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

Repeat After Us

1. My all-time favorite Florida Gator is Joakim Noah.

Last week I was reminded why I loved this guy so much when the SEC Network aired their 52-minute documentary on the back-to-back Gator basketball champions. Repeat After Us is the story of the team who started school together, sweat together, bled together, beat the odds together, wept together, and put together one of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball. After winning it all, each of the big four had every opportunity to leave school early and make their millions in the NBA. Instead, they came back for the incredible repeat. I had forgotten how special this team really was. By the end of that documentary I found myself choked up as I realized again, these guys really loved each other.

It reminded me of Jesus: “By this all will know that you’re My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Joakim Noah was a ringleader of love.

2. It’s been another love-challenged week for the nation. As I watched the riots in Charlotte, you could feel the despair and tension in the air. Hope deferred really does make the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).

It causes me to revere again the otherworldly nature of Martin Luther King’s leadership. The more I watch current events, the more magnificent and virtually miraculous his influence is revealed to be. How in the world did those civil rights leaders do what they did? How did they maintain a non-violent conviction in the face of such evil? How did they persevere long enough to transform hardened hearts?

Repeat after us.

I’m not hearing enough of a call to learn from our activist predecessors. They did cry out for justice. They did lift their voice. They did take action. They did renounce evil. They did get angry without sinning. They did affirm dignity. They did not accept the status quo. And yet they found a way to do all of that without forsaking love.

3. Unity matters. “I plead with you by the name of Jesus, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

I am personally dumbfounded with how easily the political parties have hijacked (and divided) both the left and right wings of the church. For the life of me I cannot understand how we have allowed such blind spots to go on unresisted. Can we not agree that the way of Jesus is to stand with the oppressed? Can we not understand that the effects of hundreds of years of racialized sin will not disappear as quickly as white people would like to move on? Can we not acknowledge the need for police reform while simultaneously acknowledging the multitude of officers who serve above reproach? Can we not recognize that when right-winged Christians are silent in the face of racial injustice they lose credibility? Can we not recognize that when left-winged Christians are silent in the face of abortion injustice they lose moral authority? Can we not concede that cherry-picking our biblical issues is not a biblical option? Lord, make us one.

I relate to hip hop artist Sho Baraka, who feels left out by both major political parties. “Baraka, an evangelical Christian, recently wrote a column entitled Why I Can’t Vote For Either Trump Or Clinton. In that article, the son of a former Black Panther says that ‘as an African-American, I’m marginalized by the lack of compassion on the Right. As a Christian, I’m ostracized by the secularism of the Left.'” (NPR interview here)

Do we not see that when the church fails to lift her voice for justice with Jesus, we leave a void where culture offers justice without Him? This is why, while I really like a lot of the current media voices, I’m troubled when modern activists are reading more Shaun King than Dr. Martin Luther King. It is mind-blowing to go back and read the Scripture-dripping words of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. My heart is convicted, my blind spots are confronted, and my soul is challenged to take the holistic Gospel seriously.

Repeat after us.

4. Leadership matters. But leadership must become clear. I am highly concerned by the lack of clear leadership with a clear voice and a clear direction in this moment in our history.

  • Let us confess our sin. Call it what it is, and repent. Stop denying your racism. Don’t say black lives matter but ignore the 1500+ black lives that will be aborted today.
  • Clarify what we (you) want. What’s the goal? What would get Colin Kaepernick standing again? What constitutes discernible and acceptable progress? When goals are unclear, progress is unlikely.
  • Engage in relationships with people of other races. Share meals, share hearts, and listen.
  • If you’re white, please read The New Jim Crow. Or Just Mercy. If you’re angry, read more Bible and less internet. Stop reading the trolls on people’s social media posts.
  • Don’t surf the net more than you pray. Your response will be nothing but flesh.
  • Use your time. You can help us reach unto neighborhoods all over our city with holistic, strategic initiatives.
  • Use your voice. When tragedy strikes, say something. But do it in the name of Jesus. You can blog. You can march. You can sign petitions. You can affirm Campaign Zero. You can call your congressman. And when people get it right, let them know. In our very city I am watching first-hand as motivated (and woke) police officers are trying to bridge gaps and bring reform. Encourage them. Take it from someone who takes a hit every time I step out to use my voice: the negative voices are 10-to-1.

Repeat after us.

joakim

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

Ground Breakers

breaking-ground

Make disciples of ALL the nations. We haven’t fully embraced the Great Commission until we are committed to go to all the nations (ethnos) and all the peoples. Not just the easily-reached and already-touched. We really are called to take the Gospel where it is rare; to bring discipleship where it is uncommon; to break ground where the ground might still be hard.

For that reason we are praying for ground-breakers. If you know someone interested in being a part of this kind of ministry, send them our way. Here are a few short thoughts we shared with potential ground-breakers and church-planters at our Leadership Conference a few weeks ago.

1. Know your first love.

All ministry must flow out of our personal intimacy with God. I won’t bring on a pastor unless they are willing to separate two hours/day in the secret place with God. If you have not developed an extraordinary prayer life, now is the time to start. Part of your prayer need is actual intimate knowledge of Jesus. If you do not truly know Him, when the trials of launching come, you will crumble. “Extraordinary Prayer” is the #1 characteristic referenced by David Garrison as he studied church planting movements across the globe. The ground breaker must have an extraordinary personal commitment to prayer. There must also be a plan to provide corporate prayer cover. Establish a prayer team as soon as you have direction about what God might be leading you to do.

2. Know your family.

Is your family in order? Are you on the same page? What is the plan to “be there” for your spouse? And children? Date nights, family time, trips to visit out of town family must make it on your schedule. Few things demand constant withdraws like breaking ground. Prepare to establish boundaries you are willing to follow through on.

3. Know your APEST.

Some are apostles. Some are prophets. Others are evangelists or shepherds or teachers. It would be foolish to use these as titles, but the sooner you become honest about your Ephesians 4-giftedness the better. Pray for eyes to recognize such tendencies in the people and leaders around you. For example, you would be wise to acknowledge how much you’ll need to lean on the apostolic and evangelistic functions to establish growth; you’ll be in desperate need of the shepherding function in assimilation; etc. Launch with an eye for a well-rounded APEST reality.

4. Know your vision.

Keep track of what God has made clear. Figure out what really bothers you. What is your burden? What would you take a bullet for? What portions of Scripture seem to most inform your life direction? When you think about what could be and what should be, what comes to mind? I keep a journal, and every time something seems to be stirring that contributes toward vision I make a note with big circled V around it. Write it, rewrite it, pray it. Write out vision as short as a text message and as long as a page. But don’t settle for a vision; have an encounter with God for HIS vision.

5. Know your launch plan.

Your vision is hopefully inspiring and timeless, but ground breaking will need specific direction. Start formulating your plan. For example: We desire to be multi-ethnic from day one. We will launch in a home and desire to be in a macro church facility within a year. We will launch in homes and multiply house churches. We will plant a work in university setting. We will raise $20,000 before we launch. We will partner with a local school where we will do mission while securing a place to meet. Etc.

6. Know your stuff.

There is no reason to NOT be knowledgeable in ground breaking. Read books, google search articles from church-planters, master the book of Acts. Be a learner. Read without ceasing.

7. Know your place.

Where is God calling you to go? God will use you best in a place that you come to know. And love. Begin to pray for God’s heart, burden, passion, insight into the place where He is calling you. Ask for confirmation. Look to spiritual brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers for further confirmation.

Go to those who want you

blog - goGo to those who want you. But especially go to those who want you the most.

This is an old John Wesley principle that speaks to the fact that not everybody is going to like us. Not everybody will give us the time of day. Not everybody will appreciate what we bring to the table.

It’s not just a religious insight, it’s a human insight. Back in the day, companies engaged in mass marketing to hit the middle of the bell shaped curve and offer decent enough products. With limited shelf space and television commercials to choose from, consumers settled for something in the middle of this bell shaped reality. And yet a television show is now a smashing success with less than 1% of the population tuning in. A new product doesn’t need to make it to the shelves of our local Wal Mart; it just needs to find traction with a little tribe who really wants it.

I want to call us to experiment. To be willing to step out and see how God is leading us to create. And innovate. And to find our voice. I don’t want my life to be an echo. I don’t want our ministry to be a cheap knock-off of some great original. I don’t want our leaders so crippled by fear that we shy away from trying things because we’re afraid of the critics’ reviews from the middle of the bell shaped curve.

Do you have an idea for a microchurch that only 1% of the population would ever take seriously? It just might change the world. Do you envision an approach you’ve never seen done? Go read the Bible; that’s how God rolls. Are you holding off because of the intimidation of the big belly of the bell shaped curve? Enough is enough.

It’s why I love this word go. We don’t simply move for the sake of moving, but we realize that Jesus said, as the Father sent Me, so I send you. Do you have any idea how many of our problems and how much of our soul-dullness is the result of our failure to embrace our sentness?

I dare you to look for the clues to your calling and say this: “Here I am; send me.”

I realize everybody is not ready. And I accept the fact that everybody will not like us. But we don’t make our impact in the middle of the bell shaped curve. Just give us a God-inspired 1% or 5% who really, really want it, and watch us change the world.

Hey leaders, stop wasting your life trying to entertain the lukewarm.

Who “wants you”? Who wants Him? Who’s hungry? Who’s listening? Who’s broken? Who’s interested? Who’s curious? Let’s go.

Don’t go to church to get fed.

Go to church to get hungry.

Don’t go to church to get fed? People say this sounds unbiblical. Didn’t Jesus tell Peter, “Feed my sheep”?

That’s the point.

We first hear this idea in Ezekiel 34 where God was speaking “against the shepherds of Israel” who failed to feed the sheep and instead fed themselves: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought … My sheep were scattered with none to search or seek for them …” (Ezekiel 34:4,6)

Imagine the scene. Peter swims up to a beach where the Messiah he denied is cooking him breakfast over a charcoal fire. Just a few days earlier he was warming himself around another charcoal fire when a girl gave him a chance to stand up for a suffering Jesus. He fails miserably, the cock crows, and he flees in shame, lacking faith to believe in a Redeemer who could beat death, much less his sin.

But Jesus thoroughly defeated sin and absolutely conquered death.

Peter now finds himself looking into the same eyes of the Man he betrayed, with the smell of his failure in his nostrils. He then hears the question he never saw coming, with a command that would change his life:

Do you love Me?

Feed my sheep.

When most Christians hear the words feed my sheep they tend to think of reaching in. Going deep. Finding a church that meets my family’s needs. They call it discipleship. For most people feed my sheep means improving existing believers.

But I don’t think that’s what Peter heard.

There’s no doubt that improving and caring for found sheep is part of what Ezekiel 34 had in mind. Strengthen the weak, heal the sick, have meaty Bible studies. One hundred percent necessary. But when you read the story of Peter, you do not find him staying in; he goes out. Central to God’s rebuke to shepherds was their characteristic neglect of lost sheep.

After 2000 years Christians still miss it. We still think feed my sheep means preaching good sermons. (And listen, I’m a sermon guy. I’m sold on well-prepared, expository, Christocentric, Redemptive-historical, gospel preaching) We still act like feed my sheep means helping already-found sheep shine a little brighter. (And just to be clear, I’m all in with with laboring for Christ-like sanctification by faith, a la Galatians 4:19.)

But what if feed my sheep is something more like the great commission.

You know, Go make disciples.

What if making disciples is like making a cake. It certainly includes the icing and the decorating, but it absolutely demands the cooking. Starting with nothing but ingredients and turning this nothingness into somethingness. Sounds a lot like God: “Let there be light.” What if making disciples is exactly what Jesus said it is: teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19-20) What if feed my sheep says loving Jesus means I’ll care about what he cares about. And he feels deeply about lost things.

What if feed my sheep is a lot more like an urgent search for your lost keys when you’re running late for work? Funny how I never hear people passively sit down and rationalize theology with their lost keys. Well, maybe I was predestined to never find these keys. If God wants me to have them, he’ll find a way. Let’s be honest, if we treated looking for lost keys the way we treat looking for lost sheep we’d be unemployed.

Feed My sheep.

I have eight children. That means every now and then I lose one. Can you imagine if I went home to my wife with seven out of eight? As my wife explodes in maternal concern do you think she’d be okay with me saying, “Ruth, calm down. We still have seven. Let’s not be all about numbers. Besides that, the more kids, the less the rest of us get our needs met. The less food for the rest of us. I don’t want us to be a mega-family, I like small-family. All these extra people make it harder to go deep.” My wife would go off.

Because that’s her sheep.

What if your wife-swapping coworker is His sheep, but he doesn’t know it yet? What if your annoying neighbor is His sheep, but she’s never been told? What if feed My sheep means we’re rubbing shoulders with lost sheep all the time, and God wants people with a heart like his?

Which is why He’s asking, “Do you love Me?”

And that’s why I don’t want to go to a church that “feeds” me, in the way a predictable American Christian hears the word feeds. I want to be a part of one that makes me hungry. Hungry enough to go all the way with this gospel I say I believe. And nothing makes me hungry like the uncompromised proclamation and demonstration of the substitutionary death and explosive resurrection of Jesus, among people who burn in white hot passion for their first love, and for the sake of the people He adores. In creed and deed.

Feed My sheep.Feed sheep

Stop Being a Third Wheel

third wheelIt is hard not to look with awe at the life of John the Baptist. The first page of the gospel story is really the last of his own, and while we know a little about his radical prophetic call from the wilderness and his courage to speak truth to power, we also see that he was a man without ego, and (in the view of Jesus) a man without equal.

Once this man, the most famous spiritual leader of his time, sees that Jesus is moving into public ministry, John immediately instructs his followers to transfer their allegiance to Jesus. He steps from the public eye into obscurity, eventually finding himself alone in prison awaiting his own death. It was in that place of waiting that he confirmed the depth of his own character. “I must decrease so that he may increase.” He knew he should not stand as a potential rival to Jesus. He knew that his death was the ultimate sacrifice (one he was willing to make) in order to assure that no one would ever confuse him with Jesus.

THE LOVE TRIANGLE
When John and his followers wrestled with his place in the story of the coming of the messiah he chose the metaphor of the friend of the groom. This is still the best metaphor for us to understand our role as leaders within the church. We are the friends of the groom. Therefore our joy is accomplished in the coming together of the bride and the groom. Our primary relationship is actually with the Groom, not the bride. The Christian leader’s love and allegiance is to the groom, and because of that love he cares for, serves, and protects the bride—but the bride is not his to possess or control.

Think of two best friends. One falls in love. The ring is bought, the wedding set, but the groom has an assignment with his job that sends him overseas. He can communicate with his bride over email or occasional phone calls but the nature of his job is such that traveling back to help with wedding details and even some of his future bride’s needs is just impossible. He is, of course, distraught at not being able to be there to help her with the wedding preparation or her day-to-day struggles. Always weighing on him is the nagging sense that he cannot really look after her or protect her until he returns. So he engages his best friend. “Help me bro. Keep an eye on her, make sure she’s okay. Make sure nothing happens to her, and if there is anything she needs, try and help her. As I would.”

And so he does. At first for his friend, but then over time, something happens between the friend of the groom and the bride. The groom is mentioned less and less, and the relationship is less and less about the groom and more about them. Until one day the friend realizes he is in love with the bride, with the way she makes him feel. Important, strong, helpful, handsome, and so on, and worse even still, she is in love with him. She has forgotten the groom, and now loves the friend of the groom more. She has come to trust him and rely on him, and the intimacy that was meant for the groom has been stolen by the friend. This is a broken picture of ministry, counseling, discipleship, and more. It is a broken picture of leadership that loses sight of its rightful place.

We meet with a lot of people who want to work with us or align themselves with us in some way. Although we have different kinds of ministries, we both need to be able to tell relatively quickly if we have some kind of chemistry or affinity with someone. We both use the same test. We look to see, if in the course of a meeting about ministry, the person will mention Jesus. You would be shocked how often Christian leaders don’t. Even when we bring up Jesus, the subject is too often changed back to ministry. Does this person have a genuine relationship with the groom or just a creepy relationship with his bride to be?

STOP BEING A THIRD WHEEL
It is a warning for those of us who do ministry, who spend a lot of time with the bride, to keep our friendship with the groom strong. To make sure that our primary relationship with him is actually stronger than it is with the bride. Making sure our loyalty to him, to loving him, to serving him, to pleasing him, and to seeing him united with his bride, is more important than accolades or prominence.

It seems the greater the gifts, the greater the honor that a leader receives, the harder this test is. There should be direct correlation between influence and personal depth with God. Too often that correlation is reversed (to disastrous effect) when leaders grow in influence and drift from the God that gave it to them.

Our real job as missionaries, as sent ones, is to see people fall in love with Jesus, not us. We may make the introduction but then we must be willing to decrease in their lives so that he might increase. It still applies. Our first ambition should be to grow in our love and obedience to the one who first saved and called us. Sometimes our ambition leads our prayers in the wrong direction as we pray to do mission better, forgetting that it is relationship with Jesus that compels us into mission in the first place. Yes, it is that relationship that will sustain us through mission—but actually that relationship is the transcendent part. It is not just the fuel to do mission, it is the goal of mission. We are serving the bride in order to draw closer to the Groom.

This has been a sneak peek inside ‘Different’, a new book written by Brian Sanders and myself. It is officially released August 1, 2014.  You can find it on Amazon, Kindle, or a worship gathering at Underground or Greenhouse.

bookphotoamazon