And The Winner Is….

A few weeks ago on this blog, I sent out an appeal for sub title suggestions for my new book that is coming out in August. The book is called “More” and offers spiritually hungry readers a practical pathway into a deeper experience with the Holy Spirit. [I’ll be blogging “more” about “More” in the weeks to come.]

But I needed a subtitle. I received lots of great suggestions (thanks to all who submitted ideas) but one rose to the top, submitted by a friend of mine, Arron Chambers. So here’s the cover with the official subtitle:

 

 

More pic

Good News About Marriage

Ever heard the stat that 50% of marriages end in divorce? Or that the divorce statistics in the church are the same as that in the world? I just read a fascinating article that debunks those stats. The writer of the article is Shanti Feldhahn, who has written two extremely helpful books on marriage. One is called For Men Only, the other For Women Only. I highly recommend them.

Below I’ve included some excerpts from her fascinating article, Everything We Think We Know About Marriage and Divorce is Wrong:

Perhaps most surprising, half of all marriages are not ending in divorce. According to the Census Bureau, 72 percent of those who have ever been married are still married to their first spouse! And the 28% who aren’t includes everyone who was married for many years, until a spouse died. No one knows what the average first-marriage divorce rate actually is, but based on the rate of widowhood and other factors, we can estimate it is probably closer to 20-25 percent.

For all marriages (including second marriages, and so on), it is in the 31-35 percent range, depending on the study.Now, expert demographers continue to project that 40-50 percent of couples will get divorced—but it is important to remember that those are projections. And I’m skeptical because the actual numbers have never come close, and divorce rates continue to drop, not rise!

 

Even among the highest-risk age group—baby boomers—seven in 10 are still married to their first spouse. Most of them have had 30 years’ worth of chances to get divorced … and they are still together.Now, any amount of divorce is still too high! But still, knowing that most marriages last a lifetime is good news that urgently needs to be part of our conventional wisdom.

Another myth that is begging to be debunked is the notion that “Barna found that the rate of divorce is the same in the church.” Actually, the Barna Group found no such thing, and George Barna himself told me he would love to correct this misunderstanding. Because he wasn’t studying people “in the church.”

The Barna Group studies were focusing specifically on the divorce rates of those with Christian and non-Christian belief systems and didn’t take worship attendance into account.

So I partnered with the Barna Group and we re-ran the numbers: and if the person was in church last week, their divorce rate dropped by 27 percent. And that is one of the smallest drops found in recent studies: Overall, regular church attendance lowers the divorce rate anywhere from 25-50 percent, depending on the study you look at.

 

“The implications are enormous.”

A few years ago, when I first shared these facts and others at a conference of marriage and family pastors, one ministry leader came up to me with a stunned look on his face.

“If this is true,” he said, “the implications are enormous.”

Since then, I have heard similar statements from hundreds of pastors, counselors, and average men and women. They have felt as though for too long they were—as one put it—“held hostage to bad data that we couldn’t contradict.”

And they see the dramatic difference it will make to know the truth … and be able to share it.

Imagine the difference for pastors to know that they can stand on stage and tell their congregations with confidence that going to church matters for your marriage.

Imagine the difference to be able to tell a struggling couple, “Most people get through this, and you can too.”

Imagine equipping the average young person with the ability to counter the cynical statements of his college professors, or the “why bother getting married” comments of friends who are living together, with the solid truth that, actually, most marriages last a lifetime. (And are happy! We cover that in The Good News About Marriage, too.)

Those of us who work with marriages may secretly wonder whether there is reason for our ministry if the news about the divorce rate is better than we think. And the answer is a resounding yes.

Because I have seen in the research what every marriage counselor knows intimately: Divorce isn’t the greatest threat to marriage.

Discouragement is.

What marriages need today is hope. And of all people, we in the Body of Christ should be the most ready to offer hope—not just for our spiritual life but for our marriages.

And now, we can.”

Help Me Title My Book!

I need your help. I just finished writing a book about the Holy Spirit. The book offers a balanced, Biblical and practical guide to experiencing the Spirit in our everyday lives. (How we can experience His love, hear His voice, pray for the sick, etc). While I have a title for the book–“More”–I am in need of a creative, interesting sub title.

Right now, I’m considering a couple possible sub titles:

What Happens When You Invite the Spirit Into Your Everyday Life

                                                or

Going Deeper With the Spirit…Without Going Off the Deep End

But I’m not convinced either is the right one.

I would love to hear your best ideas. I will pay $50 to the person who submits a subtitle that I end up going with. Feel free to email me directly if you would like more information about the book. My email address is alank@cccgreeley.org

Thanks for your input!

A Mother’s Day Remembrance

My mom died of cancer three years ago. I miss her. A few weeks ago, I had an idea–why not plant a tree in honor of my mom. Raylene loved the idea, so last weekend–when my dad was in town–we went and picked out a tree for our backyard. My mom’s favorite color is purple (I assume that hasn’t changed in heaven). So we found a beautiful plum tree that has purple colored leaves. We planted it right outside Raylene and my bedroom so that we will see it anytime we look out the window.

A really interesting thing happened when we went to pick out the tree. As we made our way up to the nursery, I noticed that Pastor KJ was there with his wife. He asked what we were doing and I told him: “We’re picking out a tree for my mom.” He said, “That’s exactly what we are doing as well.” His mother died a few years ago also. What are the odds that at the exact same time on the exact same day at the exact same nursery, we both are there picking out trees of remembrance for our mothers. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I believe God orchestrates things like that. Maybe to remind me that I’m not alone. Maybe as a hint that our moms are chatting it up in heaven. I don’t know…but I felt wonderfully encouraged, like I was a part of something much bigger than my grief.

With my family today, I will celebrate my wife–who is an incredible mom. She deserves a day to honor and thank you–and give her a break! But I will also take time to look out the window and remember my mom… all the sacrifices she made and the love she gave, so that I could be enjoying the things I’m enjoying today. So Happy Mothers Day, Raylene….and Happy Mothers Day, Mom!

 

 

Washington DC Trip

My friend Doug Brown and I recently went to Washington DC for an event sponsored by The Evangelical Immigration Table. We went to learn and gather information regarding the issue of immigration and our Biblical response to it.

We flew out a day early so that we could catch some of the sights in DC. So on Monday–within a 6 hour period of time–we saw the Martin Luther King Memorial (powerful), the Lincoln Memorial (really cool), the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, World War II Memorial (very moving and impressive), The Constitution and Declaration of Independence at the National Archives (No way Nicolas Cage could break into that place), The Smithsonian American History museum (saw an actual uniform worn by George Washington and saw the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner), the Smithsonian Air and Space museum (including the actual Wright brothers plane and the Apollo 11 capsule), the room the Supreme Court meets in, and the White House. It was a really fun day, filled with so much appreciation for those who gave their lives in service for our country.

On Tuesday, we attended an “Evangelicals for Immigration Reform” event in the morning. At that meeting, we experienced some wonderful worship and then heard some tremendous speakers talk about the need for a compassionate and sensible response to the immigration challenges. We then headed over the Capital Hill for 2 appointments with the staff of two of our Colorado congressmen: Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner.

From those discussions, I got the sense that, while a few bills related to immigration are in committee, none of them are comprehensive in their approach, containing the elements that many believe are critical for this issue to move forward–things like a clear path to citizenship as well as more effective border security. Pretty discouraging.

As many observe, there seems to be very little dialog, compromise and problem solving happening in Washington these days. I think everyone is so focused on getting elected that they can’t really work toward any solution that would be seen as “compromise” by their political base.

One thing we can do is pray. You can check out here the immigration table prayer suggestions. And you can read their official statement on immigration reform here. I think it offers a great foundation for helpful dialog on this issue, rather than intense political rhetoric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Be A Friend of God

A few years ago, there was a popular worship chorus sung in churches. The chorus stated “I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. He calls me friend.” While I love the sentiment, I’m not sure it accurately describes how the term “friendship with God” is described in Scripture.

Jesus said in John 15:14-15 “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

Jesus makes it clear that friendship with God is not automatically bestowed upon all His followers but is reserved for a more select group. So what is the mark of a friend of God? It would be tempting to read this passage and conclude that the primary distinguishing quality of a friend of God is obedience, period. After all, Jesus says “My friends…do what I command.” But look a bit more closely.

Jesus contrasts “friends” to “servants”. What’s the difference between a friend and a servant? Certainly not obedience. Servants are all about obedience. That’s what servants do—they serve, they obey. There must be something else that distinguishes a servant from a friend.

Jesus tells us what that something is: A servant doesn’t know his master’s business, but a friend does. Both obey, but only one does so from an intimate, relational heart posture. A friend is one who listens to His Master, whose heart is attentive to the voice of Jesus and then does what the Master says.

There are seasons in my life when my relationship with God would best be described in terms of a servant/employee of God. I’m trying my best to obey, but only because it’s what I’m supposed to do. My obedience is rooted in ought to’s and should’s. In those seasons, my level of joy is minimal, my irritation with myself and others is heightened. My spiritual walk begins to feel like a burden. But that’s not the life Jesus invites us to experience.

Jesus invites us to experience an intimate friendship with Him, where He shares with us His heart and we gladly align our lives with those loving purposes. When we do that, our obedience becomes a ‘want to’ rather than a ‘should’.

So how do we become a friend of God?  Rather than focusing on obeying Him, we focus instead on loving Him, listening to Him, and living in the fullness of His love for us.  

Immigration Part 4: “They’re Breaking the Law”

In this post, I want to discuss one more response I sometimes hear Christians articulating in the midst of the immigration discussion: “They’re breaking the law. Romans 13 says we are to submit to authorities and they are not submitting. They are illegal. That settles it.”

 

Often, this is where the debate on this issue begins and ends. How can any dialog happen when “illegal” is the foundation for the discussion? But what if we started the discussion at a different place? What if we took a couple steps back and asked ourselves, How does the Bible inform us in terms of the laws of our land?

 

What might immigration policy look like if it was rooted in the whole of Scripture, not just Romans 13? What if it was rooted in each person being created in the image of God, and God’s concern for the foreigner, and Jesus’ willingness to extend compassion to outsiders like the Samaritans and others?

 

I’m not encouraging anyone to not respect the laws of the land but as people of God, we must continually be asking, “Are the current laws fair and just? Do they reflect the heart and compassion of God?” Even the United Government acknowledges that changes need to be made to the current system. The laws are contradictory, very confusing, and at times blatantly unjust. Are we willing to look at these issues through the lens of Scripture rather than having a knee jerk “what about illegal don’t you understand?” response?

 

I wonder sometimes if the “illegal” argument gets used as a smokescreen to let ourselves off the hook so we don’t have to wrestle with God’s call to love the immigrant. For instance, I’ve heard strong denunciations about offering college scholarships for undocumented children. How dare we give scholarship money to an illegal immigrant?

 

But let’s set the rhetoric aside for a moment and think about a specific student—Sylvia, who has lived in the US most of her life, graduated with honors, has many gifts and abilities to offer our society. But she can’t attend college because she will then be deported to a country she has never known. And she can’t get a job because she is not a citizen. So what is she to do?

 

I know some will say, “Send her back where she belongs,” but what does God’s word say about how to respond to her? It’s interesting how we as Christians often quote Romans 13 about submitting to authority, but just a few verses later, we read these words: “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal’, ‘Do not covet’, and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 

Every commandment, every law, can be summed up in this one rule: Love. Now if someone is unsafe for a society, if someone robs a bank or commits violence, the loving thing is to dispense justice. That’s what our law enforcement is supposed to do. And a lot of people feel that undocumented immigrants are unsafe for our society. But is that a fair generalization?

 

What about the other side? Do we ever think about all that they contribute to our society? Many are working jobs most of us wouldn’t be willing to do for wages we certainly wouldn’t be willing to work for. They pick crops, they clean hotel rooms, they wash dishes…and they pay taxes, sales tax, Social security tax, even though they will never be able to collect any benefits. A New York Times article stated that undocumented immigrants contribute 7 billion dollars a year to Social Security.

 

I believe that as followers of Jesus, we should be leading the way with love. Part of that love means supporting attempts for immigration reform, so that the laws regarding immigration are fair and just.

 

I’ve resisted getting political to this point. But let me express my disappointment that some conservative politicians are now backing away from any support for immigration reform. What disappoints me more is that many of the constituents urging them to not support reform are Christians.

 

Wouldn’t it be cool if we as Christians were leading the way in terms of speaking up for the immigrants in our midst, making sure that our laws were fair and just, and that these people were being treated with dignity and honor?

 

As Christ followers our approach to this issue must be foundationally rooted in God’s heart, as expressed in the Bible. May that be what informs our attitudes and behaviors more than anything else.

Immigration Part 3: What Would We Do?

In my last two posts, we have been looking at the topic of immigration. As mentioned earlier, my goal is not to offer simplistic solutions or even political ones. Rather, I want us to make sure we are thinking Biblically about this issue. Often in the midst of discussions about this topic, attitudes begin to surface that don’t reflect the heart of God.

One response—which I mentioned in the last post—is why don’t they go back to where they came from. I think it helps to examine the reasons people immigrate.

Did you realize that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the children of Israel, Naomi, Ruth, Daniel and his friends, Joseph and Mary and Jesus, were all migrants at some point in their lives?

Some migrated to another country for food, for provision, for work. They couldn’t support their family in their current location. So they moved to where they could support their family. We would call this person an immigrant.

Others were forced to migrate because of conflict, war, survival. We would call these people refugees. But my point is that migration of this sort has been happening for centuries. It was very common in the Bible and has been very common ever since–huge migrations of people due to famines and wars and all sorts of factors.

Most people don’t like to move. They don’t like to uproot their family and go to another location, especially a different culture, where they speak a different language and the risk is greater for hardship and difficulty.

They move because they are trying to survive. Abraham moved to Egypt because of a famine. Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus fled their country because of a real threat to their lives. Most of those who immigrate to America are doing so for the same reasons found in Scripture—to survive, to provide a better life for their children and family.

When we have a knee jerk reaction, “Why don’t you just go back where you came from?” I’m not sure we have thought about the motivations of what brought them here in the first place. What would we do if we were in their shoes? If our kids are starving and our family is at risk of violence…and there is food and a job and safety across the border. What would we do as parents?

I see all the effort parents expend to get their kids on the best soccer team or in the best schools. (I remember getting up at 5:00 am and going to wait in line at the Rec Center to ensure that my son got on the “best” baseball team.) Can we really blame someone for wanting to get out of poverty and instead provide food and education for their children?

Let me reiterate—I’m not making a political statement here about border security, immigration laws, etc. I’m simply wanting us to look at this issue more deeply than a knee jerk, “Go back where you came from,” response.

Compassion moves us to see beneath the political rhetoric and instead to see real people who only want to help their family survive and thrive.

Immigration Part 2: “Why Don’t They Go Back To Where They Came From?”

In my last post, I looked at a foundational question as it relates to our attitude toward immigration. As followers of Christ, do we love the immigrant? God specifically calls us to love the foreigner in our midst.

Often in the midst of immigration discussions, attitudes surface that need to be evaluated in light of God’s Word. I realize immigration is a complicated issue, and I’m not interested in trying to address it simplistically or politically. What I hope is that we think Biblically about these things.

One of the most common reactions is: “Why can’t they go back to where they came from? This is our country.” Let’s unpack that from a Biblical perspective. As Christians, we realize that nothing we have is ours. It’s all God’s. Not only our possession but also the country we live in, the land we live on.

Paul says in Acts 17:26 “From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.”

God is the one who determines who lives where. You and I had absolutely nothing to do with where we were born, which significantly reframes the whole discussion about what is OURS.

We must remember that we are a nation of immigrants. For over two centuries, we opened our borders to people from other nations, and we did so without quotas and permission. Most of us are here today because of the immigration of our grandparents or great-grandparents. We are descendants of immigrants. We can’t now act like immigration never happened. It has happened and it has made us who we are. We are the recipients of this blessing.

A friend of mine told me about how when he lived in North Denver, some friends of his had moved there just a few years earlier. But as soon as they moved in, they helped form a committee to petition the city and county to adopt a no growth policy to keep everyone else away. Isn’t that just like the human heart? If we receive benefit, then everything is okay…but once we’re in, we want to make sure we keep others out.

And notice too from Paul’s words that the place we live is not nearly as important as the mission of God. God’s heart is for every person to embrace the gospel and experience r’ship with Him. Everything is viewed through the lens of that mission.

If we see ourselves first and foremost as Americans, the mission of God often gets set aside for a more nationalistic, self-centered response. “This is ours. You get out.”

But if we are first and foremost Christ followers, our ultimate desire is the mission of Jesus. So when we look at foreigners in our midst, our instinctive response is, “How cool! What a great opportunity we have to lead someone to Christ from another nation or ethnic background. They are coming to us! What an awesome thing for the gospel.”

Not only that, some of these immigrants are bringing with them a vibrant relationship with Jesus which we need. The American church needs revived, doesn’t it?

I’m not saying we are shouldn’t love our country. I’m so thankful for America, but there should be a deeper allegiance in all of us who say we are Christ followers.

Yes we are citizens of America, but we are ultimately citizens of heaven. Jesus is our ultimate allegiance. If not, we are idolaters who are worshiping our nation rather than Jesus. Nothing is to supersede our love for and allegiance to Him, not even our love of country.

In my next post I’ll address some more of the heart issues surrounding this topic. I’d love to hear what you think.

 

Do You Love The Immigrant?

In the midst of all the heated rhetoric and political posturing occurring around the issue of immigration, I’m concerned that many Christians are ignoring a foundational question: What does God think? What is God’s heart regarding the issue of immigration?

 

We too easily adopt the perspective of whatever political party we are associated with, rather than thinking Biblically about the topic. We must remember that we are Christ followers first. Everything else is to align with that foundational reality. We are people of the kingdom, following a King. Our lives and hearts are to align with His heart.

 

So what is God’s heart regarding the issue of immigration? You may be surprised to hear that the Bible has a lot to say about this issue. One of recurring themes in the Bible is God’s heart for the immigrant. In the ancient near east, various nations had law codes that guided their behavior—Assyria, Babylon, Persia. But none of them had any law, any moral guideline concerning how to treat a foreigner. Which fostered animosity and prejudice and hatred toward outsiders.

 

But when God gave Israel His law, after rescuing them from bondage in Egypt, He specifically included in it several statements about how foreigners should be treated. One of the most powerful and clear articulations of this is found in Deuteronomy 10:17-19. God is declaring His greatness. Check this out:

 

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows know partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.”

 

This is such an incredible passage at so many levels. One, it shows so clearly God’s love for the foreigner, the immigrant. He specifically singles them out here and says, I love the alien. I love the immigrant who lives among you. Which means that every person has value. Every person matters to God.

 

 But there is more here than that. One of the reasons God sets His affection and concern upon them is because of how vulnerable they are, how easily they can be mistreated and taken advantage of. I know how I feel when visiting a foreign country and don’t know the language or the money situation. I am totally vulnerable to being taken advantage of. Imagine living there.

 

Many immigrants to the United States are taken advantage of in awful ways, sold things they don’t need, promised things they don’t get, lied to, paid unfair wages. And they have no recourse. They can’t report the lawyer who stole their money, since to do so would expose them to the risk of being deported.  

 

 

Now before anyone reacts by saying, “They deserve to be deported. They’re here illegally,” read Deuteronomy 10 again very carefully. In this passage, God is saying, “I care about them. I love them. That’s why I want you to love them. To make sure they are not taken advantage of, and that they have what they need.”

 

Here’s my question as we think about this issue of immigration: Do you love the immigrant? That’s the question that, for us as Christians, should be driving our response to this issue. Do we love them? Do we have compassion for their situation? Do we care about what happens to them?

 

I’m not talking about political policy. I’m not talking about legislation or health care or legal issues or any of that. I’m asking what I believe is the most important question of all. I don’t think we can even begin to hear God speak to us about this issue until we answer this at a heart level: Do we love the immigrant? What is our attitude towards the immigrants who live in our community? Fear, hatred, anger, disdain….or love?

 

If reading this is making your heart rate increase, I would encourage you to ask yourself why that is. Why does this evoke such a strong reaction, and is love what is driving that reaction?

 

Now I realize the issue of immigration is very complex and emotionally charged. I get that. In future posts, I’d like to look at some of those issues and concerns. But again, before we go there, I want you answer this question honestly: Do you love the immigrant?