Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Engagement

Yesterday, we finished up week four of our five week series entitled "We are Covenant."  Our focus was engagement, or as it has more traditionally been called; "Evangelism" or "Missions."

So why did we use the word "engagement?"  For one thing, we did it because the word "missions" is not found in the Bible--not even a trace!  Add to this the roughly 200 years of cultural baggage this term carries around the world--including the modern assumptions about it by many Christians--and its just not helpful.

The term "evangelism" by contrast, does have deep Biblical roots.  It simply refers to the spreading of the good news that God has fully and finally revealed Himself in the person of Jesus, and that through Jesus all people have the opportunity to have their sins forgiven, an be reunited in relationship with our Creator.

That is, by far, the best news in the world in the history of the world!  So why do we struggle so much with the concept?  Because this term too has accumulated a lot of cultural baggage.  When we hear it, some of us think of "cold calling" door-to-door and being highly confrontational with people we have never met.  Still others invoke the image of the loud, gaudy televangelist providing simplistic answers to complex issues while simultaneously promising quick rewards--if we will only send him or her our money!

True evangelism is sharing the best news in the world with people in whose proximity we are normally found.  That means we are engaging the people we see regularly, and with whom we are in relationship, with this great story.  That is at the heart of all Jesus commands us in Matthew 28:16-20, and it involves four things:

I. Preparing for Disciples.  Getting ready to share this wonderful message requires an intentional focus on WORSHIP--the very thing we looked at together last week.  And there is a reason for this.   When we are sharing our faith with others, our confidence--ALL of it--has to flow from the identity of Jesus.

Think about it.  Jesus' original disciples didn't have our seminaries, our money, our ecclesiastical structures, or our knowledge of the globe.  The context of the "Great Commission" is Jesus telling around 500 people or so who had no map, no airplane, and for most, no ability to even read (the illiteracy rate in the first century was around 90%) to cover the world with His message.  They accomplished it in around 70 years!  They were able to do this because they had built their confidence in Him, not themselves.

Building that confidence requires preparation in the form of genuine worship, and confidence in Christ's authority.

II. Making Disciples.  And the process of doing this is to be followed "as you are going."  IN other words, don't make room for evangelism.  Share your faith where and when you already are!    Its great to get on a plane, fly to the other side of the world, and serve others in the name of Jesus.  But if that same passion doesn't fuel and inform our regular, daily activities, we really have no business doing it anywhere else

Everyone has a "sphere of influence"--people you have close contact with that others don't.  Who is that person that no one else at Covenant Church can get to but you?  Who is that person who would never set foot inside one of our worship services unless YOU asked them to come?  Who is that person in your daily course of life who will never hear about Jesus from anyone else but you?  Invest in them.  Serve them.  Love them. Share with them.  And if they believe, Baptize them!  

III. Training Disciples.  This happens by word--giving instruction to others and helping them to grow in their faith.  It also happens in deed, because Jesus said to teach them "all I have Commanded you."  Simply put, you and I are to be growing and developing as Jesus' followers, thereby setting an example of what a disciple looks like to those not as far down the road as we may be.

IV Being Disciples.  We do all of this never forgetting the last words Matthew records here: "I am with you always...."  Through the up, down, good, bad and ugly, Jesus is there, suffering with us, laughing and crying with us, and in the process making us more like Himself.

So here is the question:  Is there anyone you can point to and say "they are going to be in heaven because of me!"?  A year from now, 2.5 million Americans now alive will be dead, and at least 2/3 of them (1.6 million) will go into that next world with no relationship to Jesus.  In that same time period, 54 million people around the world will meet their Maker, and an even greater majority of that population will spend eternity separated from God.

What are you doing to change that?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Worship

We are in week 3 of our series "We are Covenant!"  This week, we started looking in depth at one of the three primary ways we become the kind of world-changing, Spirit-filled, loving, truth-telling, powerful people Jesus envisions us to become.  In the last two weeks of the series, we will look at engagement, and community.  But yesterday, we started with the most important--worship.

When you hear the word "worship" what comes to your mind?  Depending on where you grew up, what religion you followed as a child, what culture you were first exposed to or what tradition of Christian faith your parents belonged, you might first think of a certain kind of prayer posture, or a type of clothing, a style of music, or a certain type of emotional experience.

One of the strengths of our congregation at Covenant is that our people are highly diverse when it comes to our faith backgrounds.  Some of us grew up in no faith at all.  Others grew up in another world religion.  Many of us grew up in any one of a large number of Christian traditions--from Presbyterianism to Pentecostalism to high church liturgy to the edgy, contemporary atmosphere we experience together most Sundays.  This means that when we hear the word "worship," there are more than a few default pictures in our minds.  Some of us picture people quietly and reverently in prayer--others invoke childhood memories of shouting and hanging from chandeliers!

But regardless of how worship is expressed, yesterday we looked at how God's Word defines genuine worship.

Simply put, genuine worship happens every single time you or I bring pleasure to the One who created us.  And as we search the Scriptures, from beginning to end they tell us repeatedly that this should be our first and highest goal in life.  We also come to the inescapable conclusion that "worship" is something that transcends what happens when we get together on Sunday morning.  For the follower of Jesus, it encompasses and dominates every area of our lives.

I. In Worship, We Give God our Attention.  Paul begins Romans 12 with this encouragement: "I urge you brothers, by the mercies of God...  Basically, this means that our worship should be driven by what God has first done for us.

Within the context of Romans, we can see clearly what God has done.  He created us, revealed Himself to us in the created order as well as within our own moral consciousness.  And in spite of our rejection of Him and the gifts He has given, He sent Jesus into time and space to live the life we should have lived, and die a our substitute--taking the penalty of sin on Himself in our place.

Simpy put, God makes the first move.  And worship, in its purest expression, occurs whenever you and I recognize this fact, internalize, it, and give that attention right back to Him.

II. In Worship, We Give God Our Affection.  In view of all God has done, Paul says we are to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice."  Because He has already given all of Himself to us through His Son, we should offer everything we have back to Him.

In today's world, "affection" is understood as something mushy and romantic.  Its something that always feels good.  But in Paul's mind, affection is something far deeper.  Come to think of it, the average set of wedding vows indicate this too.  Most of us who are married made a pledge at our wedding ceremony that was something along the lines of "I am going to give all of myself to you, and no other until death do us part!"  The real test of whether we take those vows seriously rarely comes during the passion-filled nights of the honeymoon.  Most of the time it comes during times of high conflict, or stress, or chronic illness, or rebellious kids.

And in worship, the real test of whether we are truly giving God all of our affection rarely comes while the hair is standing up on the back of your neck during a powerful song on Sunday morning.  Most of the time it comes during the hardest moments of our life when we make a decision that says "God, if nothing else goes right today; if I get nothing else done today, I am going to know you better and love you more!"  And when God has all of you, the things needed to fulfill your purpose in life will already be there.  When a church is short on cash, short on volunteers, short on passion for the nations, most of the time the issue isn't structural of financial.  The problem is a group of people who haven't yet given their entire selves over to God.

Giving God your affection in this way is hard, but when we do it, the results are powerful!

III. In Worship, We Give God our Abilities.  Paul concludes by saying "this is your spiritual service of worship."  In other word, to focus all your attention on your Creator after everything He has done for you.  Responding to His undeserved love with nothing less than your whole heart and life is simply the reasonable thing to do!

In view of God's mercy, this is truly the only response that makes sense.  But that kind of service motivated by guilt is not true worship.

For example, I'm told by the Bible that as a husband, it is my solemn duty to kiss my wife.  Its true guys!  Here's the thing.  If Amy believes the only reason I'm kissing her is because I know its my duty, it sucks all the excitement and joy out of the moment.  The great news is that I quite enjoy kissing her!  Its fun!  So yes, I fulfill my duty, and I'm happy to fulfill it, and that brings both of us pleasure and joy.

Guilt-motivated service is easily detected, and nobody wants to be around that--especially our Creator!  But when we give our abilities, service, and our very lives to Jesus based on a pleasure that is motivated by all He has done for us, that is true worship!

I am praying for a church family where every member will eventually pray every night; "God, tomorrow morning I'm going back to work and my co-workers are going to get a new and better colleague.  I'm going to school tomorrow and my classmates are going to see and experience a new person.  Because from this moment, everything I do will be out of love for you and the desire to bring you the pleasure and joy you deserve from me!"

Imagine what would happen if an entire church had this attitude?  That is the kind of church that exudes the transformative power of the Gospel.  And it starts with a very simple, yet profound realization......

...We were made for His pleasure.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Who Are We?

I don't know about you, but there have been more than a few times in my life, when I was up against something very intimidating, that I needed a strong boost of confidence.  That's probably true for all of us.  Maybe that moment came when you were enrolled in a really tough course in high school or college.  Perhaps it came when you or a loved one were suddenly faced with x-rays that revealed a frightening illness.

For some, it might have been as simple as all that snow we had to shovel just a few weeks ago!

In moments like that, we wonder how we will get through the situation. And to a large degree, we get through it by simply remembering who we are and what we are capable of.  The irony of tough times is that the moments that most intimidate us are often those moments when we can be reminded of our identity and capability in the most powerful ways.

This is what we talked about in yesterday's message.  We are in the midst of a series entitled "We Are Covenant," and we spent the first week of that series taking an honest look at the world we are called to love.  That was an intimidating picture!

And in many ways, our situation is similar to that of the disciples in Matthew 16  This is a transitional part of Matthew.  Prior to this, the focus of the book has been on Jesus' miracles, His choosing of the disciples, and mostly His non-stop talk about the Kingdom of God.  (The concept is mentioned more than 80 times in the first three Gospel books alone!)

But at this point, Jesus has pulled His followers out from ministry for a brief retreat.  And it is here, in Caesarea-Philippi, that we learn through them where our confidence comes from to accomplish the mission He has given us to fulfill together:

We Wear the Identity of Jesus.  "Who do you say that I am?"  This is the most eternally significant question Jesus ever asks.  But answering that question in the right way is about far more than a ticket to heaven.  Peter's answer; "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" is the beginning point for all legitimate ministry.  As the church, we receive the totality of our identity in the person and work of Jesus.  This is where it all begins.  The church doesn't exist without this, and God's Kingdom isn't extended without this.  Conversely, the authority Jesus will speak of later in this text is given to us from only one place:  a dead man rose from the grave, triumphant over death, evil, and all those things that surround us today.  When we stand in His identity, we can have no greater confidence!

We Move Under the Guidance of Jesus.  Just after Peter's powerful confession, Jesus reminds him--and us-in verse 17 that this revelation doesn't come from our intellect or abilities superior to others who don't know Him.  It comes as a result of Divine revelation.  Its a statement suggesting that we need guidance--the constant kind.  I don't think there has ever been a more important time to remember this, because I think we are entering a day when confessing Jesus and living for Him is going to get harder.  We have to remember that we are not smart enough or savvy enough to know how to navigate all the unprecedented things that are most likely coming our way.  So we need to walk under the same Divine guidance that led us to understand who Jesus is in the first place.

We Work in the Power of Jesus.  Too often, verses 18 and 19 are misunderstood in ways that keep us from tapping into what the Lord promises us here.

First, a thousand-year debate has existed regarding what Jesus means when he refers to building His church "on this rock."  Entire church hierarchical systems have been built off of mere assumptions about what this means.  I admire Pope Francis in many ways, but the very office he claims to hold is based on an understanding of this verse that is shaky at best.

Now, before we think too highly of ourselves compared to our Catholic friends, let's remember that Protestants haven't always gotten this one right either.  And most of our error for the past 500 years can be credited to our over-reaction to things about Catholicism with which we disagree.  Our Catholic friends are right to identify Peter as the "rock."  But it isn't Peter's persona, or some specious office that is the foundation for Jesus' words here.  It is Peter's confession.

Simply put, Jesus asks Peter who He is.  Peter answers correctly, and Jesus says in response; "I can build my church on that!  And I will!"

A second misunderstanding comes in verse 19.  When Jesus speaks of "Hades" in this passage, He is speaking of the "realm of the dead" that surrounds the disciples at that moment.  As we discussed yesterday, Caesarea-Philippi was a highly pagan area filled with pagan worship and pagan lifestyles.  As Jesus speaks these words, He and His disciples are quite literally "in" the realm of the dead.

But His promise here is powerful.  If we who follow Him are true to His identity and message, and we faithfully communicate that message under His guidance, the darkness that surrounds us will ultimately not prevail!

Why is this important?  Because in case you haven't noticed, you and I are also ministering in the "realm of the dead."  Just this past week our first responders in Berkley County were overwhelmed by the number of Heroin overdose calls they received in just a 12 hour period.  Jesus tells us elsewhere that our enemy seeks to "steal, kill and destroy," and in our area, he mostly uses Heroin to do this.  Additionally, you will hear more over the coming weeks about the plague of human trafficking that is happening in our own back yard.

But let's be honest, most of us don't have to look that far to see darkness.  Sometimes we even see it in our own homes.

Here is the promise of Jesus.  Stay faithful to Him.  Live and work and love under His guidance, and these dark things that surround us will eventually fall.  Covenant exists because Jesus wants the darkness to fall in the eastern panhandle.

That is who we are--sons and daughters of the most high God, empowered by His Spirit to invade the realm of the dead, and take back what rightly belongs to Jesus!

In the coming weeks, we will be looking at how to do this as we continue our series.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Forcing Women Into Combat: Are We Seriously Talking About This?

Today is the New Hampshire primary, and for the last 36 hours, Christians who take their civic duty and their faith seriously have had another prominent issue to weigh.

In a nutshell, the issue is this:  whether any follower of Jesus, in good conscience, can vote for a candidate who believes it is OK to force women into combat roles.

Last Saturday night, a Senator and two Governors appeared to clearly support requiring women to register for selective service.  This means that in the event of a national emergency requiring the reinstitution of the draft, our daughters would be included in those conscripted--many of them against their will--to enter into military service, and possibly face the dangers of combat.

A number of Christian leaders have rightfully responded.  In particular, I recommend the following from Grant Castleberry, and this excellent piece by Andrew Walker.  Additionally, this post by my friend Marty Duren looks at the wider issue of the draft in general applied to the present debate.

Hearing the affirming, yet seemingly mindless words of the Republican candidates on Saturday, my heart sank.  I didn't just hear those words as a pastor.   I am also a father of three--two sons and a daughter.  While I would not want to see any of my children die on a battlefield, there is a marked distinction between my sons and my daughter, rooted biologically, culturally, and from the standpoint of my faith, Scripturally in their respective genders that forces us to see their death on a battlefield in starkly different ways.

The Christian faith proscribes a complementarity between men and women that is rooted in the created order.  Yes, we believe in the equality of men and women, but that equality of value, dignity and worth is emphasized, not diminished, by acknowledging the biological, functional, and spiritual distinction between them.  Ignoring or seeking to eliminate these distinctions is to present a picture of androgynous humanity that violates the very Scriptural equality presented clearly in male and female identity.

But these principles of gender distinction  are not unique to Christianity. They have historically been true of our culture as well, regardless of religious faith.

The unique contributions to society that only women can make have always been given a place of honor.  That honor has historically been expressed, at least in part, by exempting them from circumstances where that honor might be violated.  Certainly we can agree that the prospect of a woman's body being riddled and torn apart by enemy fire, or the horrific situation any woman would face as a Prisoner of War is enough to make us reconsider whether requiring any woman to be available for this possibility removes the honor our society has historically sought to give to women.

Exempting women from the draft is not in any way a denial of the essential equality of men and women.   At the same time, we must acknowledge obvious distinctions between the sexes.  The absurdity of seeking to eliminate those distinctions leads ultimately to the kind of cowardly policies that would forcibly send our daughters to bleed while able-bodied men stay home.  

This is not honoring to women.  Such is precisely why the death of one of my sons in service to his country, while tragic and unspeakably sad, can carry honor.  But the death of my daughter in this way--indeed the forcible conscription and subsequent death of anyone's daughter--would reveal our national character to be marked by cowardice.

There are times when followers of Jesus should be conciliatory.  There are other times--especially when our national character is on the line--when we must speak with an edge.  This is one of those times.  One writer has already expressed it well:

"I cannot fully articulate just how damnably evil and cowardly it is to send women into war against their will. Whether or not such a war ever comes — and I believe it may, sooner or later — the very fact that we are prepared to do such a thing, that the law has mandated such a thing, is enough for me to pray that God finally smites our hideous, craven society, so that we can construct a new one from scratch. And if that ever happens, I’d like to hereby suggest that we banish from our new society any gutless, reprehensible, cowed little man who is now nodding with approval at the idea of forcibly shipping our daughters off to be blown apart. Men as unspeakably selfish and weak as that can be of no use in the rebuilding process."

Yes, this issue is that serious.

Monday Morning Rewind: We're Not in Kansas Anymore!

Yesterday, I preached my first message as Lead Pastor at Covenant Church.  Beginning today and continuing each Monday morning, I want to use this space to remind our own folks of what we studied together, and encourage its continued application.

If you aren't part of the Covenant family, you are welcome to listen in anyway!

Along with my first Sunday, we began a series entitled "We Are Covenant!"  In too many churches in the west, the lion's share of emphasis is on individual Christians living a "victorious life" (however each tradition defines "victorious"), but very little emphasis is put on the church as a unified body.  Yet when the New Testament writers speak to churches, in most cases they are addressing not several hundred or several thousand people so much as ONE body of believers.

Likewise, though our church is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds--each uniquely created by God to fulfill the purpose for which they were created--that individual purpose can only be truly fulfilled within the community of faith that is the church.  And for that to happen, each local church must solidify its own corporate identity as a body.

For the next several weeks, that's what we will be working on as a church body.  Who are we?  Where are we going?  And to answer those questions, we first have to answer this one:  "Where are we?"

The truth is, we live in strange times--unprecedented times.  A few years ago, our family experienced our first earthquake.  My friends in California were all laughing at my panic at what turned out to be a comparably small shaking of the earth in Maryland.  Still, when you have never experienced the ground shaking underneath your feet, its hard not to panic a bit.

And the thing about an earthquake is this:  Its inescapable.  You can take cover from a tornado.  You can see a hurricane coming and run away.  But earthquakes are sudden, and they affect the very foundation on which we stand.

Culturally, we are experiencing an earthquake.  The ground is shaking underneath our feet.  We feel it in the cultural influence that the church seems to have lost.  We sense it in the increased violence of our world.  We identify it in the moral confusion that permeates society.  And we just aren't sure of what to do.  Because when it comes to our current situation, there is no "wise old man."  We are the first to be here.

But we are not the first to ever face a time of monumental transition.

Moses writes Deuteronomy for the purpose of re-stating the Covenant relationship between the people of Israel and their God.  The Covenant hasn't changed, but as Israel moves from a nomadic life into a period of conquest and settlement, and eventually into a permanent land of their own, the Covenant needs to be re-applied.  They are about to face new challenges and the occupation of a new land.  They aren't living in the wilderness anymore!

In the same way, followers of Jesus now find ourselves living in a very different environment--a rapidly changing one.  But Deuteronomy 29 calls us back to four things that never change--four things on which we can always stand as we seek to live faithfully into the future:

1. The Faithfulness of God.  We are a people who tend to measure our confidence in terms of past reliability.  Its why we go to Angie's list before hiring a contractor, or Urban spoon before trying a new restaurant.  In verses 2 and 3, Moses is reminding Israel of God's track record.  Though they have lived in the wilderness for an entire generation, they have never gone hungry.  Because in 40 years, God has never broken a promise, failed to follow through, or failed to protect His own people! When the future is uncertain, we look to a God who is certain.

2. The Sinfulness of Humanity.  We are a broken people, and we have always been a broken people.  Contrary to progressive views of history, that isn't getting better!  But conservative views of history also have it wrong with their calls to "go back" to some vision of the good ole days.  When we understand the problem of sin, we will also understand that this problem isn't solved by going forward into continued moral chaos, or going backward to segregated lunch counters.  The world has always been broken, and the world will perpetually look for the answer.  God's people have it!

3. The Call of God's People.  Moses' challenge to Israel is to be as faithful in applying and following the Covenant in the promised land as they should have been in the wilderness.  That requires understanding the Covenant (the nature of our relationship with God).  It also requires a keen understanding of the times in which that covenant is to be applied.  Nothing is more useless to God than a culturally "tone deaf" church.

4. An Assured Victory.  Israel had defeated enemies that were supposed to be unbeatable, because from beginning to end, their history had been one consistent record of Divine miracles.  Likewise, we live in a "brave new world," but Jesus will continue to seek worshippers, and will continue to redeem and transform the lives of people through churches who are faithful to Him by loving their communities and the world.

With unprecedented challenges come unprecedented opportunities!  And the choice is clear:  We can pine for the old world that once existed, or we can throw our arms around the world where God has placed us--a world we believe Jesus died to save.  If we choose the latter course, we can see people delivered from addiction, marriages healed, school systems, hospitals and college campuses transformed by the power of the Gospel.  We can, and will, see God's people working together to love, serve, and share the greatest message in all of human history.

I can't wait to get started!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Principles for Peacemaking: The Marrakesh Declaration

Last week, many of the top Islamic leaders in the middle east met in Morocco for the purpose of drafting a declaration on human rights and religious freedom throughout the Muslim-majority world. While you may not see much coverage of this in American news media, this accord marks a significant step of progress in that part of the world.  Christian leaders in the west--indeed all Christians--should pray for the safety and continued success of the brave leaders who signed this document, many of whom have now returned to contexts hostile to their aspirations.

You can find the full text of the Marrakesh Declaration here.

Such monumental progress doesn't happen overnight.  It was the product of years of friendship, frank discussion, and slowly progressing trust.  But such is the task of peacemaking in our global, 21st century context.

To "make peace" implies that peace doesn't yet exist, meaning that peacemaking by default involves intentionally wading into conflict.  Over the years, I've become proud to know many brave people, both Christian and Muslim, who have been willing to face such conflict head on.  From these people I have learned some valuable principles for building peace.

1. Transparency is paramount.  My first trip to a Muslim-majority country was many years ago and, I am ashamed to say, was anything but transparent.  Though my heart was sincere in my desire for the world to know Jesus as I know Him, I was convinced that the only way this could happen was to play "secret agent."  During my time in that country, I did not have a single, substantive conversation with a Muslim.  And the whole reason for my subterfuge was I had equated obedience to the Great Commission with adherence to a modern missions delivery system that the host country found offensive and colonial.  I just didn't know any better.

Since that trip, I have come to learn that with very few exceptions, the world is far more open to the Gospel than we believe it is.  But the spread of that message, like our Savior who wrapped Himself in human flesh, requires incarnation as well as communication.  And you simply can't do that without honest, transparent relationships.  That approach takes longer, but over time, its a far more effective way to talk about your faith with others.

2. What Happens On One Side of the World Doesn't Stay on One Side of the World.  When uninformed western leaders make condemning, generalized pronouncements about Islam, such pronouncements find their way to the Muslim world, and they don't help build peace.  They help tear peace down.  Conversely, when our siblings in humanity in the middle east see us respecting religious freedom, befriending others regardless of religious faith, and living out the principled pluralism that is at the heart of our Republic, those things affect relationships in the Muslim-majority world in very positive ways.

 I have relationships with many faithful Christians who work on the ground in that part of the world.  Ask them if they are helped more by our declaration at the Spreading Peace Convocation, or by the xenophobic pronouncements of Franklin Graham.  If we want to move the global conversation between Christians and Muslims forward in a way that is respectful, productive, and from the Christian perspective, in a way that is faithful to Jesus method and message, we will understand that the nature of our global discourse is important.  What happened in Marrakesh last week didn't happen in a vacuum.  To a large extent, it happened in reaction to, and in cooperation with, western leaders who understand this principle, and who took the lead in other contexts to say the same things. 

3. Conservatives Must Take the Lead.  One of my dear friends is a former senior adviser to President Bush, and he once told me; "I am so tired of being called a 'moderate Muslim!'  Nothing about me is moderate!  My politics are conservative, and my religious beliefs are no different!"

He is right.  Moderation isn't the answer.  In fact, moderates who believe there is more than one way to God are generally, not the problem.  The problem often lies with conservatives on both sides of this conversation who believe their conservatism is threatened by recognizing the religious rights of others.

Some months ago I shared a table in a meeting with Muslim and Jewish religious leaders from Israel, Pakistan, India, Iraq, and the United States.  All of us were "orthodox" when it came to our respective beliefs.  There wasn't a single Jew or Muslim at that table who didn't believe I was going to hell because I worship Jesus as God.  Conversely, I don't believe any of those men will escape hell unless they recognize and worship Jesus as God.  Yet each of us recognized God's common grace informing our respective faiths in a way that brought about human flourishing in this world, even if we believed those faiths deficient to get our friends to the next world.  So there we were--committed together to never bind the conscience of the other.

If what I believe is really true, then I don't need to force it on anyone.  Free minds are the path that leads to genuine conversion, and "forced conversion" is no conversion at all!  If those like me, convinced of the exclusivity of their faith, can champion global religious freedom, then that freedom's existence around the world becomes a foregone conclusion.

4. In Every Context, the Majority Must Stand for the Rights of the Minority.  In December, I was honored to be part of a diverse coalition calling on political leaders in an election year to tone down their rhetoric when it came to Muslim Americans.  I didn't allow my signature on this document because I think Islam is a good thing.  I did it because you either believe in religious freedom or you don't.  And I did it because I firmly believe that in any context, those in the religious majority have a responsibility to protect the rights of the minority.

And yes, what holds true for Christians in the west should hold true for Muslims in the middle-east, which is why I was so proud to see what transpired last week in Marrakesh.

Making peace is a tough enterprise, and the faint of heart need not aspire to the task.  In the end, only the brave and bold succeed, and even then often at great personal cost.  But more than ever, our world needs those brave men and women.  I'm thankful that many showed up in Marrakesh, and pray more from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds will follow in their footsteps.