Ann Lovell

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Don’t panic over the SCOTUS ruling. Try these 3 suggestions instead.

I was on my way to a funeral when I saw the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage on my Twitter feed. (I’ll resist making any sarcastic symbolic parallels). Immediately, my Twitter and Facebook feeds lit up like a Christmas tree. Everybody, it seems, has an opinion on the ruling.

To be honest, I only pay attention to the tweets and posts that challenge us to show Christ’s love to a world in desperate need of His grace. I tend to gloss over those that refer to the ruling as the death knell of society as we know it. I don’t think we need to panic.

In fact, evangelicals in America have good reasons NOT to panic over the SCOTUS ruling — the sovereignty of God chief among them. He knew this was coming. We knew this was coming. As “sojourners” through these turbulent times, we do not rely on government but on the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ultimately His love wins.

So instead of panicking, what can you do? Here are three suggestions:
  1. Pray. To paraphrase Francis Chan from his book, Crazy Love, I can’t make anybody fall in love with Jesus, but I can get on my knees and pray on their behalf. Pray that those who don’t know Christ will  “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and (will) know this love that surpasses knowledge” — that they “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 4:14-21, NIV).  
  2. Plead. In the red-light districts of Thailand, I learned that my job, first and foremost, is to be a messenger of reconciliation — not a judge but an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). As Paul said, “we plead on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (HCSB). Until Jesus comes again, the message of reconciliation is my responsibility to share with all who don’t yet know His grace.
  3. Settle down. While this world is not our home, this country and this community are the places God has chosen for me to live during this season of my life. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told the exiles in Babylon, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. … Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city … because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, NIV).  Last night, I watched the U.S. defeat China in the women’s world cup. This morning, I got up and ate breakfast. Later I’ll run a few errands. Tomorrow, I’ll go to church, and Monday I’ll go to work. I've settled into this community, and hopefully, I’m making Christ known in the quiet, day-to-day opportunities He provides along the way. Nothing about this ruling will change that. 
So don’t panic. Pray. Plead. Settle down. Trust that God, in His Sovereignty, will continue to work through you and through His church to make His name known. 

How will you be a messenger of reconciliation for the sake of the gospel this week?

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Friday, June 19, 2015

The SBC and same-sex marriage: A return to relevance

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in Arkansas, speaks during a press conference at the Greater Columbus Convention Center about a statement signed by Floyd and all living former SBC presidents since 1980 regarding biblical marriage and the national ramifications of same-sex marriage. Photo by Adam Covington
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was a seismic shift in Columbus, Ohio, this week. Did you feel it? It came when 16 former Southern Baptist Convention presidents issued a statement on same-sex marriage — not on behalf of the SBC — but to the SBC, evangelicals and the nation.

The statement reiterates a long-standing SBC position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Baptist Press reports, and is also a proactive response to the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, expected later this month.

The statement reads in part, “The Scriptures' teaching on marriage is not negotiable. We stake our lives upon the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. We will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court.”

So where’s the shift?

It’s all in the approach to the church’s relationship to government.

In the 1960s, conservatives set their eyes on the White House, while liberals set their eyes on college campuses, says Warren Smith, author and associate publisher of WORLD magazine. By the 1980s, both groups had achieved their goals. Political conservatives did so in part through alliances with evangelicals like Jerry Falwell, who mobilized Christians through his Moral Majority and urged them to elect politicians who would further the evangelical agenda.

Granted, the pendulum between Christian involvement in and Christian separation from politics constantly swings, but since the 80s, it’s been swinging hard toward involvement, as evangelicals have sought public office in an attempt to influence the political system — and “turn this country back to God.”

And therein lies the problem.

Historically it hasn’t worked well when religious leaders knotted themselves too tightly to political leaders to further an agenda. It was a disaster with the Pharisees. It didn’t work with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. And it wasn’t a sustainable strategy in the 1980s. Today, Smith says, liberals control both the White House and college campuses. The political strategy of the Christian right failed, and in the process, the influence and relevance of the church weakened.

Why? Because the church’s biblical responsibility is not to elect political leaders who agree with us but to call men, women, boys and girls to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Current SBC leaders seem to get that. By releasing a statement that they will not accept a definition of marriage based on anything other than God’s Word, regardless of the political and financial cost, they are shifting from a mindset of working within the political system to standing apart from it. The first has dominated evangelical thought in the U.S. for more than 50 years. The second aligns more with the mindset of Christians living in hostile environments around the world.

It’s a very different perspective — one that will help us move beyond what David Platt calls “casual, cold, comfortable, cultural Christianity” to empathize with believers suffering persecution around the world.

And let’s be clear: While the current issue focuses on the specific question of same-sex marriage, the stance these leaders are taking is much broader than that. It is a call to all of us who follow Jesus in America to stand firmly on the principles of God’s Word, rather than the platform of a political party. Jesus cares less about how we vote and more about how we live.

This leads to a second shift.

Love God and love others, Jesus commanded. When we practice those commandments from the perspective of cultural outsiders, we better identify with those who are marginalized, hurting and broken. We are free to come alongside those from every tribe, people and nation to share the love of God and his good gospel — and because we our outsiders, our message gains credibility.

SBC leaders seem to get this, too. In more than one setting, messengers and leaders affirmed their love for all people, including those struggling with same-sex attraction. But more than that, messengers also passed resolutions on racial reconciliation and the persecuted church signifying as in past years our call to “speak up for those who have no voice” and to stand hand-in-hand with the suffering, vulnerable and exploited.

What does this mean?

Acknowledging that we are unable to turn America toward God via a political process does not mean we don’t continue to vote for candidates who most closely align with our Christian values. It is incumbent on every Christian to consider how the platform of any political contender aligns with Christian beliefs. 

But, we must remember that politicians serve at the pleasure of the public. They might currently be in a position to create law, but their continued leadership relies on followers.  When the public ceases following, political power quickly dissipates. 

Consider the civil rights movement and the laws of the country at that time.  The willingness to practice peaceful civil disobedience was a major factor in influencing public opinion. As a result, the Civil Rights Act quickly followed. 

When conducted most effectively, civil disobedience forces an apathetic public to reconsider their views — not by promoting anarchy but through moral influence. The goal is not to threaten the public lest they feel extorted but to involve the public in a way that demands a decision — where apathy is no longer an option. Those who know what they believe, why they believe it and are willing to sacrifice civil liberties to put their faith into practice can effectively sway public opinion. When this happens en masse peacefully and civilly for a cause that is just, politicians quickly follow or risk becoming irrelevant.  In these instances, the dance between religion and politics might look the same, but the difference lies in which partner is leading.

Historically, spiritual awakenings begin with prayer and take hold when we recognize our call to stand apart and align ourselves with God’s Word, even if it involves civil disobedience. Perhaps in years to come, this week’s call by SBC leaders “to stake our lives on the Word of God” will be marked as the starting point in the church’s return to relevance.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

6 cross-cultural lessons our family practices in public school

Alli looked anxious. It was sixth-grade summer orientation — her first year of middle school and her first time in U.S. public school.

“Mom, will there be any kids at this school who look like me?” she asked.

Most of you know that Alli is Filipina. We adopted her when we were living in Manila in the early 2000s. Her brown skin was never an issue during the years we lived in East and Southeast Asia; the three “whiteys” in our family — me, Joe and Lauren — were the ones who stood out there.

Alli and her band peeps pose for a silly selfie.
But this was a different place.

“I think so,” I replied confidently. “We’ll ask.”

Turns out, we needn’t have worried.

At Alli's final middle school band concert last week she finishes 8th grade today!   I counted 46 flags hanging in the commons area. The flags represent the home countries of the student body. They include Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, China, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Singapore, South Korea and North Korea among others.

Apparently, the nations live right around us, supporting a 2012 report from the Center for Immigration Studies that one in four public school students speaks a language other than English at home.

Our family learned a number of lessons about cross-cultural living during our time overseas. Many apply to our community today. Here are six:
  1. We are global citizens. Christians are citizens of heaven — sojourners with a responsibility to love God and those He created. As global citizens, loving God and loving others translates to a big picture understanding of how our day-to-day actions affect the nations living among us.
  2. Being paralyzed by fear is unhealthy … and unbiblical. Granted, public schools can be scary places, but the best way to approach the "scary" isn’t to run and hide but to embrace the challenge and enjoy the adventure. When we teach our children to face their fears with the Holy Spirit’s power, they gain strength for the next big challenge.
  3. We look for other Christians and draw strength from them. Sometimes it is tempting for a public school student or the parent of a public school student to think, “I am the only Christian here.” More often, though, our “godless” communities are home to a number of Christians who are also looking for support and strength.
  4. We listen and learn from others but aren’t afraid to offer an alternate perspective. In sixth grade, Alli’s English class was assigned a book about racism in the United States. In the story, set in the segregation era, a black family from Detroit visits a southern U.S. state and is forced to ride in the back of the bus. Alli, who had no concept of the racial tension that has defined the U.S., offered innocently during a class discussion, “We rode in the back of the bus in Korea. We liked it. It was our favorite seat on the bus.” The ensuing conversation gave Alli insight into a significant U.S. cultural issue, and it gave Alli’s classmates the perspective of someone new to the U.S. racial discussion.
  5. “Tolerance” does not necessarily mean “compromise.” As Christians, our family can be tolerant of — and even friendly toward — the Muslim mother in a burqa or the Hindu man who avoids meat, realizing that some of our cultural practices may appear equally oppressive or unnecessary to them. This doesn’t mean we compromise our beliefs, but we seek to understand the motivations behind their practices and build friendships in the process.
  6. We have an opportunity to treat expatriates in our country as kindly as the people of Asia treated us. Many people in the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand welcomed us into their hearts and lives. They loved our children and showed them a world without borders. They were patient and gracious with our blunders. I pray that I will be as kind to visitors living in the U.S. as the people of Asia have been to us. Even if you haven’t experienced the hospitality of another culture, practice it with those from other nations living among you, however that looks in your family.
Remember, God orchestrates opportunities for Christians to interact with those who don’t know Him. He can and will use us in our communities to influence the nations around us with the gospel.

Travel light!

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