Dear United States,

I love you. (I love us.)

I thank God for our nation and our liberties and our diversity and our exceptional approach.  Jon Stewart is right: “This ain’t easy … America is not natural. Natural is tribal. We are fighting against thousands of years of human behavior and history to create something that no one’s ever done. That’s what’s exceptional …”

Which is why I plead with us to consider these four words: Fear not. Forget not.

Fear not.

Do not live in fear.

Do not lead from fear.

Do not look at people through the lens of fear.

Let’s be a land of the free and a home of the brave. Especially to any American who follows Jesus, I remind us that our way is not the way of fear. Our path is not the path of paranoia. I do not suggest that we abandon wisdom, but we are commanded to be anxious for nothing.

My heart was grieved this week as the news broke regarding executive actions toward refugees and the “extreme vetting” of immigrants. Having travelled to countries where antagonism against our country is the norm, I affirm the need for caution and discernment. Of course. But I absolutely reject the cloak of dread that I sense in people’s souls.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) I wish we realized that Scripture is just as clear and counter-cultural about fear as it is about sexual ethics. Fear is a moral issue.

And when our fears outweigh our compassion we have reached a troubling tipping point.

Forget not.

The same Scripture that calls us to a righteous private life has called us to a compassionate public life. The same Bible that caused me to become pro-life for a baby in the womb leads me to become pro-life for the displaced Muslim on the run. Pro-life means from the womb to the tomb. If ever Christians needed to lift a consistent pro-life voice it’s now. Jesus Himself was a refugee, on the run from a murderous ruler. It is this Jesus who commands us to live out of love, not fear, out of faith, not anxiety.

Here’s a small snapshot of God’s will in times like these.

  • Proverbs 24:11. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to slaughter.
  • Deuteronomy 10:17-18. The LORD your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing.
  • Deuteronomy 10:19. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
  • Leviticus 19:34 – The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
  • Psalm 146:9. The Lord watches over the sojourner; he upholds the widow…
  • Malachi 3:5. I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against … adulterers, liars, those who oppress, the widow, the fatherless … and those who deny justice to the foreigner.
  • Matthew 25:35. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me…
  • Hebrews 13:2. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers…

When our fear overrides our obedience we are walking on sinking sand.

To my Muslim friends and neighbors, you are welcome and loved and valued as one who has been made in the image of God. If you are ever in danger or threatened or afraid, you have friends among the followers of Jesus.

To my Christian friends and neighbors, this ain’t easy. We are fighting against thousands of years of human behavior to create something that no one’s ever done: become a people free from the soul-enslaving shackles of fear and self-interest. So let us urge our leaders to use their voice to rescue the endangered, not to arouse the fears of the masses. Let us give ourselves for those who could never pay us back. Let us speak for those who have no voice.  Let us show this world a people who know that death itself has lost its sting because of the death and resurrection of our King.

Quite concerned, yet utterly hopeful in Jesus,

Mike Patz

Jesus, justice, & the multicultural church

As I look at the church, I’m quite concerned about the white-washing of Jesus, the toxic absence of justice, and the potential dangers of the multicultural movement. Which is why I am so thrilled to spend the next few days with the great civil rights activist Dr. John Perkins. He lives for the biblical Jesus, true justice, and a truly multicultural church. Here are some random thoughts to prime the pump for anybody joining us this weekend.

The earliest church was multicultural from the jump. Acts 2 describes an incredible variety of backgrounds from Rome to Asia to Egypt and everywhere in between – ethnic Jews and Gentiles alike. Racially and nationally, the first church was all over the map. When the power of the church was the greatest, the membership was the most diverse. We read about the same reality in the Azusa Street awakening at the turn of the 20th-century. Led by the African American preacher William Seymour, the revival united people of all racial and demographic backgrounds. “One of the most remarkable things was that preachers of the Southern states were willing and eager to go over to the black people in Los Angeles and have fellowship with them,” Frank Bartleman wrote. “The color line was washed away in the blood.” As potent and far-reaching as that movement would become, as soon as racism set in, the power was diminished as everybody ran back to their homogeneous sides of the racially divided church.

The very diversity that reveals God’s glory challenges man’s sensibilities. Racism is not a 21st-century phenomena; it’s not a white or black thing; it’s a human thing. Wherever there has been power, and whenever there has been a majority who possessed the privilege associated with that power, there has been human struggle.

When I hear Christians express their desire for diversity, I wonder what they mean. If what we mean is to be in a room with a variety of colors on people’s faces, this is not only insufficient, it can actually be dangerous. If we want someone’s face on a stage but do not want their voice where it counts, then this is a deceptive diversity that insults the very image of God. It is a diversity of color, but not culture. And whoever sits in the seat of majority will always have a privilege that is as natural to a human as water is to a fish.

This is why, when a black man and white man engage in multicultural relationships (or church), it usually comes with a very different cost. In the mind of a white man, unity means he needs to flex a bit. Maybe 10%. That 10% feels like a significant concession, since he’s not used to giving much up. For the black man, that same unity usually means he’s moving 90%. The “unity of the Spirit” has a higher price tag for the minority than the majority. When diversity means minority adaptation to the majority culture, we’ve performed spiritual malpractice. What does this mean? For starters, it means Jesus is not just asking the minority to move toward the majority, He’s asking the majority to move just as graciously toward the minority. This is the “one new man” Paul described as who we are becoming.

It’s helpful to remember that the early church – which was turning the world upside down – had these same struggles. But they confessed it, they addressed it, and the they invited God to be God. You cannot change what you will not address.

Because many churches have majored on a righteousness-message that functionally starts with Pauline epistles while neglecting the totality of Scripture (like the Prophets) which never divorces righteousness and justice, much of our message rings hollow to our hearers. When we present the words of Jesus without doing the justice of Jesus, we lose our credibility.

If only this world could hear the whole Gospel.

Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus because it really is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. Jews, gentiles, black and white. They are precious in His sight. No more white-washed, justice-neglecting, majority-leaning Jesus. Let’s have courage to embrace the real Jesus with His whole gospel and become the church that turns the world upside down once again.

Somebody pray!

Questions I’m asking while fasting

There are so many things you could do with your life. What are the few things that you should do? Filter through the many and choose the few that make sense in the light of eternity.

Setting apart time at the beginning of the year to pray, fast, and reflect are powerful ways to give you space to prioritize. When you would have been eating, spend time reflecting. Here are some questions I’m asking this week (straight out of my journal):

………….

What am I wired to do?

What is my mission? Is it written?

What can I do that will bring the greatest contribution?

Is there anything God has clearly told me to do that I have left undone?

Have I clarified what I desire to see happen this year? Is it written?

What new habit do I need to establish to line up my life with my mission?

What habit do I need to break?

What smaller, doable goal can I accomplish this month to give me momentum?

What’s important now? (W-I-N)

What books do I need to read this year?

Who are the people who make me better? Who causes my heart to burn for Jesus and eternity? What’s the plan to make more time for these people?

How can I make disciples who make disciples this year?

Am I harboring any bitterness or hardness of heart?

Am I fueled by grace or striving in self-effort?

 

Why do we fast?

Not my will, but yours be done.

What a stunning thought that Jesus, the King of kings would feel the need to pray these words. That he could will something that was contrary to Father’s will – and yet remain sinless. Possessing a will contrary to God’s is not a sign that you should give up, it’s a sign that your human body is still living on planet earth.

This is where fasting comes in.

Fasting is not about twisting God’s arm to get him to do my will. It’s about untwisting my soul to desire his will. I strongly encourage you to pray through Isaiah 58 over the next few days to develop this idea.

Fasting is not about giving up desire. It’s about foregoing lower desires for higher desires, lesser joys for greater joys, weaker glory for stronger glory, temporary satisfaction for eternal satisfaction.

Fasting reminds me that I can be ruled by God. That I really don’t need to live by bread alone. That I really can wrap my life around the will of God. And that’s the thing about God’s will: there is always a deeper joy on the other side of that choice. It may be delayed gratification, but rest assured, joy comes in the morning.

Your will is an awfully big deal. Submit it to God and you’ll start to see things go on earth as it is in heaven. Fasting helps your will bow to God’s in ways that nothing else seems to do.

And so we move into a 10-day period of prayer and fasting. I invite you to join in. Eyes on Jesus. Feast on his words. Purge the urge to twist your fasting into dead religion. And stay the course. You won’t be sorry.

 

I hate envy

 

If you ever realized who God made you to be, you’d want to be you so badly you wouldn’t know what to do.

Which is why I hate envy; it’s soul-sabotage.

Because what if the gifts of God really are stunning? Including yours.

What if He really doesn’t make mistakes? Including you.

What if He is so infinite that every single one of His children is fashioned uniquely significant beyond our capacity to describe? Regardless of their age. Regardless of their qualifications. Regardless of their past.

What if He is so potent that His resources never become exhausted, and your potential is more weighty than you’ve realized? Perhaps His economy is not like ours. What if He doesn’t run out of money, or food … or talent?

What if His grace is so amazing that His mercy and kindness are able to swallow up your failures and darkness? What if this tree we call the Cross and this savior we call the Christ really have removed the only thing standing between you and the real you. Between life and real life.

If only you realized who God made you to be.

You’d stop this whole envy thing.

And you’d step out and be you.

 

What are you chewing on?

It’s not enough to simply read the Bible.

Jesus made an audacious promise at the end of His sermon on the mount: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24 NIV)

Here is the problem. It’s easy to hear the words of God; the challenge is putting them into practice. In between the hearing and the doing I hit a wall. It’s easy to hear about loving your enemies or serving your wife or holding your tongue or sharing your stuff. The challenge is the real world of traffic and trials and jerks.

So how do we put God’s words into practice? Meditation.

Your life will follow your meditation.

Look at what God told Joshua: “This Book of the Law must not depart from your mouth, but you are to meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. Then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

The key to turning hearing these words into practicing these words is this controversial activity we call meditation. It’s an interesting word; it’s a misunderstood word; most of all, it’s a neglected word.

To “meditate” is to chew – again and again. Just like a cow chews the cud, God told Joshua to chew on His Word. The interesting thing about the word is how connected it is to words like muttering, musing, even speaking.  In other words, meditation is not a silent and passive activity. Your mouth, body, mind, and spirit all work together when you meditate.

Your life will follow your meditation. So what are you chewing on?

Truth be told, meditating is not reserved for monks in a monastery. We meditate all the time. You already chew; the question is What are you chewing on? If you’ve ever complained in traffic; if you’ve ever shared a Facebook post; if you’ve ever rehearsed what you wanted to say to your boss; if you’ve ever sung along with a song on the radio; if you’ve ever quoted the lines of a movie … then you know how to meditate.

One of the breakthroughs in life comes when we get honest about the “monasteries” that we belong to. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Blogs. CNN. Sports talk. People magazine. Wired magazine. The National Enquirer. USA Network. Friends and family. Porn.

Your life will follow your meditation. It’s a law. Some objects of meditation lead you to worry. Some will lead you to pride. Some will get you angry.  Others will stir you to gossip.

And then there’s God’s Word.

According to God, the key to transformation is not to empty your mind, but to fill it with His Word.  And the promise is clear: then you will make your way prosperous, then your life will be built on a rock.  (Joshua 1, Matthew 7)

This calls for daily injections of the Bible.  Read it actively, attentively, and with some of your best energy.  You’ll start to feel like God is talking to you (because He is).  You’ll sometimes have the sense that these words are alive (because they are).  So when you hit a passage that seems to really click, or apply, or comfort, or challenge … don’t rush by too quickly.  You might even want to memorize a verse and keep repeating it throughout the day.  Or share it on social media.

Pause.  Chew.  Think.  Write it down.  Say it out loud.  Say it again.  Say it again. Take it deep.  Chew a little more.

Don’t be surprised when Jesus shows up.  Because your life will follow your meditation.

Finish well.

Finish well.

In an age of so little perseverance I find these words ringing in my ears like the background music on an elevator. Fight the good fight; keep the faith; finish the race.

I can’t count how many times I heard Pastor Arnold Lastinger speak these words of challenge into my life. As a young man with no experience I probably rolled my eyes, but as time has passed this holy background music has become more like the soundtrack of a timeless movie. (Yes, I downloaded the Star Wars movie score in anticipation of Episode VII. Thank you, John Williams.)

On December 8th, Pastor Lastinger went absent from the body and present with the Lord. What a soul-marking moment it was for me, as I watched him worship until the end, using his dying breath and waning strength to lift his hands to the God he longed for.

Several days later I flew to Mississippi where I spent time with another one of my heroes, John Perkins. Due to his age and health concerns his daughter makes clear that he needs boundaries on his schedule. Yet when he starts talking about Jesus and justice and the greatness of God, he just won’t stop. I’m serious. One night, after hours of conversation, I had to plead with him to go home and go to bed, as it was approaching 10:00. As we finished, he invited me to be a part of the Bible study he was leading the next day. At 5:30 the next morning. I’ve never heard of a Bible study at 5:30 in the morning. But sure enough, there he was, long before the sun would rise, leading a room full of men through Romans 9. It was like watching a child opening a present on Christmas morning. Joy. Energy. Wonder. 85 years of age and he is still burning.

A week earlier, I listened as Pastor Lastinger described his peace and contentment and anticipation of heaven. “It’s all true,” he told me. “When I preached funerals in my 20’s I thought I believed it. But 50 years later I realize, it’s all true. And it works,” he explained with a peace I can’t explain. But then I heard something else: his longing for his Savior. The closest comparison I have is like a bridegroom getting ready for his honeymoon. He was longing for Jesus. On his deathbed he was still burning.

I want to burn till the end.

In an age of so little perseverance these two men stand tall. Their voices have weight. And their entire life has become their message. Neither has tried to stay relevant, and that is part of what makes them so. Their transcendence is their relevance. Oh how it has fed my soul to be exposed to men whose lives carry such a rare grace. Some things can only be said after years. Or decades. Or a lifetime. And the only way you get this kind of gravitas is to persevere. To endure. To finish your race.

What a lesson for young leaders.

I’ve heard it said that it takes 20 years to make a man or woman of God. But I’m starting to think it takes a lifetime. In a culture that bows before the shrine of youth and worships to the tune of the latest one hit wonder, it becomes difficult to discern when timeless words are being written and the truest lives are being lived. But I long for this.

Did these men give me clues about how to persevere? Sure. Both would tell me stay curious. Keep learning. Figure out how to handle your pain. Set up accountability relationships to deal with temptation. But at the end of the day both of these men most fed me because of their obsession with Jesus. I would meet with Pastor Lastinger seeking wisdom, and it was there. But in the middle of a lunch meeting he would break down in tears when he began to speak of Jesus. I flew to Mississippi seeking justice, and it was there. But what I found most was a man dripping with the Author of justice.

Finish well, my friend.

Finish - road