Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The "haves" and the "have nots"

I recently spent a weekend in the wealthiest neighborhood of São Paulo. From my hotel window I could see some of the city's finest neighborhoods where some of Brazil's wealthiest citizens live in mansions and huge apartments.

I could also see from my window one of São Paulo's largest slums. The slum is home to 80,000 people crammed onto a hillside right in the middle of the luxury apartment complexes. Anyone who has been to Brazil has seen this shocking contrast of the "haves" and the "have nots".

The pastor who was my host for the weekend described the slum as an unsolvable social problem. Begun by people immigrating from grinding poverty in northern Brazil, this slum was first built by people just looking for a chance to work. That is no longer the case.

As we looked out on this unbelievable scene I suddenly saw something else. I saw the last 500 years of Brazilian history and a vision of the direction our world seems to be heading. For the last 500 years Brazil has been a land of the "haves" and the "have nots".

It seems that our world is now heading into a time where socialism is seen as the great hope for the world. For me in particular this is not a happy thought. I remember how proud my father was of not needing the government to take care of him. All he wanted was a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His example burned deeply into my heart and soul and so did my USA 1950s childhood, I have never wanted the government to take care of me. I just wanted a fair chance. I got that fair chance in my 1950s America even though millions of black Americans around me did not.

In my view, socialism is a a willingness of people to see and accept government as their solution. In a very real sense socialism is the greater mass of humanity believing that the government should take care of them because the government has what they do not have. Since they, the governing class, have so much they should take care of those who don't have. My father would have choked on the idea that the government has what he needs. He did not want the government to take care of him. He wanted the government to guarantee his safety and opportunity not take care of him.

The slums in Brazil are a scream for help and also a terrible form of dependence. Rich neighborhoods and the slums that surround them live in a very strained and uneasy relationship. There is a very real sense that the two worlds could explode at any second. They often do.

In the Brazilian slums most things are free. Water, electricity, internet, cable, etc. are free in most slums. In reality they are stolen and everyone has to go along with this or the 80,000 people on the hill might get out of control. There is a very real sense of guilt that is felt by the "haves." The "have nots" know this and have become a powerful political force which now threatens to take control of all the wealth by force if there is not a transfer of the wealth to a new governing class called a socialist government.

If socialism wins the day, I predict the slums will not disappear. The slums will surround the neighborhoods where the government leaders live instead of surrounding the capitalist leaders neighborhoods. Nothing will really change except who composes the rich class and lives in the best neighborhoods.

As bad as the slums are, most people who live in them resist being relocated unless all the "Free" benefits are guaranteed in the new place. It is complicated! If you ever visit the city of Rio, the best views of the beaches are from the slums. It is almost too strange to describe. One has to see it to believe it. Who would want to give up such a view for a tiny apartment away from the beach and an two hour bus ride to work?

Here is my point. I reject the socialist theory simply because I don't believe any human beings were meant to live with a "please someone take care of me!" mentality. This mentality kills the human soul in every way. I believe the right mentality is "please guarantee my opportunity to find my space to live and love."

What does this have to do with Christians? I believe that much of what passes for Christianity today is also becoming a form of "slum" Christianity.
The spiritual "haves" let the spiritual "have nots" live close to them in church because they are so permanently needy. The "haves" tolerate the "have nots" because they realize they will always be needy. They also need the cheap help to keep the spiritual gated communities running. That may sound harsh, but I have seen firsthand the deadening effects of the rich Christians and the poor Christians in what I call "pyramid" churches.

This uneasy "haves" and "have nots" relationship is not good for anyone-especially the leaders. I believe we need communities of equals in Jesus. We need vineyards not luxury apartment buildings overlooking the pitiful poor. We need communities where we are one with God and one with each other. By abiding I believe we have hope for this in our churches. I believe this problem does have a solution. That solution is called "oneness".

I don't know if there can ever be "oneness" in Brazil. There wasn't "oneness" for everyone in South Florida when I grew up but there was a spirit of healthy independence from the "haves". That was a start!

There can and must be oneness in the church. I believe we must resist every kind of spiritual environment that exalts some and makes others the permanently dependent ones. We are all branches and there is only one Vine.

Brazil may need to head for socialism in order to avoid a bloodbath, but the church needs to head to oneness because the blood of One was already shed. I have hope for the church. The world? That is another question.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Should Christians be Good At?

I continue to be amazed at the Christian community's desire to appear better at things than non-believers. Is being better at baseball, music, politics or anything else a sign of Christian life? I don't think so.

What we should be good at is being loved and loving. We should be the world's best at uninterrupted love.

I remember this thought coming home to me the first time through the writings of Francis Schaeffer in his book The Mark of the Christian. He was the first that showed me that the Christian's credibility is found in sustained love just like Jesus said it was.

What if we focused on this one ability as our societal calling and the true basis our our witness? Would we lose all the abilities we engage in while focusing on being really good at love? No. Love needs a context. Any skill taken seriously is a context for sustained love.

I have been on this Christian journey for quite a while. I have seen every kind of ability celebrated when a Christian is involved.
I have also noticed that we don't quite know how to celebrate the same ability displayed by an unbeliever. Perhaps we don't want them to be so good at baseball, music, politics or anything else. Why? We are basing our hope on Christians being better at things because they are Christians. Should we focus on being better at these things or focus on being really good at uninterrupted love while doing these things?

I have come to the conclusion that Jesus was perfect at uninterrupted love. As far as I know, he never tried to be good at anything else to prove His point. Let's be good at love as we do our sports, music and politics. That makes a great combination and it protects what really matters which is great relationships.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Abide Retreat March 2009

It is early morning March 15th and we are getting near the end or our March Abide Retreat in the mountains of Brazil. This group of 34 is such an interesting mix of people. What they all have in common is a passion to be like Jesus. I wish all of our friends could experience a retreat with us here! Catch a plane and come.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Father forgive them!

I have always been amazed by these words spoken by Jesus as He was being crucified "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." I think I could spend an entire day in the light of those words. I don't get all of what those words mean but I do get the big picture of what God was doing in Christ that day.

Most of the people with whom we interact every day do not get any of what God is doing. That is why they do not get what we are doing either.

In the Message edition of the Scriptures we read these words in John 3.

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we're called children of God! That's who we really are. But that's also why the world doesn't recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he's up to.

I often want the world to take me as seriously as God takes me. I want the world to truly get what I am up to. They get me so wrong at times.

I watch the conservative news channels on cable here in Brazil and I watch Christians getting so frustrated because America doesn't get it! Can America living apart from God get it? Can Brazilians living apart from God really get why I am in Brazil?

To be like Jesus is to do what we do without expecting people to get it and affirm it.
I know that is hard, but the words "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" will come in handy if a really bad day in your world comes along.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Crucified by Christians

I remember reading somewhere a quote that has stayed with me even though I want it to go away. Here it is. Read it at your own risk. "When God wants to really love someone, someone gets crucified."
I warned you.

What I didn't count on when I read that quote was that it would come true over and over again in my own experience. And what makes it even worse is that many of the crucifixions I have witnessed have been Christians crucifying Christians. Some of my own crucifixions have been carefully executed by believers.

Delivering God's love is not for the faint at heart. Love of a certain quality is only delivered by painful betrayal and false accusations. Read the life stories of some of God's most famous saints and you will find than many of them were crucified by Christians. Even so, a great kind of love lingers in the world for centuries because of their crucifixions.

I have no idea what it is that makes us want to judge others and put an end to another's reputation or life, but it runs deep in all of us--including me. We take a kind of perverse pleasure in finding others to be less than we find ourselves to be.

When I teach the Satisfying LIfe course I often ask the group if they think God really loved His Son Jesus. They always answer "yes!" Then I ask "If so, would you want to be treated like His Father treated Him?" There is usually a very uneasy silence and few volunteers.

When God wants someone to be truly loved, someone will suffer for that to happen. I think that is what Cross-bearing is about.

Sometimes when I bring this up in a teaching setting someone will ask "Doesn't having great faith shield us from pain?" That is a popular thought here in Brazil. I respond by saying "Have you ever read who it was that gave faithful Job's address to the Devil?"

I do want to love like Jesus did. I really do. I just struggle with this quote when it is my turn to deliver such love.

Please forget you heard this quote from me! Blame anonymous.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Mom and Dad

I remember hearing Chris Matthews for MSNBC describe the Democrats and Republicans in the following manner.
"Democrats are the party of mom. Republicans are the party of Dad" He went on to say that the debates and elections were a family argument in action. He said the the party of mom was the party that always looks for a reason to not give up on people. The party of dad wants people to get a life. I think he got it right.

Brazil is a matriarchal society. The entire social structure of Brazil is based on the fact that women are more consistent and trustworthy than men. Men have urges they cannot control. Women have to hold the world together because men won't. Mary is more respected here than Jesus. The way this works out in practical life is often comical and, at times, disastrous.

A Matriarchal society is, on the surface, a forgiving, accepting society. It is a society that has no death penalty, short prison stays and a belief that men just cannot control their basic urges. Women must be the anchor in the matriarchal society. While Brazil has no death penalty and prison stays are almost never more than a few years, over 700 people were killed while being arrested last year in Rio de Janeiro. Men can't control their urges so both sides of the drug war are killing non-stop. What they can count on is that the moms will be there for them no matter what they do.

God made male and female for a reason. They balance each other in their view of reality. The great thing about the USA is that the Protestant roots of the USA produced a society of dad and mom. Protestants abandoned the idea that men cannot control their urges. They called men to responsibility and they punished the giving in to urges.

I love Brazil. I love the way Brazilians deal with life. Even so, I wish for the day that Brazilian dads would come to Jesus and assume masculine responsibilities.

I love the USA. I pray that the political structure will remain mom and dad. Right now it looks to me like mom is concluding she needs to take care of everyone since men's urges can't be controlled. A single parent USA would be tragic.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Morality or Identity

Which do you think is more powerful, a system of right and wrong or an identity rooted in true life?

Which statement is most powerful. "That is wrong. Don't do that." or "That is not you. It doesn't fit you."

Jesus said he came to give us life not morality. Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life, not a superior system of right and wrong. Jesus was constantly concerned about pleasing His Father and reflecting His true identity as one with the Father.

Paul said "For to me to live is Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me."

Right and wrong does not work. Right and Wrong is not what God is after. God is after joining His life to us so we live from His life the way Jesus did. I don't believe Jesus spent any time at all thinking about right and wrong. I believe He was simply being Himself full of grace and truth.

When I am in a place where I want to be impatient or aggressive, I can say "This is wrong. Don't do it." Or I can say "This is not consistent with my Christian life--Jesus in me. Jesus be my patience and my kindness." I have tried both. Identity and Life trump right and wrong. Right and wrong is the fruit of a tree we should avoid.

I guess we should have seen that identity is more powerful than morality when God said "I am that I am" and Jesus said "I always do that which pleases my Father." Jesus was not trying to be good. He was good because He is good.

The next time you are wondering if you should do something or not, ask "Is this the real me?" instead of asking "Is this right or wrong." If your identity is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" you will immediately know that impatience and aggression just don't fit you. Put on kindness and gentleness. They fit you and they are in you right now.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Not everyone has an explosive conversion experience. I did.
I was 16 years old and I had been in church off an on since the death of my father when I was 10 years old. I had experienced some level of faith in Jesus but I was certainly not free to enjoy my relationship with HIm.

On the evening of October 22, 1967 I received Jesus in His fulness. It was an explosion of light and joy. I had been working at being a Christian. When I stopped working at receiving Jesus and simply received Him, the light and joy came.
I literally sang all the way home that night as I drove my little VW bug down the Hollywood, Florida streets. People must have thought I was crazy.

Today I believe what I was experiencing that night was not just the explosion of my conversion that was meant to pass. I was experiencing the generous presence of Jesus in my life. Jesus came into my spirit and my soul was at rest and rejoicing. Believe it or not, I was given a taste of what it means to live the Christian life each day. It was a taste of what happens when a human being is receiving from God's generosity and grace. On that one glorious night I was enjoying a barrier-free relationship with Jesus with no effort of my own except being focused fully on Jesus.

In Colossians 2:6,7 Pauls writes "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude."

I experienced this verse on the night of my conversion. Tragically, I was not "instructed" and therefore the "overflowing with gratitude" stopped soon after my conversion. I assumed the "overflowing with gratitude" was a once in a lifetime event.

As Mike Wells says in his wonderful book Heavenly Discipleship "Most Christians can rapidly list five things they need to do for God. However, very few can list five things God is doing for them." The first Sunday after my conversion I was given the list of what I needed to do for God. It was far longer than 5 items! It was many years later that I realized that what matters is what God is willing to do for me through Jesus the Vine that makes me overflow with gratitude like I did on the night of my conversion.

Go back and read the verse again. Has anyone instructed you to focus on what God is doing for you in Christ right now as the key to discipleship and joy?
Has anyone told you that you are rooted in the source of all good things? If not, is it any wonder the joy has gone and a burden of doing for God has taken its place?

Have the courage to wake up each day and affirm what God is doing for you before you grab the list of what you must do for God. Try this...

The entire Christian life abides in me right now. For to me to live is Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in
me. It is not what I am willing to do that makes the Christian life work. It is what He is willing to do! In Christ God is
loving me, guiding me, keeping me, enjoying me, purifying me, forgiving me, filling me, molding me and working His will
in me.

Rejoice! And again I say rejoice! God is much more generous with His perfect life in Jesus than you will ever truly comprehend.

Mike Well's book Heavenly Discipleship and several other wonderful books can be ordered through his site www.abidinglife.com Get them!

Monday, March 02, 2009


One of the downsides of living in a large city is the constant contact with concrete and manmade things. As soon as one leaves the city something in the human soul breathes a little easier.

I love cities. I love people. There is no denying, however, that nature speaks better for the Creator than what man has produced on top of nature.

This morning I walked for an hour in a park near our home. As I walked in this stubborn little refuge against man's desire to concrete every inch, I was struck with a thought that I have had over the years. This morning it was even a stronger thought.

Every flower, tree, bird and plant continues to glorify God just as they did in the garden of Eden. They do not sin. They are fulfilling their God-given role moment by moment. They are what they were meant to be.

Every day I live in the presence of sinlessness.

Jesus told us to consider birds and flowers in Matthew 6. He could do so because they are sinless. They have never rebelled against their Creator. No matter how much we concrete them in, they still fight to glorify their Creator and in the process bless those who do their best to cover them in concrete.

Humans were designed by God to deliver love 24/7 and moment by moment. Humans were meant to deliver love without interruption and without regard for friend or enemy. Jesus did that. We do not.

Now that Jesus has overcome sin, the world and the Devil by uninterrupted love, we, too, have hope of glorifying God again.
We can never be sinless, but our constant contact with the sinless One who abides in us makes glorifying God possible again.

There is hope for sinless humanity since the one sinless human came and lived with us. Now that He lives in us there is "the hope of glory." Never believe in your own sinlessness. Believe in His and rivers of living water will flow from your life.

Always remember it is not about concrete. It is about life and love. If you must live in a city as I do, fill it with love as you walk on the concrete. Cities can be beautiful when filled with life and love from the One sinless life.