Tag Archives: politics

the most wonderful

pexels-photo-52907

I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas music. And I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to when one is allowed to listen. I’ve been known to listen to Christmas music all during the season of Advent. I’ve been known to even begin listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (I just told my students recently it was because there were no good turkey songs). I can even tell that I am truly getting into the spirit of the season when I bust out the Carpenter’s Christmas album. For me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year…and yet for some. Well they struggle with this season more than any other. Often times issues of grief or family drama or financial stress become even more prevalent during holiday seasons. For some this season even becomes the least wonderful time of the year. In a season that is meant to be marked by joy, peace, love, and hope, some find themselves struggling to find these very things in the midst of all the other issues that become more transparent as the holidays take hold.

And on some level I think it all hinges on that last aspect of the Advent practice…hope. The season of Advent, for those who aren’t aware, begins this Sunday and marks the beginning of the church year. Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it is both a celebration of the initial coming of Christ and an anticipation of His return. And yet, we so often struggle with finding hope in the midst of this season. Many find themselves placing their hopes in things like the economy, politicians, national defense, etc. and as they often discover; this is no place for hope. When it comes to Advent, our hope takes on an incredible shape. Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4 The Advent hope of Christ return almost seems too wonderful when we read it in the context of our current situation, but this is what true hope should look like.

In a world of shopping malls, black Friday sales, twitter feuds, international diplomatic escalation, racial unrest, cancer, and the like we struggle to take comfort in the story that Advent ushers in. Sometimes it is too much to find ourselves marveling at the story of a young Jewish mother giving birth to a son in the midst of a small town in Judea. Sometimes we struggle to find hope in the shepherd’s vision or the Magi’s quest or the angel’s songs. These stories are too wonderful and too far removed from our present situation for us to take hold of hope in the midst of a competing narrative. Perhaps what is needed is for us to look forward to the coming Advent that will take hold of the broken systems of this world and redeem them. The hope of Isaiah the prophet becomes realized in the words of John the apostle in that concluding hope of scripture. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 May we come to find ourselves caught up in THIS wonderful season and hopeful promise as we anticipate the Advent of Christ once again.

Advertisements

power and politics

I’ve never really been too into politics. I can remember my first introduction as an elementary student and all of us 4th graders trying to figure out if Dukakis or Bush was the better candidate (The eyebrows made it obvious). And throughout the years I was always curious and would usually form an opinion, but it was rarely something that kept me up at night. It seems like more and more these days, especially with the advent of social media and 24/7 news coverage, that the political landscape has come to dominate culture. Everyone has to have a side and depending on where you land your opinion and your worth is validated by those around you or you are completely written off. Our nation has become a nation divided and the same spirit of the age of politics has even begun to infiltrate the church and it’s becoming bit worrisome.

I guess the reason it disturbs me so much is that this is not supposed to be the way in which the church transforms the world. We were never meant to grab hold of the reigns of kingdom and political power and yet for many it seems that this is our only recourse. How do I know this is not our way? As his ministry began Jesus was carried off into the wilderness by the Spirit and for forty days was tempted. Matthew’s gospel records the temptations in a certain order and the last temptation Jesus faces should give us some insight into this dilemma. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:8-10. Jesus was offered all the political power in the world. He was offered all the kingdoms and glory and prestige that comes from earthly rule and all he had to do was compromise his mission. All he had to do was for a moment set aside his true mission of worshiping and serving God and all that power would be His. But that wasn’t God’s way.

Jesus came to show us what it meant to live a life that fully honors God. And even at the beginning of His ministry he was offered the opportunity to seize earthly power and political sway in order to accomplish that mission. But he knew bowing down to the Ruler of this world would destroy His Divine purpose of showing us what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. I wonder if we as a church have sometimes lost our way in an attempt to grab onto this earthly power. Sure, we want to influence culture and see God’s way become the one true way…but at what cost? Have we compromised the mission of God because we thought we could accomplish His mission through other methods. Sometimes we have allowed allegiances to political systems to tarnish the mission of God and our witness to others and this should never be so. The apostle Paul said this, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12.

Before you write this off completely hear one last thing. I am not saying to not be political. But just be careful that when you are working within the systems of this world that you don’t forget your citizenship is in Heaven and your allegiance is to a God whose Kingdom goes beyond what we see. And in this way you can still be political and remember we are solely called to worship and serve.


memory problem

So this recent phenomenon has occurred in our household. I was talking to my wife the other day about a movie she had just watched and she said, “Hang on a second, let me get my notes.” Notes? She explained that she has been having trouble remembering things lately and so if she is impacted by something or wants to retain it, she chooses to take notes. I think she has been worried about it being some sort of indicator of that which is to come, but I’m pretty sure it is a symptom of going from two to four kids and not really getting any sort of adjustment period. Or what the laypeople would refer to as ‘mommy brain’. She has even begun taking notes during my sermons, so now I know it’s serious. But I don’t think she is the only one lately who has been having a memory problem…I think it’s become an epidemic, at least in the church.

You see, everyday I am hearing about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that there is no hope and we need to boycott this and avoid that and not associate with them or vote for whoever and I think it all stems from a memory problem. We have forgotten to whom our true allegiance is due. We may be a part of this world physically, but this geographical location should not determine our values or dictate our mode of operation. At one point Jesus was asked about when the Kingdom of God would usher in and “fix everything” and he had a rather creative answer. “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 way of saying it was that the kingdom of God is within you…in other words, it is already here.

When Jesus came, he didn’t just bring with Him the promise for the Kingdom to come. He brought with him the assurance and the example that the Kingdom is now. If we truly claim to be disciples of Christ we understand that reality as we see it, or as we allow others to dictate it for us, is not reality as it truly is. We are not forced to make decisions based on what the empire tells us. We are not forced to operate within the power structures that exist in society. Why? Because our Savior ushered in a new way of living. An example that embraces the leper, identifies with the unclean, lifts up the disenfranchised, turns the other cheek, loves our enemies, prays for our oppressors, and says in the face of evil, “Father forgive them”. And I think that we forget sometimes that we are called to live this out. Sometimes it’s easier to operate within the mode/structures of the systems and policies and parties around us. But I chalk it up as a memory problem. Let’s not forget who we are. People called to transcend the means and ways of this world and live out the Kingdom of God now. May you see that the Kingdom is within you and live out your true allegiance today.


where does it all lead?

So…I’m a nerd. I know for many of you that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But I enjoy all things comic book, superhero, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. It shouldn’t surprise you either that when the new Star Wars film came out late this last year that my son and I were in line on opening night in costume. That kind of reveals to you the depth of the nerdiness and its influence upon our household. Recently I was actually reminded of one of my favorite quotes from this movie franchise that actually comes from my least favorite of the movies. In Episode 1, Yoda (the Jedi guru type) is speaking to young Anakin Skywalker and he says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

The reason this line has come to mind is my general concern for the health and well-being of the church. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably come to realize that a lot of the political rhetoric that has been occurring in the United States lately has been coming from a place of fear and anger. And sadly enough that same rhetoric has taken root in the church as well. My brothers and sisters, anger and fear have no place in the body of Christ. In his epistle the apostle James, the brother of Christ, had this to say, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20 Likewise in the 1 Epistle of John we find this,  “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:17-18 ‘Anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires’. ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”.

The reason this concerns me so much is that it is killing our witness and our voice for true Kingdom transformation. Please hear me, when we the church operate out of a sense of anger or fear, we no longer represent the Christ we confess. Much like the aforementioned quote from Star Wars, we ultimately compromise who we are intended to be and end up walking in darkness instead of light. So my question to us today; in the midst of all of this political chaos and confusion, are your actions/posts/statements/conversations/etc. originating from a place of love and grace? Or do you find yourself responding out of fear and anger? I myself cannot go there. It is too easy to hold grudges, to distance the other, to be angry or to be afraid. Instead we are called to take up our cross; the ultimate symbol of grace, love and forgiveness. I’ll leave you with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which is just as true today as it was 50 years ago. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


get a life

Yesterday I bumped into a friend I hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to in a while. We were talking and catching up and then the inevitable question came up, “Well how are things going with you?” I gave the typical ‘good’, ‘busy’, responses and then reflected, “It’s funny, we thought we could have a life outside of the church…” And we both laughed a bit about it. But I haven’t been able to get away from that thought. You see as a pastor, my life is centered around the church. Even on my days off, its not really something you turn off. Our family schedule centers around the church. Our interactions inevitably are somehow based around the church and if you want to have a conversation with us, more than likely you will most easily catch us being involved in church-related activities. And honestly, I don’t think of that regretfully at all.

Paul was writing to the church in Colossae when he had this to say, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3 Let me clarify something really quick before we keep going, although I may have referred to a specific congregation/schedule/building above, we need to understand that the church is none of those things specifically. The church is a living, breathing, Holy Spirit birthed people of God who are collectively known as the Bride of Christ. So when Paul says, set your mind on things above, or your life is now hidden in Christ, he is redefining the way in which we go about our lives in the here and now. 

I think about all the things that vie for our attention and time these days. We have jobs, school, sports, politics, household chores, bills, play-dates, parties, gym time, etc. etc. and these are how we order our lives. But Paul asks us to set our mind on things above…How then do we do that? We order our lives around the church. And I’m not talking about being in the church every time the doors are open (although every pastor would appreciate that), but I am talking about ordering your life, your conversation, your rhythm around a living community of God known as the church.

One quick illustration of what this does for us. My wife and I recently were at the AT&T store getting her a new phone and the question came up, “Well, what do you do?” “I’m a pastor.” And all of a sudden we found ourselves opening up the door for a conversation, that led to a church visit, that led to this same individual possibly playing in our praise band for Sunday services. Now do all of us have this easy access point into conversations about church i.e. ‘I’m a pastor’? No. But if our lives our hidden in Christ, if our lives our ordered around the church, if our lives reflect our ultimate priority, then we will start to see God use us in new and amazing ways everyday. May you find your life hidden in Christ as you live out the calling of the Bride of Christ, the church today.


%d bloggers like this: