Dear Church

Dear Church,

I have got to wonder about a society that mourns and loses its ever-loving mind over a lion being hunted for sport, yet seems totally un-phased by the tens of millions of children we have killed through what we euphemistically refer to as “abortion”. And not only is the former barbaric and the latter civilized (at least, in popular opinion), we can even sell the remains of the children. The dentist will probably lose his practice. But Planned Parenthood will, in all likelihood, keep on trucking.

I no longer desire to live in this culture.

These words are not how I am beginning my suicide note. Nor do they begin my “I’m running away to Canada” letter. No, they kick off how I see God change cultures.

Culture is just a fancy word to describe the hearts of a large group of people. And our hearts are a mess. We prop up ourselves, we worship the idols of choice, and we push and press and desire ultimate freedom and ultimate satisfaction. Our hearts are a mess because our ultimate object of worship is self. And so our culture is just a reflection of ourselves. A broken mess.

The cure for all of this is Jesus. Worship of Jesus above self in our hearts and our lives. Jesus takes our broken mess and uses it for our benefit and for His glory.

I no longer desire to live in this culture. And I’m not going to move away, I’m not going to hide, and I’m not going to kill myself. So if I no longer want to live in this culture it means I have to change it.

And Church, here’s the reality: law does not change heart. Persuasion won’t change it. Anger won’t change it. Protests won’t change it. And even changing the laws won’t change the heart.

So nothing we’re currently doing is going to change the heart, which means that we won’t change culture which means we will continue to get more and more of the same.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know how to change people’s hearts. I can’t even change my own. But I know who can and His name is Jesus. I firmly believe that the best thing the capital C Church can do for culture is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do right before He left: Go and make disciples.

Hey Church, you know what that means? It means we can’t drive another generation of high school and college students out of the Church. We can’t keep driving people out of the Church that don’t look anything like Jesus and don’t believe the way Jesus believed. Newsflash, when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, how many disciples could even honestly say they believed what He taught? Probably none. Not at first.

The people who were least like Jesus loved Jesus the most. Today when a church is filled with sinners and is popular, what do we most often hear? “That pastor must not be teaching the truth.”

Jesus taught to a lot of big crowds. And I’m sure the miracles really helped, but more than anything He taught with conviction and authority. And when He taught, did He raise the standard, or lower it? He always raised it. You have heard it said … but I say to you if you so much as look at a woman…

What I’m getting at is that you can raise the standard and still attract broken and sinful people. Jesus came for them. He came for the sick. And everywhere He went, He raised the standards so high that nobody listening to Him thought they could ever live up to it. Not the admitted-sinners and not the closeted-sinners-pretending-to-be-religious people, either. But despite Jesus’ constant raising of the bar, sinners still followed Him around. Because instead of judgment they felt something so much better: hope.

Jesus called people to do really hard things. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. Hey, Christian, how are you doing with that, just today? Probably not so hot. But He didn’t just say, Lady, go sin no more. Because He knew that she can’t do it, not alone. And so He also gave her something else: hope. “Neither do I condemn you.”

She got a double helping of grace and truth, together.

Hey Church, we need some more grace. We shouldn’t forget the truth, but boy do we need more grace.

And the first grace we need to embrace is this: you can belong here before you believe. You can come hang out with us, you can be part of our group, you can come to every one of our meetings. We’re not going to treat you like garbage for not believing. In fact, we’re going to love you just as much. We’re going to care for each other and for you so well that even if you look at everything we believe and think, “These guys are completely bonkers,” you’re going to love how genuine our love is and you might even want to join us.

When Jesus called the tax collector to come and be His disciple, did repentance happen first, or calling? Calling, clearly. Calling preceded repentance. Calling precedes repentance. Belonging precedes believing. The disciples wanted to belong to something, so they joined Jesus and eventually began to believe something. This world is a better place because they belonged before they believed. Belonging precedes believing.

Secondly, we have got to stop treating outsiders like insiders. Get this, outsiders act like outsiders because they are outsiders. When Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ place – did he wait for Zacchaeus to give half of his possessions away? No, and the crowds murmured among themselves for it! Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ house and he expected a sinner to act like a sinner. But when this particular sinner met radical grace, this sinner knew that things could not stay the same. And in response to radical grace, he did something radical and gave away half of his wealth and repaid everyone he cheated 4x the amount.

If Jesus waited for Zacchaeus to “clean up” his life – Jesus would have waited forever. But Jesus didn’t expect a sinner to act like anything except a sinner. That’s radical grace that transforms hearts.

Thirdly, the Church needs to be the safest place to talk about anything. ANYTHING. I saw an old student recently post some status updates telling the world that he’s transexual. He’s moved thousands of miles away, but I long for him to have a trusted Christian adult in his life he can process that with… where it is safe to talk about that. I’ve had the most amazing conversations with students about their lives and things that they’ve done and things that have been done to them. I would write down some of the highlights here, but I feel like I can’t do that without violating some confidentiality, so let me just assure you, I’ve heard some pretty intense stuff. And because of that, I tell students all the time, you can tell me anything. I won’t be scandalized.

Sin has consequences. One of those consequences is that we are ashamed and we don’t want to talk about our sin. Church, we have to do everything we can to be a safe place where we can process through all these things. For grace to work, you’ve got to get your cards out on the table. That’s terrifying. Because most people’s experiences of church goes something like this: “I did something I shouldn’t have. The church people found out, and they made my life hell over it.”

We’re not called to give them hell; we’re called to give them heaven. The Church has got to be the safest place in the whole entire world to be able to honestly talk about anything.

Fourthly, and I’m saving it for the end because it’s a big one, but I really believe that we should be known for what we’re for and not what we’re against. I’m not against Muslims, Buddhists, Jews or atheists. But I am for every person on this planet developing a personal relationship with Jesus where they can discover why they were made for just such a time as this.

I am for kids. I want every single child conceived to get a mom and dad who love them so very much. I want every kid to grow up knowing they are loved, and that they matter. I want every kid to have a mom and a dad in the picture – maybe adopted, maybe biological – that loves them and invests in their God-given potential. I want them to grow up getting a good education, and three square meals every day, and safe and sound.

Deep breath, I’m going to get a lot of hate for the next paragraph. But if you’re going to go out, go out bright.

Church, how many times are you going to protest abortion and then in the next breath protest about the mom who has 5 kids and is on food stamps? How many times are we going to complain about abortion, and then shrug our shoulders when our bombs accidentally kill kids thousands of miles away? How much effort are we going to put into ending abortion while thousands of kids who have been abandoned, abused and neglected by their parents age out of foster care without a family?

Are you for the child or are you just against abortion? Those things are not the same.

I want to be known by what I’m for and not what I’m against. What I am for is diametrically opposed to many things. I am for children. And being for children means I am against abortion, I am against poverty, I am against illiteracy and lack of education and so much more. But when you hear the name AJ I want you to think, “Oh that guy is so consistently for kids.”

Hey Church. It’s time to be the Church. The Church has lasted thousands of years before America and it will be here long after the last Old Glory has burned up and is nothing but a long, distant memory. The Church will prevail against the very gates of hell. And you know what? America won’t. Neither will democracy.

And you know what that means? Freedom. I read the book. Jesus wins.

Which means we don’t have to go to the streets with signs to protest. We don’t have to run people in or out of office. We don’t have to bemoan that this is not a Christian country. We don’t have to get all angry and pissy that culture is not the way it should be.

Let’s do what God designed the Church to do. The Church is a culture-defining body. It’s not a movement, it’s not an organization, and it’s not an institution. It’s a body. We will live different. We will love people. And we will let the Truth guide the way we live. And we will make disciples of all nations.

Because that’s how cultures change. Cultures change because hearts change. And hearts change because they bump into Jesus.

So let’s go do what Jesus did. Let’s give them truth. Let’s give them grace. And let’s go change another culture for Jesus, one more time.