls are animated by a power cord with a 220v plug. They will never be like like human being who are created in the image of God and whose souls are animated by the spirit of God. This new world of great advances in every domain of society has created a demand for extraordinary leaders who are built from the inside out.

American Peace Caravan

October 24-26 — Rabat, Morocco

In a world that thrives on conflict, offense and outrage, a few people are still fighting for peace, trust and faith.  This was the case in Rabat, Morocco October 24-26, 2017. The American Peace Caravan—Faith, Trust and the Common Good brought together leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions to not only talk about peace but to work on peace. 

Twenty cities were represented in Morocco by their religious leaders who spent the three days working on exercises and experiences designed to cultivate relationships. These relationships will be multiplied back in the United States as each city convenes ten more leaders of each faith tradition to foster conversations, understanding and common good. Meals will be shared. Congregations will come together. Friendships will be built. All for the cause of peace.

Here are some of the photos from the week. 

A Disruptive Agent of Refuge & Hope

It’s time to move beyond the hatred, divisiveness, labels and polarization that became the norm during the US election cycle. We were never destined to find our identity or a savior in a candidate or political party and we’re not called to find those things in our president or this current administration now. Some are still mourning while others are continuing to defend and gloat.

We must move on and get to the work we’ve been called to.  Our work and calling is not building an empire or personal kingdom in this world by aligning with a political party or worldly ideology, neither is it to condemn and curse this world and hide until Jesus returns.  We are here to be a disruptive agent, a refuge and a relevant hope.

As a disruptive agent we should be decisively and glaringly counter-cultural. To be counter-cultural at its roots means to love and care where our culture hates and demonizes. It means running towards those who the majority says to reject. It means drawing attention to unjust laws, practices and systems that advantage some while disenfranchising others. It means giving voice and value to those who have been silenced and dehumanized. It also means confronting and speaking to power on behalf of those who lack the know-how and access to do so. In doing these things we begin to look and act like a 21st century Jesus.

As a refuge and relevant hope, we’re embracing the reality we’re not here for ourselves but we are here for others.  Jesus said the greatest among us must be a servant (Matthew 23:11). We have to embrace a world-view that says, “I am here at this point in time to have my gifts and passions employed by the King of Kings, not a natural king.”  For the entrepreneur that means moving towards social entrepreneurship where sustainable enterprise is imagined and created not simply to make money but to reach and transform lives and communities. One example is Becca Stevens and Thistle Farms, who among other things makes natural bath and body products while training, employing and providing housing for a staff which is comprised of women who are former inmates, drug addicts and sex-trafficking victims.  For the executive, social-worker, dentist, medical professional, teacher, chef etc., being a refuge and relevant hope means no longer seeing our skills and professions solely and simply as a way to make money, but seeing them as a way to serve others and meet needs through volunteerism and community service.

Being a disruptive agent, refuge and relevant hope means churches must be reimagined.  The Church can no longer exist simply as the place to gather a couple of times a week for the purpose of helping us get through the week.  The Church must become the missionary.  The Church can no longer be the place that exists primarily or exclusively to gather in community and celebration of Christ’s work in “us” but we must be the place where people are trained, equipped and mobilized to engage the culture and society in which they live. The Church must realize its role as the agent and ambassador existing to embrace the most vulnerable and challenge the most powerful on behalf of the King. The Church must release disciples into society rather than existing as a place to hide from society. Throughout history the church has not primarily been just a different kind of place but a different kind of people. May we realize that call and mission now more than ever.

 

 

Hear more from Pastor Kevin Brown at this year’s GlocalNet Family Gathering.