Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Test of Ray Lewis

One of the neat things about following the stories of others is it gives you a chance to get a clear picture of where you are in your own heart that’s much more accurate than the words you use to describe your inner life.  It’s a great chance to check to see if what you say you believe is matching how you actually live.

Between now and the Super Bowl we’re going to hear a lot about Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis and his now famous “Last Ride” into retirement.  Lewis was the first player drafted by the new Ravens organization back in 1996.  From day one he was dominant and over the years he has been to 13 Pro Bowls and created a persona of being a passionate – even exuberant – football player.

But in 2000 Ray Lewis was implicated in a homicide in Atlanta during the Super Bowl.  Ultimately he pled guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for testimony against two other defendants. The stain of this night has followed him the rest of his career.

But Lewis hasn’t wasted the years since 2000.  He’s continued to lead the Ravens.  Taking young men under his wing, advising his fellow players on how to live in the NFL spotlight, and continually giving praise to God for the life he has been allowed to live.

In the thirteen years since that awful day.  Ray Lewis has done the best he can to put things right.  He testified against his former friends who committed the crimes.  He settled with the families of the two dead men.  He sought the guidance of coach and Christ Follower, Mike Singletary.  Ultimately he found Jesus and had an encounter with him that changed Lewis’ life.

Ray Lewis’ faith doesn’t always look like mine.  But I can see fundamental change that only an encounter with Jesus can produce in a life.

So here’s the test for us, when we consider the story of this man what’s most important to us, his alleged crimes, his early wild lifestyle, all the kids he fathered by different women?

Or can we see the love his teammates and so many other young men have for him?  Can we see his willingness to be a father to men who didn’t have fathers?  Can we see the handprint of a Savior and rejoice in that?

We all know the “churchy” answer, right?  But check your heart, does something in you say, “But we can’t forget what he did!”?

I’m going to tell you a secret, Jesus did.  This isn’t easy.  You can’t just start doing it. Giving mercy to fallen sinners isn’t easy.  You are steeped in a culture that says the guilty must pay and pay forever.  But Jesus doesn’t say that.

When you can act like Jesus does toward people like Ray Lewis then you know that a real understanding of Jesus’ grace towards you is changing you too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I won’t be signing the Manhattan Declaration. Here’s why…

Four days ago a group of respected religious leaders released a document called the Manhattan Declaration. As of this morning, over 70,000 people have signed the document, including some of the most respected Christian scholars in the country. I won’t be one of those signers. I expect this decision is going to cause some consternation even in my own family since we are not all in agreement on this issue.

In trying to decide whether I would sign I asked myself a question. Would associating myself with this effort help me in advancing the work I think God is calling me to do? Would signing the Declaration help me love Washington, D.C. in a more Christ like way? Would signing this Declaration help me encourage Christians to live radical lives of sacrifice? Would signing this Declaration help me to tell my friends and neighbors – who are suspicious and distrustful of Christians – how Jesus came into this world to redeem them and have a relationship with them?

In each case the answer was an emphatic “no.”

That is not to say I disagree with the document, but doesn’t come close to addressing the biggest challenges facing the American church today. If anything it distracts the church from addressing its biggest failings and advancing the Kingdom of Christ against our sworn adversary. In doing so this Declaration gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

In a word, the Declaration is an indulgent exercise taken at a time when the Church cannot afford such efforts.

Over the next few days I will lay out some specific objections to the Document. Take some time to read it if you haven’t done so. Decide for yourself. But ask yourself, is this helping?

Monday, November 9, 2009

All I Ever Needed to Know About Politics I Learned From Berlin

Like a lot of high-minded, but mathematically challenged, young people I spent a lot of my time in college in political science classes. These classes were great experiences especially in the 1980’s when what was taught in the classroom was so often thoroughly discredited in the American street. Unfortunately, the “streets” don’t get to give grades so my steadfast adherence to reality usually earned me a begrudging “B.”

Nevertheless, the classes were great fun. In 1985 I took a comparative course on communism and capitalism. After looking over the syllabus, I protested to the professor that there wasn’t one pro-capitalist book on it. (I was that kind of guy back then.) I challenged him to include something, anything, by Milton Friedman. He finally agreed, but I was marked from then on – and of course my classmates appreciated the extra reading!

At the end of the semester the whole class took a trip to Berlin together. I played it cool but it was my first flight out of the country, or anywhere for that matter. Berlin at Christmas is wonderful. They love their fireworks there and our first night no one slept until after four. On the second night I crossed the wall for the first time with two friends – illegally. We had stepped onto the wrong train at the U-Bahn station. It seemed weird to us to see no man’s land passing under the train. No one remembered that from our earlier trip.

When we pulled into a grey, dark station across from a train headed to Warsaw we knew we were in trouble. An operator came hustling by and ordered us in broken English to “not move.” Then the guards armed with dogs and AK-47’s started heading our direction. Should we duck down or just sit there and let them see us?

We decided to sit there and act like we meant to be there. A couple guards looked in but they never questioned us. That taught me my first great lesson of politics:

  1. No matter what, no matter how crazy things get, act like you’re in control and you planned this.

Ten minutes later the train started moving. Thankfully it moved WEST!

I never forgot that week in Berlin. It was so strange to see the Communist Bloc when it was still a “bloc.” Imagine walking Unter din Linden Street when there were no cars anywhere; visiting beautiful, but empty, museums in East Berlin; shopping in empty department stores. It was surreal – especially juxtaposed against the holiday decorations which festooned the Ku'damm; and the bounty of KaDeWe.

On a day trip to Dresden, I learned my second important political lesson. After spending the day learning about the fire bombing and marveling at how such a beautiful city could exist in such perpetual disrepair, our tour bus pulled up beside a darkened mansion on a darkened street. Was this where we were heading for dinner?

I joined twenty weary college students as we trudged to what was surely another bleary communist meal. But as we opened the door we were greeted by bright lights and a huge German eagle on the floor. We hustled into a back room where we enjoyed a live orchestra, dancing (except for us good Baptists) and the best German meal I ever had.

This was old Germany. This was pre-war Germany. This was the Germany that only people with dollars got to live in. As we drove back up the highway toward the “safety of the West” I thought about this political lesson:

  1. No society can survive when its elites enjoy a life most members can never hope to experience.

My final lesson from Berlin took four more years to learn. In December of 1988, as I was finishing my degree at UNC, I took one final international relations class. On the last class day of my undergrad life – after we finished an exam review – our professor asked if anyone had final questions.

I don’t know what came over me. Maybe I wanted to prove they hadn’t convinced me of anything. Maybe I wanted to just aggravate one more professor. Maybe I wanted to impress some cute conservative co-ed. I raised my hand and asked. “What do you think the post Soviet world is going to look like?” I’m sure my exasperated professor gave me a “B” then and there. But he did patiently answer me.

The Soviet Union and its system of government was in no danger of collapse. If anything the West would see gradual Soviet expansion in Africa and South America. Less than one year later – twenty years ago this very day – I watched with all the rest of the world as East Germans charged through check points and over bridges and finally directly over the wall in complete joy.

I was beside myself for three reasons. First, no American can help but feel exultation when they see another person gain their freedom. Second, I was vindicated, but my entire collegiate education had just been invalidated. And third was the final great political rule I learned from Berlin.

  1. The experts only know what has happened. They can’t tell you what will happen unless you let them. Fight for what’s right. Be an idealist. Never give up hope.

Thank you, Berliners for so many lessons and congratulations on the last twenty years of peace and freedom.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Seeing God in the Upper Deck

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about that Phillies fan who gave the foul ball to his daughter only to see her throw it back on the field. If you haven’t seen the video you should watch it here.

The father, who was attending the Phillies game with his three-year-old daughter, had never caught a foul ball even though he had been attending games since he was three as well. But on this night he caught his first foul ball. As he joyously fist bumped with his fellow fans, he handed the prized ball to his daughter. Who promptly threw the ball away!

What has touched the heart of everyone who saw this video is the beautiful way the father responded to the daughter. Never losing his smile he instantly took her into his arms and told her everything was just fine. What a perfect picture of a father who never, for even an instant, loses sight of what is most important – that his child knows how pleasing and loved they really are.

What I keep thinking of how is that father is like our heavenly Father and how rarely I see God as this kind of father. There is no question that this father did the right thing. Every one of us feels it instantly in our gut as we watch what happens. And we all rejoice when we see the little girl toddle into his arms. We know without explanation that this is what a father should do.

So if it is so elementally right, then it must be a shadow of how our Father acts in right relationship with the Spirit and the Son and any adopted child who enters into that relationship. Could it be that this is how God reacts to me as I stumble through my days here on earth? Is it possible that as I struggle to do the right thing - and cluelessly fail over and over again - the Father is smiling at me and waiting to take me into His arms?

In one way I am just like that three year old. Every day the Father gives me blessings and experiences and I blithely throw them away not knowing what they cost or even what they mean. But if what the Bible says is true then nothing ever can separate me from the love of Christ.

In another way I am totally different from her. As soon as things got confusing she went straight into her father’s arms. She didn’t even know what she had done. She didn’t try to fix it. She didn’t promise to do better, read a book, join a group, or make a new chart. I am prone to do all those things. But maybe my Father wants me to run to Him first and dwell in his love instead of trying to fix what I don’t even understand and can never fix.

Ask yourself how you feel about God. When you blow it do you see a God utterly pleased with you who deeply loves you and wants you in His arms immediately? Or does your image of God involve a stern father who cares more about your behavior than your little heart?

Do any of us have any idea how thrilled with us the God of the Bible really is? I really hope we learn soon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Christians and the Climate Debate – Is this a fight we want to have?

I read today in the Wall Street Journal (see article here) that the American Values Network was running an ad in eight states supporting climate change legislation. In the ad, a prominent pastor encourages Christians to support a climate bill that "creates jobs, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, and especially protects vulnerable families and communities at home and abroad who are most hurt by climate change." The ad ends with the familiar ask, “ Please join the chorus of the faithful by calling 877-88-CLIMATE to learn more and be connected to your Member of Congress.”

Evidently the traditional Christian right is very concerned about this new campaign. Groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council are working with the
Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation to combat the ads by organizing pastors to carry the message that climate control legislation could cripple the country.

Last year this time left wing Evangelicals were proclaiming that they were a fresh expression of modern evangelical beliefs, now it seems they are just another group pushing the Democratic legislative agenda. Of course my friends on the right aren’t doing any better. Focus and FRC have waded right into the mud with the left and both sides are enlisting pastors to spread the word about their position on the bill.

Can we get one thing straight? The pulpit is a sacred place. The man standing in that spot had better be seeking God’s will in the message he is proclaiming to his congregation – not reading the talking points from political handlers. Sometimes it seems we have forgotten WHO we are dealing with.

I have no doubt God has a message for America . He wants to heal His church. He seeks to reconcile His church – not see it divided by momentary political initiatives. He wants to break the enslaving chains of wealth and indulgence and comfort that make this Church so weak.

He wants to draw all people to HIMSELF. He wants to ignite a passion for knowing HIM in every one of us. He wants us to be compelled into actions of sacrifice for the weak and the poor because of His extravagant love for us. He wants a Church that seeks justice in every corner of society because He is just.

Any sermon or message that seeks any goal other than HIS GOALS is life threatening to the Church and the organizations involved.

If a pastor feels led by God to preach about global warming - pro or con - then fine, but the solution has to be deeper than “now call your Congressman.”

Jesus died to reconcile the world to Himself. The primary purpose of the Church should be reconciliation in itself and with God. If we find ourselves squaring off with each other over political issues maybe those issues aren't central to God's plan on earth.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Here's a company I can get behind.

Yesterday I talked about the fact that I didn't think I could biblically justify a business that is only focused on making a profit. To succeed in God's eyes we have to be focused on expanding His kingdom. As I was visiting Northland Church's website today I ran across this video of one company that gets it. I hope you enjoy.

Storyville and IJM from Northland Media Design on Vimeo.

What's great is this isn't as rare as you think. God is raising up a generation of young business leaders devoted to expanding His kingdom on earth. It's exciting stuff and I'm going to get some Storyville Coffee for sure. You can order the coffee at this website:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Pope, the Supply Chain and Christmas Boxers

For most of my political life I’ve been around people who claim to be socially moderate but fiscally conservative. Or socially conservative but fiscally moderate. I’ve always found these sorts of labels amusing. They don’t really describe anything concrete, they just mean what the person or politician or professor wants them to mean. These labels are designed to put you at ease about the politics of that individual.

This week we get a chance to see one public figure take an unabashed stance. Pope Benedict sweeps away all our comfortable Americanisms in his new encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), in which he makes it clear that we cannot separate our social political stances from our fiscal political stances.

Consider this paragraph:

"Charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples," he says. "Justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs," he writes. "Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence." [my emphasis]

In America we have gotten very comfortable with the idea that the market decides value, whether it be the value of a shirt or the value of a meal or the value of a man’s labor. We have lengthened the supply chains to the point where the harsh realities at the far edges cannot possibly have anything to do with us.

None of this is to denigrate the idea of profit. Nothing is more dignifying to the human creative spirit than the pursuit of and gain or profit. But as Benedict says, "Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end . . . once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty."

Today there is vast, intransigent poverty gripping over half the planet. This poverty is certainly caused by the corruption, abuse and sin that people poor out on each other and themselves around the globe. But if anyone has the power to change this fact it would be the rich – us. Only we can choose to use less. Shine a light on corrupt practices and stand up to tyrants. Or refuse to deal with those who press labor from the poor for a substandard wage.

The other day I heard the story of a guy named Kelsey Timmerman who decided to go to Bangladesh to meet the people who made his fancy Christmas boxer shorts. When he went home with them he was stunned to see how they lived. He said he always figured they would make less than Americans but would make a fair wage for their country. In fact these people barely made enough to stay alive and crawl back to work the next day.

I’m scared to death that I might find myself standing before the Lord of Heaven and Earth one day explaining how Adam Smith’s invisible hand and the market means it really wasn’t my fault that I lived off of the abuse of so many for so long.

I wonder if Americans would have any interest in a party that:

-Believes in hard work for just rewards,

-Seeks to foster environments where economies can flourish, but

-Also is conscious of the need to protect the weak and create just economic results around the world and here in America .

No I don’t . . . I just don’t know of a party willing to take that stance.


The quotes of Benedict’s work were taken from the Washington Post article where you can learn more about Charity in Truth.

You can learn more about Kelsey Timmerman’s work and writings at:

A good first step to learning more about how people live at the other end of the supply chain

would be to listen to the World Vision Report at this website: