Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

I like honest conversations.

And I love the fact that God’s shoulders are big enough to handle our intellectual, emotional, and theological struggles. It’s why I am so drawn to the death of Lazarus (John 11).

On a holiday where billions will celebrate Jesus’ ultimate victory over death, I am reminded of the painful reality of living in the gap between the promises of God and realization of those promises.

Here’s the summary. The gospel writer goes out of his way to emphasize that Jesus loves Lazarus and his family. They were very well-acquainted with the healing reputation of the Messiah. By John 11 Lazarus is sick. Playing their friendship card, his sisters send word to Jesus, informing Him of Lazarus’ condition. You know, do your thing, Lord. Much to everybody’s surprise, Jesus does NOT come. Jesus does NOT heal. And Lazarus dies.

There’s the tension.

You could have stopped this. You could have fixed this. You could have prevented this. You could have intervened before bad became worse. And yet You did not. You stopped death for others; You prevented disaster for others; You saved the day for others. And yet You left us hanging. (And you love us?)

What do you do when God leaves you hanging?

It’s the question that has haunted me in recent years. Why? My God, my God, why? I’ve even invented my own angst-filled question-like emoji for my prayer journal in my moments of particular frustration. Why not me? Why not us? Why not help my child? Why not heal my sickness? Why aren’t you showing up? My God, my God, why?

If You would have been here, my brother would still be alive.

As the grieving sister Martha laid out her complaint to the Lord, Jesus made a promise: Your brother will rise again. To which she responded with a declaration of orthodox, albeit abstract piety:  I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. But somehow we’ve all felt the impotent effects of intangible theology divorced from real life.

I was recently in a conversation  with a precious Muslim refugee. As the dialogue turned to the hope of life after death and my faith in Jesus, her response to my predictable evangelical pie in the sky was convicting: “To be honest with you, my deepest longing is for peace on earth. Is there any hope for salaam? My family is stuck in a war zone.” Great question.

Jesus, my brother is dead, and our hearts are broken. Is there any hope for peace on earth? I suppose I affirm the doctrine of a distant resurrection, but is there hope for broken hearts on earth? Lord, you’re too late.

And then Jesus drops the bomb. I am the resurrection.

I am.

I’m not sure why it means so much to me, but it has become one of the defining realities of my journey with God. Every time it feels like God is disappointing us with delay or disappointment (or silence!), you can be sure of this: He is about to reveal something new about Himself. I am the resurrection. I am the healer of broken hearts. I am the author of peace on earth (yes on earth) and goodwill toward humans. I’m actually starting to realize the gifts of God are great, but God himself is better.

Why does He allow death? Why the unresolved tension? Why are so many of us waiting in the valley of delay? I’m not sure. But I know this: He is creating a people stronger than death. Stronger than disappointment. Stronger than circumstance. He has a love stronger than the grave. He rules a kingdom that can NOT be shaken. Everything down here on earth is shakeable, which is why the plan has always been to bring up there down here. On earth as it is in heaven. Envy is shakeable. Comparison is shakeable. Worry is shakeable. Health is shakeable. But not Him. Not His kingdom. And not His people.

But my brother is dead, Lord. Not for long.

This weekend reminds me that it’s never too late. It’s never too hard. It’s never beyond his scope. It’s never beyond his reach. It’s never out of his control.

I thought it was game over. But it’s only Friday; Sunday’s coming.

See you at the Odome.

April Fools & Faith

We don’t know what to believe.

From the promises of a slippery salesman to the smooth words of a coercing boyfriend, life has taught us to be suspicious. It’s certainly not just April 1st, we live in a world where we have no idea when and where to let our guard down and trust.

It clearly didn’t start this way. All you have to do is watch a young child and it’s clear that our default setting is belief. Wide-eyed and vulnerable, a child enters life fully prepared to give the benefit of the doubt and take you at your word.

But life has way of beating the belief right out of us. Broken promises, hidden agendas, and the ubiquity of deception train up a child in the way she should not go as we learn to put up our guards and protect our souls from the dreaded shame – or pain – assigned to the gullible.

Doubting has become a virtue. Cynicism is a badge of respect. And yet cynicism is really just soul-laziness. It’s the easy way out. It’s the acquiescence to the peer pressure of the age to never get your hopes up. But the kingdom of God is released by faith, not doubt. And faith is substance of things hoped for.

Hope requires courage. If you will not dare to hope, you have no fuel for faith.

Make no mistake about it, we already believe. As Seth Godin comments on April Fool’s, we just believe the wrong things. Like the player who never settles down and marries the woman he knows is Mrs. Right, we roam and flirt from object to object, never fully committing. Never really believing.

Believing is really about listening to a word. In the absence of the right words from the right Source, we wander into the wrong words from the wrong sources. This was the essence of the original question toward Adam in the Garden of Eden. Who told you you were naked? We might ask similar questions. Who told you you were ugly? Who told you  you’ll never make it? Who told you you are unwanted? That’s why if you have attached your soul to those words and believe you are unlovable, unworthy, hopeless, and cursed, no one can talk you out of it. No one can make you believe.

Faith is always about a word. It is a fixing of our attention on that word. I spent most of my life thinking faith was feeling, and because I could not conjure up that feeling, I must not have the gift. But faith is not a feeling, it’s a focus on a word and the person who spoke it.

It’s why one of the primary assignments against your life is to keep your eyes off of the words of Jesus. Because if you saw what He says about you, you just might get your hopes up. And faith is the substance of things hoped for.

So on this April 1st I dare you to get your hopes up. I dare you to treat the words of God like a child treats a birthday promise. I dare you to major on the promises, listen to the promises, memorize the promises, speak the promises, pray the promises, and attach your life to the promises. Because if the Cross tells you anything, it tells you that God keeps His promises.

I’m a believer.

april-fools
April Fool’s Day

Promises

God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Jesus who called us to His glory and virtue by which He has granted us His precious and very great promises, so that through them we are able to possess all that He has provided. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

We ask of God, and He will give us nations for our inheritance. I believe the glory of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. (Psalm 2:8)

We are redeemed from the curse of the first Adam because of the finished and perfect work of the second Adam, Jesus. (Galatians 3:13)

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. (Psalm 56:3)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

I will live, move, & make decisions by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

We fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. In every area we lack wisdom, we request it, & believe we receive it. In all our ways we acknowledge Him, & He will direct our paths. (Proverbs 9:10, James 1:5-6, Proverbs 3:6)

The blessing of Abraham comes to us in Christ Jesus. He shows us where to go to, He blesses us so that we may be a blessing to all the peoples of the world. (Galatians 3:14, Genesis 12:1-3)

Great is the peace of our children for they are taught of the Lord. (Isaiah 54:13)

The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need. (Psalm 23:1)

I am like a tree planted by the rivers of water. I will bring forth fruit in season. My leaves will not wither. Whatever I do will prosper. (Psalm 1:3)

We delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give us the desires of our hearts. (Psalm 37:4)

As we give, it will be given unto us: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. (Luke 6:38)

There is no lack, because our God supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory. (Philippians 4:19)

Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, therefore we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness and by His stripes we were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

We can expect both forgiveness and healing because Jesus Himself took our infirmities and bore or sicknesses. (Matthew 8:17)

We present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inside of us quickens our mortal bodies in times of need. We stand on this promise. (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:11)

I will not limit God because He will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

We will bear one another’s burdens, remember the poor, and meet urgent needs. (Galatians 2:10, 6:2, Acts 4:32, Titus 3:14)

We will do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind consider others better than ourselves. We will look out not only for our own interests, but also the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

We overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb, the word of our testimony, and by not loving our lives even unto death. (1 John 2:13, Revelation 12:11)

*These are not all direct quotes from Scripture, but written how I often pray them or speak them out. These are not exhaustive, but a few examples of how I attempt to bring God’s truth to mind, heart, and mouth. 

 

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

My Prayer on Inauguration Day

I pray that Christian Democrats will give Trump the same mercy they gave Obama in the areas where his politics violate God’s righteous standard. And I pray that Christian Republicans will give Trump the same prophetic scrutiny they gave Obama.

I pray for another spiritual awakening in our day. God, You oppose the proud, but give grace to the humble. Help us to humble ourselves, seek Your face, repent of our sins, and turn from our wicked ways.

I pray that Christians will unite under the banner of Jesus and be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Reunite hearts that were divided during the election.

I pray that Christians will hold fast to truth, while speaking it with love and meekness.

I pray that those with power will use it to do justice. May all branches of government seek justice and correct oppression.

I pray for the criminal justice system to be fair, just, and redemptive.

Use our President’s influence to help our nation to defend the foreigner, the refugee, and all of those in danger.

Specifically, I intercede on behalf of women on the streets, unarmed black men, and unwanted children in the womb. Preserve their lives.

I pray that our leaders will not call what is evil good and good evil. May we not put darkness for light and light for darkness. May we not be wise in our own eyes.

I ask God to deliver us from our greed. Surround the President with godly counselors who are not ruled by materialism and lust and pride, but by humility and a desire to serve.

I pray that our President and Congress will not feel the need to lead from fear.

Give our leaders wisdom and understanding, especially in appointing key positions.

Grant our leaders self-control with their words.

I pray for the salvation of our leaders. Provide conversations, divine appointments, dreams, and influencers that will capture their attention and turn their hearts in repentant faith toward Jesus. Amaze our culture with key people bearing fruits worthy of repentance.

…..

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just. (Blaise Pascal)

 

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?