political

“I usually don’t get too political…” How many times have we seen or heard this phrase from our friends as of late. And what follows is usually some rant or expression intended to bend our ears or our hearts to their cause or stance. And I’m sure it’s pretty much effective 99% of the time, right? It almost seems that every one these days is a political expert and with so many experts it’s mind boggling to think that our society isn’t more healthy. I mean we all know the right answers to fix everything so why isn’t everything fixed?

During Jesus’ days his opponents would often try to find ways of tripping him up or engaging him in some debate. And they didn’t shy away from political discusssions either. At one point they even questioned Him about paying emperial taxes and Jesus’ reply was ingenious. He asked to see a coin, examined the image, and “Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesarʼs, and to God what is Godʼs.””‭‭ -Matthew‬ ‭22:21‬. This has been interpreted a myriad of different ways but it’s probably best thought of in this light. Jesus was saying to his opponents, “Let Caesar have his money and his power and his way of doing things. God has His own way of getting things done.” And that has always been the case. God’s Kingdom does not operate according to the systems, laws, means, and methods of this world…it’s different; an alternative Kingdom.

But so often as of late it seems we in the church have forgotten this. We enter into the political arena with the same tools, the same weapons, the same words as those who are not a part of the church. In his epistle, John puts it this way, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:18‬. So what does that mean? If you’re pro-life, then be pro-life by adopting babies, supporting foster agencies and single mothers or by sponsoring a child overseas. If you care for the widow, then volunteer at an assisted living facility or find a shut-in to help out. If the homeless tug at your heart then head down to your local mission. If caring for the earth strikes home then start a recycling program and help educate others. If you care for refugees then find a local agency and find out how to volunteer. The Kingdom of God is about action, but not the action that we do often see on display that belongs to Caesar. Our action is love in action and it enacts God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get political. 


shhhhh

Lately I feel as if I am surrounded by noise. And I’m not talking about the loud rambling oilfield trucks that plague our suburban streets. I’m not even referencing the fact that there are four kids in my house who must all have inside voice issues. I’m actually making reference to the multitude of voices in our world today that feel the need to make sure that they are heard, they are understood, they are perceived as being right and that they solicit change. It’s exhausting. It doesn’t matter on which side of which issue someone is speaking about it all has begun to blend together and just become noise…and I’m afraid I have even been guilty of adding to the noise. And so today I say to you and to me…’shhhhhhh’.

Often when I am plagued with some seeming societal ill I try to look to the testimony of Jesus to see how best to address what is going on around me. There are a couple of interactions that Jesus has in the gospels that have always perplexed me. It comes after Jesus has spoken some very unpopular/polarizing words and it doesn’t go over so well (I’m sure none of us can relate to that as of late). The first is in Luke at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” – Luke 4:29-30 The other instance takes place in John 8 after Jesus is forced to stand in the way of the religious elite on behalf of a woman caught in adultery and then speaks about His being sent by the Father. “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” – John 8:59 Notice what it doesn’t say here, “Jesus kept arguing the point with his opponents until they were forced to concede and admit defeat.” No, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. He realizes the crowd will no longer listen, has gotten past the point of listening and so He walks through their midst. Jesus just steps away. 

Of course Jesus doesn’t walk away and have a pity party. No, Jesus gets back to doing what He does best…enacting the Kingdom of God. In Luke He begins casting out unclean spirits and in John He heals a blind man. Jesus realizes that His argument is best made in enacting that which He is speaking about. There is no greater defense of one’s position than positive Kingdom action that will at once pull you away from pointless arguments and eventually silence your naysayers. Jesus knew this and trusted His work to it. Why? Because He knew the value of silence and He trusted the mission. Here as well we must seek to model Christ of whom we read these words just a short time later in Luke, “ But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:16 Maybe we need to pull away from the noise. Maybe we need to withdraw. We certainly don’t need to add to it. Maybe it’s time for a little more shhhhh and a lot more action for the Kingdom.


trunity 

There seems to me to be a lot of concern these days for unity. Whether it is unity in our families, in our communities, in our churches or even in our nation, there is apparently a lot of room for improvement. However, it also seems that when most of us are speaking about unity we ultimately are referring to the other person coming around to seeing things the way we see them. It reminds me of the old Beatles song, We Can Work it Out, “Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?” But therein lies the issue. We always want others to see it our way before we put forth the effort to see it their way. In Harper Lee’s classic ‘everyone must read this book in high school’ masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is talking to young Scout when he says this, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I guess the best way to define this action is empathy. And empathy is the only way we can ever find our way forward into true unity (or trunity). 

The example of course for empathy is an incarnational example. The apostle Paul is speaking to the church in Philippi when he has this to say, “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:4-7 The example for us in empathy is set by a God who set aside all the power of the universe and unlimited ability to become like you and I. And so Paul asks us to behave in our relationships with the same mindset. Unity is only accomplished when we learn to look at life, conflict, relationships, stances, principles, etc. from the other’s point of view before feeling the need to defend our own. And in order to do this…well, we kind of have to get to know the other person. 

This is where it gets kind of tricky. Online exchanges do not count as getting to know another person…even the makers of eHarmony know this. Text messages do not enable you to see the world through another person’s eyes…no matter how many emojis you use. The only way we truly can begin to empathize with another person and their way of seeing the world is through life lived together. Perhaps it begins with coffee. Then maybe it’s a meal.Then perhaps you actually begin to be friends and you start to see that maybe their way of looking at things isn’t so backward after all. The ancient church fathers used to say ,”To know all is to forgive all”. And maybe that is what this life is about after all. We are learning to live together here so that eternity is just a continuation of the unity that we have begun while together on earth. May God grant us the ability to see one another as He sees us and move us forward in becoming one. 


american idols

Don’t make me repeat myself. I’m sure many of us have heard this phrase before. I imagine that some of us as parents have even used this phrase. And yet, it seems as if repetition is built into the very fabric of our lives. Especially in our own household where there are four kids…I imagine many days my wife and I sound like broken record players. But repetition isn’t bad in and of itself. In fact, it can be quite good. Repetition is the motor behind much of our learning and habitual practices. Just take a moment and google the word repetition and be as amazed as I was in terms of the research and studies dedicated to repetition and its effect on the human brain. If repetition is such a powerful tool then it goes without saying that things that have been repeated before us bear our attention. I would even say things often repeated in the Bible probably should grab our attention. Did you know that the most often repeated sin we are warned about in the Bible is the sin of idolatry? So perhaps it demands a little more of our attention.

But Idolatry is an outdated concept. You don’t see people making sacrifices to idols in today’s world…or do you? The first time we are told explicitly what idolatry is in the Bible is probably in the giving of the Ten Commadments. The second commandment goes like this, “make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” Exodus 20:4-5a But what is an image or a form? An what does it mean to bow down? The word for form in this passage is tĕmuwnah which translates as representation or idea. The word for bow down is shachah and can be translated as worship or give reverence to. So the second commandment is reminding us not to worship any idea/concept/form that ultimately is not the God revealed through the story of scripture. And you may still feel like you have this covered…at least I do most of the time.

But what is worship? Sure you could talk about what we do in churches on Sunday, but worship is more about giving God the appropriate place in our lives. Worship is also abou making sure we haven’t turned anything into an idol…maybe even our thoughts of God at times. You see the reason idolatry was so dangerous is because idolatry meant you coul control that which you worshipped. If you could make an image of it or picture it just the right way, then you could dictate how that deity worked. So when things like sports, fitness, ambition, money, fame, popularity, body-image, etc. become our idol it makes sense because these are things that in theory we can control or manipulate. Sometimes we even do this with God when we tell Him how he should act or when He hates the same people we do or cheers for the same teams we do. We can take God and make an image. We can manipulate the God whose name was, “I am who I am” – Exodus 3:14 This naming itself say to us that God can’t be made into something we can control or manipulate because He is whatever He will be.

So perhaps there is something to this repetition thing after all. And perhaps there is some idolatry we might need to examine in our own lives. The best thing about idols though…they are made to be broken.

 


at hand

I’m not sure if your household works this way but for some reason ours always has. There are certain odd jobs or tasks that by default get assigned to someone. For instance, my wife is the comforter. If someone gets hurt or upset daddy just will not do. It’s up to mom to make the situation better…although it never stops me from trying. One of the default roles that has come to me is that of seeker. And although I am not chasing down a golden snitch, I am the one who finds lost things. If someone has misplaced something or lost a toy or can’t find their car keys (ahem, my wife), then it is up to the seeker to find them. And I am usually pretty good at my job…unless I misplace/lose something. You see, I am usually very systematic in the way I take care of my things. But a few weeks ago we couldn’t find one of our remote controls. And although we suspected our youngest, as he has a habit of carrying these around, we could not locate it. And then one day I walked into the bedroom and there it was…on my side of the bed. A place I was sure I looked many times.

And now we find ourselves in a New Year. I don’t know about you, but whenever I am faced with newness or unknown I get a little unsettled. What is tomorrow going to look like? What will next month look like? What is this New Year going to bring with it? As I reflect on looking ahead I hear the words of Christ come rushing in from the Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” – Matthew 6:33-34 And I often wonder what that means to ‘seek first His kingdom’. Is it something I have to go looking for? Is it something I have to find? In another passage in the gospels we read this, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” – Luke 17:20-21 Another translation says that the Kingdom of God is ‘within you’. But if it’s already here or in my midst or at hand then how do I access it, find it, seek it, participate in it?

Even though at times they may loose remotes, my kids often times help me see the Kingdom of God in ways I wouldn’t ordinarily see. I love to get their takes on church or relationships or events or even just sit down and watch a movie with them. They see Jesus in literally everything. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3 If the Kingdom of Heaven is all around us then maybe it just takes the eyes and faith of a child to enter into it. Maybe seeking after the kingdom has less to do with us searching and looking and more to do with us realizing we are already a part of it and living as if that were the case. I think children help us out here as well. If you’ve ever been part of imaginative play with children then you know what I am about to say is true. In imagination there is no other world outside of play. Maybe that is what it means to seek first His kingdom. There is no other reality but the Kingdom of God. All of the powers and systems and authorities  and politics and economies that vie for our attention aren’t the real. The real is what we are called to see not with our grown up eyes, but with our childlike faith. And maybe if we start to believe in that, we really will see the Kingdom of God at hand.


noisy bells

When our first born son was around four years old we thought it was time to introduce him to the book The Polar Express. After all, he loved trains and it seemed like the right thing to do for Christmas. And in true good parenting fashion we decided we should also introduce him to the movie…which quickly became an obsession. In the midst of all of this we also decided that he needed bell; much like the one received by the little boy in the book. However, a four year old doesn’t always understand yuletide physics and quickly became frustrated. You see, he would grasp that bell with his whole and and shake for all it was worth and yet…there would be no ringing. He couldn’t seem to figure out that holding on to that little bell so tight would mute its noise and so of course in his world, “it broke”. After trying multiple times to help him see how to grasp onto the bell and it not clicking, my wife and I conveniently lost the bell until a more age appropriate Christmas season.

The image of a noisy bell brings to mind one of my favorite passages of scripture. In his letter to the Corinthian church the apostle Paul writes about the greatest of gifts, “f I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” – I Corinthians 13:1 The imagery of a resounding gong could even be translated as an empty, loud annoying brass bell. Paul is saying to us that if we don’t have love, all of our blustering lip service to the world around us is just that…noise. And not good noise either…but loud unproductive obnoxious noise. Our world today is full of noise. If you have been out shopping at all during the Christmas season you know this to be true. People hustling and bustling to get everything they need to make the season bright. But I am wondering if this is a huge and loud misrepresentation of the season.

Charles Wesley, a great hymn writer and one of the theological fathers of our faith, once penned these words to describe the Christmas story, “He left his Father’s throne above so free, so infinite his grace. Emptied himself of all but love…” Emptying, letting go and allowing love to be all. This was the Christmas story of Christ. But I think all to often we find ourselves like that little four year old when it comes to life. We hold on to our things, our loved ones, our dogma, our traditions, our way of doing things so tight that all of a sudden we are just making noise. Love isn’t ringing through us because it has become about us and not about those who we are called to love. Love is a hard thing. It’s the one action where when you know all motives are fixed on another then you finally have it right. And that is what the Christmas story was about. God letting go of everything in order to show us love. Maybe we need to let loose of some things in our life so that we can truly show the love of Christ to those around us this Christmas. Maybe then we will no longer be a noisy gong/bell/brass/cymbal, but instead may join in the angelic chorus, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”


a stranger

Since roughly about the 4th century Christians have celebrated the four Sunday season before Christmas known as Advent. Advent, which means welcoming, is a season of preparation for both the commemoration of the original coming of Christ to earth and a celebration of Christ coming again. For many Christians it is sometimes hard to connect these two events. When Christ came to earth as a baby in Bethlehem much of the world went on without noticing. When Christ comes again every knee will bow. How could these two events be more different? The writer of Matthew helped me to find a rather poignant connection this Advent season and it speaks to our world now more than ever. At the conclusion of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew he shares a parable about what His return will be like. In that parable Jesus speaks of the final judgment and those who are judged worthy and he has this to say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For…I was a stranger and you invited me in” Matthew 25:34-35

The story goes on to say that those who performed this kindness were not even aware that it was to Christ himself that they bestowed this kindness and Jesus’ response to them, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40. The Greek word for stranger in the passage above is the word xenos, which best translates as foreigner or alien and it’s where we get terms like xenophobia. But Jesus’ not only speaks of His love for the least of these in His response; He also speaks out of history and experience. If we simply turn back the pages of Matthew’s gospel we read this in the conclusion of the visit of the Magi, When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt” – Matthew 2:13-14 Part of Christ’ original coming to earth resulted in His earthly family becoming refugees, aliens, strangers in Egypt who were fleeing political persecution from an evil political force.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like our world today very much resembles the world the Savior was born into. Just yesterday a report came out about the fall of Aleppo and how 20 Syrian women chose suicide over the impending rape of the Syrian army. Europe has been overwhelmed in attempts to respond to one of the greatest refugee crisis in human history. And we are concerned as to whether or not we will be able to find a Hatchimal for our kids.

I’m not sure I know what the answer is this Advent season. Right now…pray. Pray for Christ to return. Pray for every hurt, every tear, every pain to be wiped away. There are also ways you can give.

1. Nazarene avenues for donating to anything happening inside seem to not exist at this time. But, Nazarenes are working with Syrian children and families who flee the war and are in Lebanon and Jordan. This is a powerful option for helping: http://www.ncm.org/phone/christmas.html

2. There is also and organization that some of our Nazarenes have looked into called Preemptive Love that seems to be responding well: preemptivelove.org They help people who are still trapped in Syria.

3. You can also consider donating to Central Europe Refugee Response: https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/125967 which is the Nazarene Courage for the Journey response across the Balkans and Greece to refugees in transit or resettling.

I guess my prayer for all of us in the midst of our world and this season of Advent is that we don’t forget what this season is really about. It reminds us that our God took on flesh and came into the world to show us that life is most Holy when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite a stranger in, clothe the naked, care for the sick and those in prison. May we all embrace that calling this Advent season.



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