Christians Side With Mammon. Mammon Sided with Barabbas.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Matthew 6:24

1,980 years ago tomorrow, the world put God on trial. When offered a choice, the world surrendered up God to be tortured, crucified, and killed and asked that Pontius Pilate free the criminal Barabbas instead.

There is no compromise between Christ and the world. Young evangelicals, complacent in the United States and unharassed, would do wise to remember this.

Tim Keller, a noted preacher in my denomination (Presbyterian Church in America), made news yesterday when he talked about evangelicals coming to terms with gay marriage. In particular he said that “you can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal.”

Keller is an accurate indicator of where things are headed within evangelicalism, particularly among younger evangelicals.

Christians in America have gotten soft. We’ve turned the nation into an idol to be worshiped. We’ve become so convinced by the “shining city on a hill” rhetoric we think “It can’t happen here,” regarding persecution of Christians. Joe Carter has a great read on this.

Joe is right. We’ve turned the American ideal of liberty into an idol we worship. The religious liberty in the first amendment is meant to protect the religious as they seek to draw people to them. But the world demands instead that the first amendment be used to draw the religious to the world and silence those who refuse to go along for the ride. In making an idol of our democratic freedom, the irony is that many evangelicals in America are abdicating the use of it.

What Christians in the United States of America, who’ve had it pretty easy for a long time in the USA, have forgotten or never learned is that the world is deeply hostile to the things, and people, of God. Remember, one thousand nine hundred eighty years ago tomorrow, the world chose to spare a criminal and crucify God himself.

Many young evangelicals who are making the decision that gay marriage conflicts with their personal beliefs, but it’ll be okay under the law, are making a compromise to avoid conflict and be liked by the world. “I’m not one of those Christians,” they think and often say.

They want to be liked. They want the world to like them and to think them a part of the world. They view Christians who are seen as too hostile to others as inferior in spreading the Gospel or too judgmental. They fall victim to the sin of pride that their gospel is greater.

They’ll nod approvingly to the lyrics of Casting Crowns “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” saying, “Nobody knows what we’re for only what we’re against when we judge the wounded. What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like You did.”

Unfortunately for them, they’ll be hated anyway, even if they don’t realize it.

The Casting Crowns song, which is all over Christian stations this month, contains this lyric: “The world is on their way to You, but they’re tripping over me.”

Christ was very clear on this.

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

The world is not on its way to Christ. The world hates Christ. The world will not allow a compromise between Christians and the world.

Evangelicals have a tough time on the issue of gay rights. If we hold to our convictions, we’re accused of hating gays. If we point out that sex outside of marriage is a sin, including among people of the same sex, we’re accused of saying they’re going to hell.

Christians are called to love their neighbors. Loving their neighbors does not mean turning a blind eye to their sin, or giving tacit approval to sin. Christians should want no one to go to hell. But we’ve arrived at a point where should we even mention this, we’re accused of saying gays are going to hell.

We must live our lives with love toward everyone and be friends to all who are opening to being friends. But we should not delude ourselves. At some point the world will make us choose. And if we choose Christ the world will accuse us of hating, condemning, and judging. The world is deeply hostile to the Christian idea of loving the sinner, but not the sin. The world believes we cannot love the sinner if we do not fully affirm them, which means loving, or at least tolerating or accepting, their sin.

If we truly love our neighbor we must pray for their repentance, not accept their sin. If they tell us God made them that way, we must know that we were all born sinners. God didn’t do it. Our fallen nature did. The struggle with sin in the process of sanctification leads us closer to God. Those who revel in sin do not draw close.

The chorus of the Casting Crowns song includes the line, “Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours.” Christ heart breaks for all the fallen. Many Christians though are not believed when they confess their hearts break toward those who do not even recognize their sin.

Christians are accused of judging and casting stones, as the lyrics of that song claim, when all they are doing is not shying away from the fact that God sets standards. He may say to cast no stones, but he concludes with “go and sin no more.” Young evangelicals have bought into the notion that by proclaiming the standards of the Bible they are judging. They seek accommodation and given tacit approval to sin lest they be accused of judging or casting stones.

There is no accommodation on this issue with the world. Young evangelicals, Tim Keller, and the rest are deluded if they think they can seek a compromise with the world.

Mammon chose Barabbas and too many young evangelicals are choosing Mammon.

Connection Concierge

concierge_manual_680x367How do you help people make meaningful connections when they attend your church? One of the most frustrating things in finding a church has been figuring how to connect with other attenders.My wife had a great idea the other day and I wanted to pass it on before it slips into the abyss forgetfulness that is my brain. What if you had a Connection Concierge?

Most people are familiar with the Concierge at an upscale hotel. Their job is to help hotel guests buy tickets, make dinner reservations or suggest day trip destinations; basically to ensure the guest has a positive experience while they are in town. Here is a typical conversation with a Concierge:

“Can you help us find a nice place to eat tonight?”

“Absolutely. What kind of food are you in the mood for?”

“Italian sounds good”

“Excellent, here are three nice Italian restaurants in the area. I highly recommend Guido’s, their lasagna is amazing. Would you  like me to make a reservation?”

“That would be great, thanks!”

“My pleasure”

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Concierge available at your church? A conversation might go like this:

“We’re new to the church and we’re wondering how we could connect?”

“I’d love to help you with that! Can you tell me a little about your family?”

“We are empty nesters and we just moved to town. We’d love to meet other people around our age”

“Excellent. Let me suggest two or three ways we can help. First, we have a Newcomers Gathering next weekend, here’s a flyer about that. We also several couples groups that meet in homes. Let me show you a list on our website. I highly recommend the Smith’s group which meets on Friday nights in the Oaks Subdivision, they are a lot of fun and love welcoming new attenders. Could I assist with an introduction?”

“We probably need to think about it?”

“Absolutely. Please stop back by any weekend and we’d be glad to help you make a connection. Thanks for stopping by!”

Ideally there are be several trained volunteers who man a Concierge desk each weekend as well as be available at the end of events like Newcomers, Membership Class, Meet the Pastor to help people take next steps. The goal is to provide easy onramps for people with a desire to serve and/or connect at the church beyond sign up sheets or simply answering questions at a Welcome Center.

I think there is huge potential, I just wish I had thought of it.

Are we in the wrong business?

What is the core mission of the local church? I think we can learn something by looking at Peter Drucker’s two pivotal questions for business leaders:

  1. What is your business?
  2. How’s business?

These have always been difficult questions for the church to answer. In the middle ages through the Renascence the church was in the Architecture Business. Cardinals and Popes built larger and more ornate cathedrals culminating in the massive St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The church was measured by the beauty of the art produced.

The question continued into the Sunday School years when we thought we were in the Education Business. We created classrooms and curriculum and attempted to teach the masses. The measure was knowledge.

Eventually we left the Education Business and moved into the Warehouse Business. The goal shifted from educating the masses to accumulating the masses. We built larger and larger facilities to store more and more members. The answer to question one was, “More!” and the answer to question two was, “Really good (for an ever growing number of mega-churches).

The Warehouse Business morphed into the Entertainment Business. To maximize our storage facilities we had to draw larger crowds with a better product. We created a cottage industry of professional videographers, graphic artists, sound engineers, musicians and lighting technicians around the need for an ever improving show. The artists guilds of the Renascence were reborn as worship schools. Business was now measured by both quantity and quality.

Recently another shift has begun as leaders discover their warehoused and entertained members live lives tragically similar to those outside the church. They are shackled by divorce, addiction and materialism just like their non-church attending neighbors. Architecture, Education, Warehousing and Entertainment have all fallen short of the goal of making biblical disciples, little Christs.

I think all of the past phases have a place in the overall purpose of the church. I believe in education, and artist development, and reaching as many people as possible with the Gospel. I believe that most leaders are sincere in their efforts to make disciples even if the outcome isn’t what they had hoped. I think the fundamental challenge is that we still haven’t answered Drucker’s questions.

  1. I think we are in the Moving Business.
  2. I think business is poor but improving.

I think our fundamental call as church leaders is to assist people in moving from where they are to where God is calling them. Every building, every program, every paid staff member engaged in the Moving Business. “How will this activity, this ministry, this sound system move people from where they are to where God is calling them?”

If we are in the Moving Business, then we probably need to stop simply measuring the beauty of our buildings, the education of our members, the number of people in our warehouses, or the awesomeness of our product. If we are in the Moving Business then our primary measure is movement; are our people moving from where they are to where God is calling them?

How would you answer Drucker’s questions? What business are you in? How’s business?

Starting a revolution

thinkingDo you know Jesus? He died on a cross to forgive every bad thing you’ve done (or ever will do) so that you can know God and live with Him forever in heaven.

Is there anything more to this? Well, yes, there are a few other details, but this is all you need to know. There is more to the story that merely confirms that this is true; there is more to keep theologians busy for the rest of their lives, but this is all you really need to know. Jesus died on a cross to forgive every bad thing you’ve done (or ever will do) so that you can know God and live with Him forever in heaven.

Is God going to fix everything?
Are all your problems going to go away?
Will you have a better life?
Will all your dreams come true?
Will you get rich?
Will you be healthy?
Will nothing bad ever happen to you?

No, not necessarily. Nothing beyond this is a guarantee. But this is definitely a guarantee: Jesus died on a cross to forgive every bad thing you’ve done (or ever will do) so that you can know God and live with Him forever in heaven.

Lots of people try to complicate this and there are disagreements among those who believe it about how to carry on (this is unfortunate), but this is the essence of it. It doesn’t really matter what else you believe, as long as you believe this. This is really all you need to know, and all you need to tell the world about (because once you know it, you’re going to want to tell everybody). Jesus died on a cross to forgive every bad thing you’ve done (or ever will do) so that you can know God and live with Him forever in heaven.

Honestly, it’s enough to start a revolution.

This Year, Stop Leading!

By Lesa Engelthaler

 

As we exited the church building one friend said, “I am done with women’s ministry.” Another one replied, “And I will never attend a book club again.” To say the least, the meeting had not gone well.

For the past decade I had facilitated a successful women’s mentoring ministry for our church. As the church grew, however, my team and I struggled to accommodate the demand. Deeming one woman worthy to impart wisdom over another to the next generation made us uncomfortable. We felt there must be a less top-down model.

The initiative we proposed at the “meeting-from-the-dark-side” that evening was to be the new grand idea. We were mistaken. As I slid my weary soul into the driver’s seat of my Camry, I couldn’t have agreed more with my friends. We decided to shut down the mentoring program.

Two long years later I was given David Benner’s Sacred Companions. “Freeing”does not begin to describe how I felt about Benner’s thoughts. I lent the book to what was left of our program team. They loved it. Wary of anything with “mentoring” in the title, we advertised a gathering for women interested in deeper friendships.

For me, the huge difference between Benner and other philosophies of mentoring were found in two of Benner’s statements:

  1. “Spiritual friends help us most when they make clear that their job is to point the way, not to lead the way. And the Way to which they should point is Jesus.” This had bothered me for years-I can hardly lead myself, much less someone else.
  1. “An equally important temptation for those seeking to offer spiritual friendship is to assume that one’s own route is best for others.” I had done this very thing-advised a young woman that the (I think I said only) way to be with the Almighty was in the morning. . . in a house. . . in a chair. . . with her Bible and prayer journal. Benner argues that to dictate a specific path to God is like giving a map of one’s own creation. He calls it idolatry.

Taking my cue from Benner, I’ve begun to ask two questions which launch deeper conversations: How has God been present for you in recent weeks? When did God seem to be absent?

One woman who participated in our first gathering (and declared she could never ask “those kinds of questions”) stopped me in church a few Sundays ago. She had invited a neighbor to meet with her this coming year. I’m getting together with three gals starting this month.

Care to join us? Ask a coworker or gather a few friends for a cup of coffee and open with Benner’s questions. No predetermined roadmap required. Just point them, and yourself, to Jesus.

2013 might be our best mentoring year ever.

Lesa Engelthaler lives in Dallas, Texas, where she works for Victory Search Group as an executive recruiter for nonprofits. She serves on the board ofSynergy Women’s Network and is a member of theRedbud Writers Guild. Follow her on Twitter at @lengelthaler or friend her on Facebook. Lesa also

A Tool to Measure Discipleship

tape-measureHow do we measure discipleship? It is relatively easy to measure church attendance, giving, or small group participation, but how do we measure church members becoming more like Christ? The Willow Creek Reveal Study pointed out that church activity doesn’t necessarily lead to fully devoted follower of Christ, but are there activities we can measure to help our congregation grow?

I think there are six vital areas that point to a growing disciple:

  • Serving in a local church. Church attendance without service does not grow me as a disciple. To grow I have to serve generously with my time, talent and treasure.
  • Praying consistently. This is so obvious that it seems to get overlooked. A growing disciple follows Jesus’ pattern of consistent, heartfelt prayer.
  • Reading the Bible daily. Separate studies by the Willow Creek Association and Lifeway on discipleship came to the same conclusion; the single biggest factor in growing as a disciple is reading the Bible every day. It’s the magic pill of discipleship.
  • Engaging in biblical community. Discipleship throughout the Bible is always in context of community. Being in a small group does not guarantee discipleship, but not being in biblical community prevents it.
  • Actively involved in missional outreach. Biblical disciples engage in Kingdom transformation in their home, their community and their world.
  • Developing other disciples. Jesus final command was very clear, Go make disciples. Every growing disciple of Christ develops other disciples.

I’d like to suggest the following tool to help determine the temperature of discipleship in your congregation (and in your own life). I have used the acronym SPREAD to make the six areas easier to remember. Your church attenders may need some additional information to understand how you define each area in your context.

Create a simple survey with the following questions. Give the survey and a pen to everyone who attends one weekend, and take time during the service to fill out the survey out together.

As a growing disciple of Jesus I (circle all that apply)

  • Serve my local church generously with my time, talent and resources
  • Pray consistently
  • Read my Bible almost every day
  • Engage regularly in a biblical community (small group)
  • Actively participate in missional outreach
  • Develop other disciples

The first time you take the survey serves as a baseline for discipleship. Use the results to celebrate where the congregation is strong and to focus on helping them grow in areas where they are weak. Choose one area that seems to be weak across the board and focus for the next quarter on growing in that area as a church. Retake the survey every three months for a year to measure progress.

High Altitude Christmas Worship on Skis

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pastors in blue, dad in white, me in brown.

Rode the Copper MountainAmerican Eagle quad lift up the mountain today in time for mountain top worship. Just down from the lift puts you at the “nature center” (state park speak for “chapel”), an open air viewing structure built by Copper Mountain Community Church members a few years ago. Their goal is to continue providing worship for employees and guests of Copper on the mountain.

I’m not certain, but my impression was about half of those in attendance for worship are employees of Copper in some capacity. The rest of us just happened to be on the mountain at the right time and skied up to sing some hymns and pray.

Prior to building the chapel, the community church used to gather under some trees near a cross (still standing) just down from the lift.

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Worship at 11,000 feet in December is cold, bright, and beautiful. For our prayers, we prayed with eyes open looking out over the Gore Mountain range. I think the service lasted about 30 minutes. We sang simple praise songs from the songbook they distributed. In observance of the 12 days of Christmas, I requested Joy to the World. They sing Go Tell It On the Mountain basically every Sunday, for obvious reasons, but of course it was especially meaningful today on the first Sunday after Christmas. The sermon, very brief, was thoughtful. Considering The Good Samaritan and the Christ Hymn of Philippians, we were offered a glimpse of what it might mean to consider humility as our new year’s resolution for 2013.

The pastor who delivered the message, Dick Jacquin, took the photos above. They update their banner weekly with a photo of the worshiping community. An altogether friendly gathering appropriate to context. We wanted to pray. We also all wanted to ski. This allowed space in the midst of good Sabbath recreation for good Sabbath worship.

Very cool ministry. They especially work to reach the employees of Copper. They hand deliver homemade cookies to every worker at every lift Sunday mornings, and offer two services, one down hill at 8:30, one mountain top at 12:30. In addition to the cookies, they organize a monthly community meal (the day before paychecks are issued), which usually has 300-400 folks in attendance.

I think this is what you call indigenous missional ministry. Great stuff. Meeting the needs of the employees and residence of Copper in a way that builds community and goes to where they are. That it requires skiing all the great slopes of Copper to get to the lifts is, as the pastors say, a small sacrifice.

To learn more about the congregation, and see some great photos of their community, visit: http://coppermountaincommunitychurch.org/

Christmas Eve, 2012

Bethlehem

Wise men from ancient east brought gifts, angelic choirs rejoiced, shepherds bowed low, animals bleated, God was born. Just like that. It happened in time and space in the little good-for-nothing town of Bethlehem. The magnificence was because it was God, and something had to be done to mark the moment and attest to its authenticity. But the lowliness of it was so that He could come in us, in the messy, smelly stall of our humanity.

Had He come in grandeur, He never would have come in me.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.

Missional or Nonsense?

 

Santa-Fe-shops-New-MexicoI am reading a book on missional living among non-Christians (pre-Christians, not-yet-Christ followers, insert your favorite phrase here) in a post-Christian world. The challenge is that the author is describing a very specific subset of the population at large. One source he quotes as evidence of how the post-Christian world thinks is a poster he saw in a coffee shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you know anything about Sante Fe it is on the bleeding edge of the twilight zone. Legalizing pot in Sante Fe would be like legalizing gambling in New Jersey, that train left the station a long time ago. That’s not to say that we can’t learn from posters in Santa Fe or from the author’s experience in large, mid-western city. The danger is extrapolating what he experiences in his culture to the culture you minister in.

I lived this first hand in the 1990s when I pastored a small church in rural Texas. I went to a Willow Creek conference and heard Bill Hybels talk about Unchurched Harry and Mary. I thought I’d found the Rosetta Stone for reaching seekers in my little neck of the woods. It turned out that Unchurched Bubba had very little in common with Unchurched Harry. The idea of understanding the mindset of the culture around me is essential, overlaying that mindset on other regions and cultures makes no sense.

I lived in three very distinct cultures during the past three years. (Insert “Can’t keep a job” joke here). I lived for 14 years in South Carolina where we used to say there are no unchurched people there are only former Baptists. (Another joke: Do you know the difference between a Southern Baptist and a Lutheran? A Lutheran will say hi to you in the liquor store.) There are a lot of people far from God in South Carolina, but it is not a post-Christian or post-attractional culture. There isn’t really a need to throw everything out and start over in the Bible Belt.

I lived in Southern California for a year and experienced a culture completely different from the Bible Belt. People there aren’t hostile to the Gospel, they just don’t have time to think about it. They work 70+ hours a week to pay the mortgage, the payment on the Benz and the plastic surgeon. On the weekends they have the beach, the mountains and the desert to attend to. They aren’t thinking about feeding the homeless and social justice, they are thinking about refinancing.

Now I live in Denver. Almost no one goes to church in Denver. They aren’t against it, they just aren’t interested. They moved here to ski, bike or climb mountains. They work to afford a season pass, a new bike or the doctor bills to patch them up when they fall. Pastors here describe “seekers” as “happily lost”. Missional without mountains in Denver is meaningless. (I learned alliteration when I worked at Saddleback)

The point is your community, your neighborhood, your block is completely different from mine. Deep conversations about the meaning of life, community transformation and saving the planet may lead to amazing opportunities to share the Gospel in your context. Or not. Missional should never be translated as a specific mindset or way of interacting. Paul described the true missional mindset when he said he became all things to all people so that by all means he could save some.

So read books, go to conferences, learn from brilliant leaders, but interpret everything you hear through the lens of what you know about the people in your neck of the woods. Don’t feel intimidated into throwing out everything because “the world has changed”, but don’t drag what worked when you lived “there” with you and expect it to work when you move “here”. Remember, we live in a post “there” world.

Letter to a Christian Nation

 

Any of us who have come to Christ later in life know the factors that led us to Him. The Spirit was tugging at me for a while. C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity started it. Like me, he was once an atheist. Until he could be one no more. “In 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God,” wrote Lewis, “perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

A few committed people of faith did the rest for me, as I witnessed in them the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the power of their lives. The way they lived made them stand apart from other people I knew. And in the fall of 2007, I became the most excited and reluctant convert in all northern Mississippi.

“What brought you to Christ?” my friends asked.

“Christians,” I replied.

“What took you so long?” was the usual follow-up.

“Christians,” I replied. The kind more focused on other people’s sins than their own.

I didn’t meet many of the latter. Much of what I thought I knew about Christians before I became one came through the lens of the media, which tend to ignore the contributions Christians make to American life. That is, when they aren’t actively denigrating Christians as mindless simpletons, or fundamentalists hell-bent on turning our country into a theocracy.

The only time I heard from Christians themselves was in the political realm. Two issues defined them — abortion and gay marriage — leading secular folks like me to believe that Christians wake up thinking only about babies in the womb and gay people at the altar.

That perception changed when I moved to a place filled with Christians — Oxford, Miss. Eventually I became one myself.

I joined a great church, one where the focus is on living good lives. We rarely talk politics, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve talked with anyone there about gay marriage or abortion.

Like most Christians, we’re busy trying to live up to the standards of our faith. We sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail. Our church is focused on strengthening our faith and families and giving of ourselves to help others. And having some fun doing it.

The fact is, nearly 90 percent of all homeless shelters are run by people of faith. Not all of these are Christians, but most of them are, and they have a quite a record of compassion in America.

But when I was a secular conservative, I knew none of this. I saw Christian conservatives only as a potential political liability in America’s highest-density populations. I thought they’d hurt the cause of conservatism by chasing secular voters like me from our ranks — and, in doing so, hurt their own cause. Because an ever-expanding government crowds out the private sector, and private institutions like churches. Europeans didn’t wake up one day and all decide to leave the church at once. The state kept getting bigger, and the church kept getting smaller, one day at a time.

So alas, as a new Christian (I am but five years old), I must address two elephants in the elephant house. Many in the GOP are blaming social issues for our loss and for doubts about our future viability as a party, so I figured I’d address both head on.

ROE v. WADE
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that life begins before the second trimester, or that Roe is bad constitutional law. In 1972, abortion was legal in 20 states. Overnight, it became legal in 50, and all because the Supreme Court said so.

Christians have been battling Roe ever since, and though it’s still the law of the land, there are now lots of restrictions on abortion, most with strong popular support — including parental-consent laws, bans on late-term abortion in many states, and a federal ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, the number of abortions has been cut by 25 percent from the record high in 1990, and Gallup  finds a strong majority of Americans (61 to 37 percent) believing abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances, or in no circumstances.

Christian advocacy is working. And science itself — and especially the sonogram — is helping us along.

The question is this: How far do we push forward before we start slipping backward? The comments by Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock on rape and abortion were prime examples of how much damage we can do to our cause when we take our position to the extreme.

The pro-life movement is misguided if we’re demanding that a woman must have her baby once conception has occurred no matter what the circumstances, and no matter how early she makes her decision.

In short, if our goal is 100 percent victory, we risk losing ground with the very public with whom we have been gaining ground, one small step at a time.

Moreover, even if Roe is overturned, the issue would return to state legislatures, and abortion would probably be legal in more states than in 1972. In states where abortion was illegal, leftists would provide their version of an underground railroad, providing safe harbor and transportation for women to get abortions in states where it was legal.

Not exactly a big win for Christians, that scenario. Or for life.

Is this a call to abandon our political efforts? No. But to win any long-term political battle, we need to more profoundly engage the culture. Christians are the majority in this country, but we often act like outsiders. We keep to ourselves, and spend too little time marketing our message and our works to the outside world.

One Super Bowl ad featuring Tim Tebow and his mom did more to engage America in a discussion about life than thousands of political ads combined.

So what can we do? For openers, Christians could let every pregnant woman in crisis know we care about her, not just her baby. Such women, many of them very young, are facing the most profound decision of their lives, and they feel they have only two options: terminate the pregnancy, or go it alone as a single mom. Having a child is different from raising one, and it’s the raising part that terrifies most young single women. Many choose termination without telling anyone; that’s how hard their choice is.

Why can’t we provide a substantive third option and broadcast it to the nation? We hear stories of couples aching to adopt, and going outside the country to do it. How about setting up a network of couples seeking to adopt single pregnant girls?

We’ve got eHarmony and ChristianMingle. How hard would that be?

What if every church in America agreed to adopt one pregnant woman in need for every 100 members of the congregation? What impact would we have on those women? And they on us?

That would be one heck of a pro-life and pro-choice campaign all rolled up in one. Indeed, it would be one heck of a marketing campaign for life. And for Christians.

People who know only the media caricature of Christians would rethink everything they thought they knew about us, and why? Because we were being the best versions of ourselves.

All this storytelling just might make more converts. And a better nation.

I know because one Christian man’s story changed my life forever. His name is John Croyle. He was a star for Bear Bryant’s Alabama team in the 1970s. An NFL career beckoned, but he had a conflicting dream: He wanted to run a ranch for at-risk kids. He had a gift for working with young people, one he knew was God-given. With help from Bryant and friends, he chose the kids, not pro football, and started the Big Oak Ranch in Gadsden, Ala.

Croyle has spent his life raising and loving children whom no one else cared about. His impact has reached 3,000 kids and counting. And all without a single dime from the government. “Big John,” as his kids call him, raises millions of dollars each year, and gives those kids the love and mentoring they need every day. And all this is fueled by his faith.

Can’t we find more John Croyles and share their stories?

Look at one Christian couple, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, and what they did for a homeless Memphis ghetto boy named Michael Oher. They took him in and raised him as their own, and watched him become a football giant. Their story, told in Michael Lewis’s book The Blind Side, and in the movie made from it, inspired a nation.

We would recruit more people to our position if they knew who we are and what we stand for. And we would engender a lot more respect from those who don’t share our beliefs.

We would also prove the efficacy of private solutions to public problems. John Croyle’s work has not only helped save thousands of kids, it has removed them from the public dole. And from the cold grip of bureaucracies ill equipped to deal with matters of the human heart and soul.

Stories matter. More than legislation or politics, they have the power to change hearts and minds.

A friend of mine recently told me a story about his son and daughter-in-law, and how the two struggled to have a baby. They tried everything modern medicine allowed, and found themselves expecting not one but three babies. Then came talk of a “reduction.” That is a euphemism for terminating a baby in the womb when multiples are involved.

The son asked his dad for advice. The dad is pro-choice. But he told his son that he and his wife should not “reduce” because that decision would haunt them the rest of their lives. Others counseled the couple to do it.

Years later, father and son were in a park watching three beautiful kids playing in the sun. Is there anyone who can’t imagine how they felt about that choice not to “reduce”?

There are stories like that all over America, stories about what happens when we choose life. Even pro-choice advocates routinely choose life. We should tell those stories over and over again, anywhere people might have a chance to hear them.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

This issue consumes a lot of Christian resources, and also divides Americans like nothing else but abortion. Nearly every American knows and cares about someone who is gay.

“What would you do if Reagan was gay?” my mom asked me about my seven-year-old girl on Thanksgiving Day. My mom was very sick, and she has since died. The question came out of nowhere. “I wouldn’t care,” I told her. “I’d love her just the same.” “Good,” said my mom.

“And if that meant me attending a civil service with the girl she loved,” I told her, “so be it. I will still believe she’s a child of God. And that Jesus loves her.” That answer will confound some of my Christian friends. It confounds me. But this much I know: I will always show unconditional love to my girl.

This much I also know: Being gay has never been an easy path in America. What else accounts for so many people lying about their sexuality to their peers? To their families? To themselves, even? It is a kind of pain I don’t know, keeping something so fundamental about yourself a secret. It is a category of rejection I can’t fathom.

The idea that prevails in the minds of some Christians that the culture is producing more gay people just isn’t true. And the notion — in a small corner of the evangelical community — that gay people can be turned straight doesn’t square with what we know deep in our bones. The notion that Anderson Cooper could be trained to be sexually attracted to my wife is as silly as the idea of me being trained to want to have sex with Anderson Cooper’s boyfriend.

Just as science has proven that life begins at conception, and that the beating heart inside the womb belongs to a baby, we may someday learn that gay people are born gay. That it’s genetic.

I know I just lost a lot of Christians there. Some of you are questioning my own salvation. Isn’t that what we do with Christians with whom we disagree?

So what is the answer to gay marriage? From one point of view it should be easy for a conservative. Live and let live has been the credo of economic conservatives; what you do in your private life is your business.

But what should we do, we who believe that marriage is a sacred union ordained by God? Should we keep fighting at the ballot box to prohibit gay marriage? Here’s the answer, though many Christians won’t like it. We should continue to believe what we believe, and keep getting married in our churches. And let gay people get married by the state in civil services. Let the state be the state, and the church be the church.

Gay marriage is simply not the threat to marriage that some church leaders believe it is — certainly not more than adultery, not to mention divorce. I don’t see church leaders fighting to make either of those illegal.

Sensible people are coming to a consensus on the importance of marriage. No government program can replace the love of a family, and many of our nation’s ills stem from the breakdown of the family. The economic costs are staggering. So are the human costs.

If anything, we should be comforted that gay people support an institution Christians and conservatives care so much about, one that our culture has for decades derided as being boring and utterly bourgeois.

In his letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I., George Washington reassured those people who had fled religious tyranny in Europe that life in our new nation would be different. That religious tolerance and liberty were inseparable. That our government would not interfere with individuals in matters of conscience and belief.

Quoting the Old Testament, Washington wrote, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

He wrote, “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

There will still be great churchstate issues before us. The free-exercise clause of the First Amendment commands that religious institutions be allowed to prosper freely and in keeping with their conscience. Christians have every right to defend that freedom, and can and should do it at the polls and in the culture. Gay people have the right to defend their freedoms too.

The most important political debate of our time — the one that dwarfs all others — is about the size and scale of government, and the degree to which the state intrudes into our lives. Are more government programs the answer to society’s ills, or are stronger families, businesses, churches, and civic institutions?

Will we go the way of Europe, or will we return to an America that values freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom to pursue happiness and prosperity, all of which are essential to a thriving people?

Winning the argument for freedom is the best way to protect all of us, Christians and non-Christians, gay people and straight people.

That’s the American creed. If only we’d all start living it.

— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.