Navigating Religious Diversity

I'm the founding pastor of a wonderful church in Kansas City named Mercy Church. We are an Non-denominational christian church. We are what you would call Evangelical, though I find that we are unique in many ways, especially in our approach to theological differences and our position on some social issues in culture today. We allow for *theological differences, even on our leadership team. From my personal experience this is very unique.

I remember going to church as a teenager, even young adult, where if I was going to volunteer I had to fill out and sign a form on the 17 things the church believed that I must believe too (not all the things were even theological) before I could volunteer. This form was required to be re-filled out and signed every year. And what I later learned is that most people in that environment just checked "YES" and then signed whether they agreed or not, it was just easier that way. I could not do that, it seemed to me to be an integrity breach to say, "Yes I believe that" when secretly I did not believe that.

At Mercy Church we have nearly every religious background present. We have Jewish congregants (not messianic either), a couple people from a Buddhist background (still practicing), a Jehovah's Witness (which if you know anything about JW's they are not allowed to be a part of anything other than JW churches) ...we even **had an Atheist attending for a year. This is fascinating to me, especially since we teach from a Biblical perspective a Christian message of hope through Jesus Christ and Him alone. I believe it to be our loving approach and the way we allow for questions, discussions and differences to exist while maintaining unity in faith. I believe in a loving God who understands all our journeys, no matter where we are.

Our primary membership is made up of mainline Christian denominations, with a heavy splash of Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist. A true melting pot of religious diversity. And I love that. I never set out to start an all Republican-Voting Baptist-Hymn-singing church. (Nothing wrong with being Republican or Baptist or singing Hymns! Just sayin!) I wanted a church that would rally around the two main messages of Jesus, which is found in Matthew 22:37-40 where Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

1) Love God!
2) Love People & Love Yourself!

And in my 20 + years of ministry I have finally come to except that not every church needs to be like Mercy Church. We are who we are, other churches are who they are ... we need all flavors to be about fulfilling the mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ in this world, and that's to "Make disciples!"

Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ..."

For me, more than anything, I want Mercy Church (and my life in general) to be a reflection of Jesus' love for all people! I want Mercy Church to be a place where anyone and everyone feels loved and accepted; whether they are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or from some other religious group.

*Theological Differences: We are a Christian church, so when I say, "theological differences" I am referring to what falls under the acceptable Biblical views and positions of our Christian faith. Make sense? Frankly, views that have been argued over and discussed in the church for thousands of years. I think it's a bit prideful for one group to feel they have all the answers and have God all figured out.

**Had: He eventually accepted the message of Jesus, though we never pressured him, ever! One Sunday he just confessed to me that he decided that everything I was teaching was good, and that he finally felt the boundaries that were keeping him from faith came down. And like I said, we never made him feel like he didn't fit in. I actually found his atheism fascinating.  

PK (Preacher's Kid) Struggles

It’s tough being a PK (Preacher’s Kid)! It’s tough just being a kid! And let’s be real here, being a parent is tough! I’m a parent who is also a pastor, so my kids are PK’s, obviously, and they tell me about their struggles. I was talking to my teenage daughter the other day and I asked her, “Do you feel pressure from me to measure up? She said, “Dad, I don’t feel the pressure from you or the church, but I feel it from everyone else at school! It’s like they expect me to be perfect.” I found that surprising, yet somewhat comforting to know that she didn’t feel pressure from me, but saddened that she did feel pressure. I am certain she also puts pressure on herself being that she is a PK.  I try real hard to not be the over-the-top-hard-core-strict-religious-freak-pastor-parent-guy! No offense to those of you who are the over-the-top-hard-core-strict-religious-freak-pastor-parent-type! (ha ha!) Don’t get me wrong, I am sure I put some pressure on our kids, not intentional, but I’m not perfect and it’s hard not to.

Disclaimer: I do not have the answers on being a parent just yet! I can tell you what we do, and what seems to work, so far, but we are in the phase of still trying to figure it all out … we are stumbling along the way! We definitely fall on the side of believing the best thing for our kids is letting them know we love them like crazy!

In our home we allow our kids to be normal kids. We don’t freak out if they cuss, or make them listen to only Christian Music, or read only Christian Books, or only watch Christian-themed movies, or wear weird Christian clothing. If we hear an inappropriate song they are listening to we don’t always make them turn it off. Of course depending on how inappropriate, we have been known to say, “Is that a new song by Satan?” (Said in the Saturday Night Live Dana Carvey Church Lady voice Lol!) We don’t make them read their Bible every day, we don’t make them pray, or do anything like that. Now we do encourage those things, but we do not force them to love God. I don’t think that ever works, at least from what I have seen.

I would say for the most part, and I believe both my kids would agree, we are a somewhat normal family. I mean, yes our lives are centered around God and the church on many levels and we do pray before meals, and at bedtime and when they are sick, we have many conversations about God, Jesus, the church, living right, talking right, making right choices, etc. But I would assume most families have those same discussions, ours may be just a bit more God-centric than most. We have actually encountered several non-religious families with more rules, regulations and restrictions than we have. Every family is different, I am pretty sure there isn’t ONE right way, unless of course you are one of those weird religious wing-nuts that feels you are right about everything … then of course your way is the right way! (I digress!)


The only advice I really have for parents is to pray a lot! Seriously! I do pray more now that I have a teenage daughter, because I know that God is ultimately the only one who can ever make a real lasting difference in a person’s life. Of course a person must be open to that, and want it for themselves. And secondly, as parents we must remember that more is CAUGHT than TAUGHT! Don’t just preach it, LIVE it! 

Is Heaven Real?

I am, as a pastor, asked often about my views on Heaven. People are always asking me questions like: Is it a real place? Will I be married there? Will I recognize people there? Can I have sex there? (Guys are always asking me that!) What will we do in Heaven? Where is Heaven?
 
On one hand my answer is simple, I don’t really know! I mean who does really know for sure, I mean really! How can we, you can’t vacation there and return with pictures to tell about it. People have claimed to have died and gone to Heaven and then returned to write a book about it. I am not saying that it didn’t happen or that it’s not true, I am just sayin. They can’t prove they went to Heaven, and no one can prove they didn’t. So, is Heaven real?
 
Let me start with the question; is Heaven Real? Yes, I do believe that it is. I believe in a literal Heaven, a place you go to after death. I believe it is a place that God prepared for us by His own hands (obviously His creative power of words, not that He actually swung a hammer and handled a saw,) and that Jesus died to get us there. I can’t upload pictures of Heaven to my instagram or faecbook, but there are ancient manuscripts (The Bible) that give some insights to what Heaven will be like. But it only gives us a glimpse, it’s definitely not conclusive.  It’s a place that I am sure will surprise, and amaze every minute we are there!
 
WHAT HEAVEN WON’T BE
I truly believe that Heaven will not be a place we float around while singing worship songs written by Hillsong (I love Hillsong songs, I’m just sayin!) Honestly, I love Jesus with all my heart, but I don’t want to do that!
TO THE POINT
I believe that Heaven will be basically a place where all that is will be good, pleasing, healthy, whole, loving, forgiving, etc. All things good. A place absent of all evil, and all that comes with evil. Now, on all the other questions about sex, marriage, kids, etc.  I don’t know for sure, but I believe that Heaven will be must like our existence now, but again, just absent all things bad. Heaven will be full of all that God intended! Nothing will be broken or out of place. No pain. No heartache. No death. No Loss. No lies. Only peace. Only goodness. Only love. A perfect place!
 
WHAT ABOUT HERE AND NOW
As you know, our world – here and now – is broken.  We are a broken people, and earth is broken too. We can do and should do all that we can to “save the planet” but more importantly we should do all that we can to “save our lives.” Jesus is the one who can help us put the broken pieces of our life together. I challenge you to trust in Him today!

Why Pastors Have Affairs (2 of 3)

1)      Stay Close to Jesus.
 
To me this is the biggest and most critical thing in keeping yourself from an affair. Live as close to the one who is Holy! And this seems strange that I’d say this writing about “Pastors” but even we pastors can stray away from Jesus. Weird I know, but we can get so busy doing the work of the Lord and forget the LORD of the work. Your relationship with Jesus is the #1 most important thing in living a holy life!
 
2)      Work On Your Marriage
 
I speak on this all the time … but a good marriage takes work, so work hard on it. It doesn’t happen just because you walked an isle and said some, “I dos and I wills and I promise” it takes so much more than that. Do it! I highly recommend couples read at least a book a year on marriage, attend a marriage series at church or seminar or do a marriage retreat once a year. Anything you can do for “continuing education” on the subject of marriage!
 
3)      Work On Yourself
 
Spirit, soul and body! Take time for yourself. Make sure you are not wearing yourself out! Make sure you are getting rest, exercising, reading, taking time off, journaling, etc. Not only that, but if you have issues, which you do, work through them with a counselor, or close wise friend.
 
4)      Protect Yourself
 
You know what your boundaries are, come on! If you find someone at your work attractive you can’t go to lunch with them every day! Come on, you are smarter than that! “Oh but we work together!” So, why don’t you go to lunch with the weird ugly person? Be smart. Don’t put yourself in situations that could compromise all that you believe! Know and understand that we are ALL susceptible to the lures of an affair, and people who feel they are not, are MOST vulnerable! The Bible says that “pride comes before a fall.” Be humble, smart and make wise decisions!
 
5)      Have Real Accountability Partners
 
Having REAL accountability partners! Not suedo-accountability partners! Have people of the same sex that you are completely honest and vulnerable with about your every struggle, temptation, fear, dream, passion, etc.
 
6)      Don’t Look at Porn
 
I realize this one falls under “protect yourself” and “live close to Jesus” but I felt it needed to be a stand-alone. I truly believe Porn is poison. It is addictive. It is something most men struggle with, and all men are tempted with on a regular basis. The bottom line is that men are visual, and they want to see women naked. Again, it’s important to “protect yourself” however you need to keep you from looking at Porn. I use X3watch.com, I am sure there are others out there.

To Be Continued ... It's About You

What's Wrong with the Church?

As I prepared for my sermon on "The Importance of Community" I came across some great teaching by Jonathan Edwards a Theologian from 1700’s. He wrote a book called, Thoughts on Revival. Not one of his most popular books, but in it he talks about what has killed spiritual revival and even church community. And to sum it up, what kills revival or church community is pride, more specifically, "spiritual pride." It really stepped on my toes and has challenged me to a higher standard of living; I hope it does the same for you! Enjoy!

So rather than quote exactly what he said, because his verbiage is from the 1700's, I contemporized some of his points for us to consider.

1)Spiritual Pride – makes you more aware of others faults then you are of your own.

Spiritual Humility- makes you far more aware of your own faults than others.

“Pure Christian humility causes a person to take notice of everything that is good in others, to make the best of it and to diminish their failings; however, he turns his eye chiefly on those things that are bad in himself and to take much notice of everything that aggravates them.”
– Jonathan Edwards

2) Spiritual Pride – leads you to, when you speak of theirs faults, to have contempt and distain when you speak of others faults. An attitude of Superiority.

Spiritual Humility– leads you to speak of others faults only with grace, grief and mercy.

3) Spiritual Pride – leads you to quickly separate from people who have criticized you or those you've criticized.

Spiritual Humility– leads you to stick with people even through difficult relationships.

4) Spiritual Pride – leads you to be dogmatic and sure about every point of belief you hold.

Spiritual Humility– leads you to be flexible, teachable, and gracious of what others believe while understanding you could be wrong.

I do agree with Jonathan Edwards here that "Spiritual Pride" is a killer of revival! It's a killer of relationships, not only with others, but with God too. The Bible says that, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." I need grace, don't you!

It's important to remember that we, the church, are the only 'Jesus' some people may ever encounter, and if we are cocky, prideful, arrogant, and judgmental and act all superior, it's not going to help reach people with the love of Christ. I think it's worth noticing that sinners, like notorious sinner, i.e. prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, and adulterers flocked to Jesus because of His love. If He was all judgmental and always pointing a condemning finger at them they NEVER would have wanted to be around Him. I personal hope and pray that notorious sinners - like prostitutes, strippers, drug addicts, IRS employees (j/k), etc. flock to Mercy Church! I really do!

Additional Scriptures for further study:

Hebrews 3:13; Romans 15:14; Romans 12:9; John 17:20-24; Romans 15:1-3; Matthew 27:46; James 3:18; James 4:1-12

Suicide


I received a message on facebook from someone asking me; Will a Christian (in this question she qualified the "Christian" as someone who loved God, believed in Jesus, went to church, etc) who commits suicide go to heaven?"

Answer: Absolutely YES!

Romans 8:38-39 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the LOVE OF GOD that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I am sure there are some people who will disagree ... just FYI, they are wrong! LOL! I am actually being funny ... I am always open for people to disagree.

Why I answered YES. Simple really. It's logical. Suicide isn't the unpardonable sin, is it? No it's not. So, to say that a person who commits suicide wouldn't go to heaven is saying that the sin of suicide is greater then the love that God showed us in sending His son to die on the cross for our sin. Suicide is not greater than Christ's love is it? No, it's not!

John 15:13
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Plus, if you say that committing suicide keeps you from going to heaven then you must also say that saying a lie, or cheating or stealing right before you die also means you don't go to heaven ... because you didn't have time to "repent."

How I understand God's salvation plan is that it's not sins (plural) that keep us from going to heaven, it's the sin (singular) of rejecting Jesus.

I believe that once a person makes a decision to follow Christ, or confesses Christ as savior, or prayers the sinners prayer, or enters into a relationship with Christ, or decides to follow God, or gets born again, or gets saved (there are so many ways to do this as you will see in a short exchange Jesus as with a thief)... they are good to go "their salvation is secure!"! And even with that there are things I wonder about; for example - the thief at Jesus side said "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:42-44) That seems a lot easier then we've made it out to be these days.

The thief didn't walk an isle, raise his hand, confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and he defiantly didn't have time to run down to the Jordan River to be baptized ... and Jesus said in essence, "Your good to go!"

Bottom line: If someone you know has committed suicide and they had a relationship with Christ (a Christian) you can be at rest at knowing they are in Heaven with Jesus right now.

Expelled


I just watched a very interesting movie by Ben Stein called Expelled. In short it is a movie about the Intelligent Design debate, that actually isn't even allowed to be debated in the world of Science; which I find mind boggling!

So do we live in a world that we can "debate" on whether God doesn't exist, but we can't debate on whether He does exist. How jacked up is that?

I hadn't ever heard of a fellow named Richard Dawkins, but after hearing him speak I am firmly convinced that he is one of the dumbest smart people on the planet today!

The Official Web Site for Expelled.

Hypocrite (1 of 2)


Matthew 23:27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness."

hypocrite [hip-oh-krit]Noun: a person who pretends to be what he or she is not [Greek hupokrinein to pretend]

As I have talked to agnostics, or even Atheists about church, God, Religion, or anything to do with faith ... this is the subject that comes up most often as their frustration or lack of faith in, or their "problem" with God and religion, saying "it's full of hypocrites!"

I see their point, and do share in their frustration at times. And honestly I think the church has contributed to this dilemma honestly. And here is how I see it; when we (the church ... or a pastor like me) start preaching letter of the law stuff (what I refer to as preaching from the "tree of knowledge of good & evil" rather than preaching from the "tree of life") AND preaching stuff that's NOT really even in the Bible (adding to scripture is dangerous Revelation 22:18)i.e. How people should dress, how people should eat, what music people should listen to, no tattoos, no drinking, no bowling, no dancing, no long hair (on guys), no makeup (on girls), no jewelry, etc. Rather, we should be teaching on loving God, loving others, how to be kind - tenderhearted and forgiving of one another, what does it mean to live a live of worship, social justice issues, how to be free from fear, sharing God's love to those around us, teaching how to live a life character, how to be a person of integrity, how to be a good father or mother, how to love your spouse, etc.

I think we majored on what we should do to LOOK like Christians, rather then what we should do to BE Christians. Because let's just face it, teaching only and primarily on what NOT to do only drives people to NOT do certain things in public where people can see, but it drives them to do it privately so no one can see ... which makes them APPEAR holy, or righteous when in fact they are a HYPOCRITE!

Living for Christ isn't about LOOKING like a Christian, it's about BEING a Christian! You know what you are ... so does God, so be real!

Coming soon ... pt2 of Hypcrite

It Matters

I love studying Theology, Doctrine and Bible Interpretation … that is not typically what people get excited about. I do believe that the Bible can help us define our life experiences. So it does matter what you and I believe about God, the Bible, and People, etc.

For example; What if you were always taught and you believed that you should “spend all you make … don’t let money burn a hole in your pocket… there will always be more tomorrow” … how would that affect your financial situation?

Some people believe that MORE money simply means MORE to spend … I’ve met many people like that. Then there are people who believe you should “save all you get … store up for a rainy day … there are no guarantees”.

Two different “beliefs” or “views on money”, which is right? I guess for some that may be debatable question. How about I ask it this way; which is the wiser? Probably for those who save save save … spend a little, and for those who spend spend spend … save a little.

So what is it you believe about God, Jesus, Man, Death, Life, the Bible, Life After Death, Meaning of Life, etc.? It matters what you believe because you will LIVE HOW YOU believe … or should I say you SHOULD live how you believe.

Think about it!