Wednesday, September 29, 2021


As we talk about Christian ethics, life and death are pretty straightforward. But today, we turn our attention to a new conversation in ethics, and this one is...a lot harder. It's going to take more than one day to try to unpack this idea, and I'm going to do my best to make it as untangled as possible, though it is, by nature, just that complicated. I tell you that to tell you this: if today's post upsets you, just hold on for a bit - you may get less (or perhaps, more) angry as we continue deep into this topic. 

The foundational idea is this, and it is one that has been creeping into the church for a couple of decades or so now: today's Christian should be an interfaith Christian. 

We are called, they say, to "stand with" our "brothers and sisters" of other faiths, to pray together with them (each of us in our native prayer language), to fight for their right to worship freely. We are to not only befriend them, but support them and even encourage them to speak in our public squares. We are called to validate the spiritual experience of all who journey, no matter what path they are on, and to celebrate the notion of god wherever we find it in the world. 

This has arisen really out of two directions. First, it has arisen out of a fear that we have in America that one day, our religious freedoms are going to be restricted or even repealed. That one day, our country is going to tell us that we cannot worship freely. We believe that if we do not fight for the right of everyone to worship freely, then it won't be long before our own doors are shuttered by the state. 

Second, it comes from a correction we've tried to make to the criticism that the church is "too exclusive." That we are arrogant in thinking that we are the only ones who have it right. That the world bristles at our message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. In a world in which truth is relative and pluralistic, in which reality is whatever someone believes it to be, how dare the church claim to hold an exclusive truth! So we have toned it down a bit and said, sure, it's okay to worship some other way. 

We are told that our willingness to be an interfaith people makes us good Christians. Our willingness to stand next to our "brothers and sisters" of other faiths makes us good representatives of our own. We love how cooperative it makes us look, how compassionate, how gracious. We love that we are seen as accepting and affirming. 

The trouble's not what Jesus said. Ever. 

Jesus said, plainly, that He is the way and the truth and the life. Jesus said, clearly, that there is only one way to the Father, and it is through Him. Jesus said there is only one legitimate God, and it is the God who sent Him. 

The Bible is full of stories about pagan worship, about shrines on hills and idols in homes and the sacrifices made to lesser gods - and at every single mention of these, God condemns them. At every single word, God grieves the men and women involved in this stuff. God constantly warns His people of how illegitimate this other worship is and how dangerous it is to the soul not just of persons, but of a people. 

God never once tells His people to go join the Philistines at their worship sites. He doesn't tell Paul that the best way to fit in in Ephesus is to buy some of the statues of the gods that the people invest their lives in creating. God never says that the best mark of His people is that they are affirming of all of the other gods in the world. This is not a Christian virtue.

So how did it come to be one? In a rather roundabout way, actually. We are living in a culture that demands this of us, and so, we have obliged. It makes us a responsible part of the dialogue. It gives us an opportunity to continue to present our own faith as an option in the world. It makes us, we say, good citizens - and God calls us to be good citizens of the land where we live. 

But let us not forget that our highest call is as citizens of Heaven.

(Like I said - if you're angry right now, if you're upset, just hold onto that. This is by no means a complete discussion on this point, but merely an introduction. We'll dive a little deeper tomorrow and talk about Paul - because you know he has something to say here. You might already even be thinking about what that was.) 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

...and Death

This week, we're talking about Christian ethics and how, then, we should live, and we started yesterday by looking at what has been come to be called our "pro-life" stance, which is really nothing more than the Christian position on abortion. You might have been surprised at the direction that post took, not particularly making a case against abortion (or for it, in case you didn't read yesterday's post), but the truth is - Christians already know what God believes about life. We don't need one more post telling us what to believe. What we need is guidance on how to live in the real world. What we need is not to know what is right, but to know how to hold onto love as our core value in the midst of the debate. 

So today, we turn from abortion (life) to something a bit more difficult - death. Specifically, the death penalty. 

Our culture likes to link these two. It likes to put them together and then tauntingly ask Christians how they can claim to be "pro-life" while also supporting something like the death penalty. They claim it to be a point of our hypocrisy, and they use it to show how fickle we really are. 

This one really is more complicated. On one hand, we have a Bible that clearly gives us guidance on who to stone to death and when and for what reasons. We have a law given to us by God that supports the death penalty in certain situations. And yet, we also have a Savior who was Himself crucified. And who, we might add, had ample opportunity to act upon the law allowing for the death penalty and never once took it. 

We usually resolve this tension by waxing theological on the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant and talk about how grace comes in to replace the law in so many situations, but how the law still applies when it is convenient for us or when it's still a really good law. But all of our theological waxing keeps us from the Christian heart of the matter, and it's what makes this issue a lot stickier than it needs to be. 

The original law was intended to help keep the people of Israel, as a community of God, pure. You could not tolerate certain sins within the community because they were a stain on the image of God. That made it difficult for God's people to bear His name in the world. How could you, when you're all running around killing each other and committing adultery? God is a God of life, of faithfulness, and of love - to see His people like this makes it hard to claim He is who He says He is. 

At the same time, our God is a God of persons more than He's ever been the God of peoples. That is, He cares about each individual one of us, and He showed that through the tender care administered through His Son - one on one, touch by touch, encounter by encounter. 

What's happened with the Christian ethic, tragically, is this: we have become a people who are disgusted by persons. We hear the stories of a murderer or a rapist or someone else who we believe deserves to be put to death, and it is because that person has become repulsive to us. We are offended at the crime, sure, but this person is a despicable human being, and we often say things like, "He doesn't deserve to live." He is not capable of rehabilitation. He doesn't deserve a second chance. No one in their right mind would go and touch this person with grace. He disgusts us, even more than his crimes did. 

Do you get that? Our conversations around the death penalty have slowly, but surely, turned around to become discussions about criminals. And all of a sudden, we're in the business not of keeping a people pure, but of deciding who is worthy of grace and who isn't. And our standards are fairly arbitrary. We love to take into account every little detail that we can - well, did he have a rough childhood or is he just a psychopath? Did he enjoy it or does he feel sorry about it? We start judging intentions and motives and stories, and none of these things change the atrocity of the crime that was committed - none of these things make a woman less violated or a person less murdered. Yet we claim that this matters. And so, we have become a people who judge the criminal and not the crime. 

And that has never been God's ethic. Never.

So it cannot be ours. 

If we want to talk about the death penalty - and I believe there is good reason for us to talk about it - then we cannot let the conversation be about persons. We cannot let ourselves derive some perverted joy over being judge, jury, and executioner. We cannot let it satisfy our souls that this person, specifically, "got what was coming to him." We cannot take pleasure in the act of taking a life, no matter how justified we can make it in our hearts. 

Stoning a person to death was a somber occasion. It was a moment at which the people had the righteousness of God on their hearts. No one was cheering as they threw those stones. No one was rejoicing that their brother was dead. So under no circumstances can we now be a people who scream, "Let him fry!" or even utter "Good riddance" under our breath. That's not Christian. It's not the heart of God. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

A Matter of Life...

When we talk about Christian ethics, the first topic that generally comes to mind is abortion. Life. Death. Whether or not a woman should be able to choose whether to carry her own pregnancy to term. 

And this is a complicated issue, as we all know. Does it matter how the pregnancy began? Should we make exceptions for rape or incest? What if the woman's financial or social situation would make not only her life, but the life of the child, more difficult? What if the child isn't medically perfect? Should we consider the quality of life of the child? 

It's gut-wrenching, and heart-wrenching, for most of us to just None of that matters. A life is a life is a life. It feels less than compassionate. It feels too hard-lined. It certainly goes against the ethic of our culture, an ethic that is not willing to "diminish" the life of a woman just because she "happened" to get pregnant when she didn't want to.  

Part of what this all goes back to is our culture's definition of women. For the longest time, women in our culture were considered "just" mothers. They were homemakers and housewives and their job was to take care of the house and to have and raise the children. As feminism took hold, women began to reject that this was all that they were good for and then, well, their biology began to "betray" them. When a woman becomes pregnant, all of that feminism rears its ugly head and tries to insist to her that she is more than a mother. That hey, she doesn't even have to be a mother at all. She is more than her biology has tried to make her, and if that's not what she wants to be, then, well, she doesn't have to. 

That's where our greatest disconnect is on this issue. For many of us, it's about the life of the child. A child who has its own body over which it should be sovereign. A child who doesn't get a choice in the matter. A child who is miraculous because, as we know, not every woman who has sex gets pregnant and even those who do don't get pregnant every time they have sex. We wonder about this child, who he or she might be, and if it's a female child, why she doesn't have the same right to choose that we claim we're giving to all women. But for culture, the question is not about the child (even if she were to be a female child), but about the woman. "Forcing" a woman to carry a baby pushes feminism back fifty years...or so the argument goes. 

What happens, then, is that when we're discussing this (as so often happens with ethical matters), our less-than-pretty side comes out. When we can't get our argument through any other way, we start making harsh, judgmental statements about the women involved. "Well, she knows how this happens." "Maybe if she didn't want to have kids, she should have kept her legs closed." "They make birth control for a reason." (Although, to be fair, there are some denominations of Christianity that do not support the use of birth control - and for the very reason described above: pregnancy itself is a miraculous event, one that is not controlled by sex itself.) And on and on and on we go because, it seems, if we can't convince her, then perhaps we can shame her. Perhaps we can make her feel so guilty and disgusted by her own choices that led her here that she'll begin to feel a certain responsibility for the child that she's ready to just throw away. And then, maybe, she'll keep it. 

And that's not, my friends, a Christian ethic, no matter how "pro-life" or "anti-abortion" it is. That's not a Christian message. Shame is never a Christian message. Never. And that's why we keep losing this battle. That's why it's so hard for us to gain ground on this.

We could be, and should be, talking about the sanctity of life. We could be, and should be, telling miracle stories. There are thousands of them out there, living among us right now. More, even, than that. We should be talking about the joy that life brings. We should be acknowledging the atrocities of rape and incest, too. We should be talking about life, however broken it is, how beautiful it is, how blessed it is. And there is no room - none - in a pro-life conversation for shame. Not one bit. 

The minute that we give up a single breath of Christian love for Christian "principle," we have lost both. And that's what the culture keeps calling us on. And rightfully so. 

Of course we want every miraculous life to have a chance, but not...not at the expense of the miraculous life already living. A true Christian ethic on abortion must consider - and affirm - both. This is where we are often tragically falling short, and we must do better. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Christian Ethics

We are living in a world that has increasingly moralized every decision that we make. Everything from whether or not it's "right" to eat meat to how you're supposed to know how much the child in Somalia mining the hazardous chemicals for your smartphone goes through to whether or not you should wear a mask. Every piece of information in our world comes with a moral, and we are simply expected to fall into line. (Interestingly, this is more true about some things than others - as with the hazardous chemicals in our smartphones. We could not, of course, be expected to give up such a luxury just because someone else suffers for it. It is too important to us. Other things, it seems, should be less important to us. But who is deciding and what the standard is...who knows?)

But it's not just certain ideas that are bringing this new era of morality with them. Even long-held Christian morals are being called into question - as well as a few morals being passed off as Christian in this age that are really not. 

You've probably heard this one going around - Christians are only pro-life when it comes to the womb. After that, they don't care if you die or how you have to live. Abortion, which is called feticide if someone besides the mother does it, has been a long-held Christian ethic. But in the age of Roe v. Wade, it's been reclassified as pro-life and then Christians have been chastised for not opposing the death penalty strongly enough or not providing enough economic relief to the poor or not working hard enough for abused children or even, sadly, for abusing children themselves. 

Here's one of the new Christian ethics that is getting us in pretty deep - Christians are being called in today's world to be part of an "interfaith" culture. That is, we are expected not only to love everyone around us, but to affirm and even help to facilitate their free worship according to their own beliefs. There are circles today in which being a good Christian entails going to the mosque to pray with Muslim brothers and sisters or being one voice among many at an "interfaith" celebration so that the world can choose its own engagement with the spiritual.

Is that really a Christian ethic, though? That's one of the questions we're going to tackle this week. 

The truth is that ethics, in general, are raising their questions all around us. We've been engaged in the mask and vaccine debates for quite awhile now, and one of the rhetorics that is becoming more and more powerful is the idea that anyone who chooses not to wear a mask or get vaccinated thus forfeits their right to access healthcare when they become sick. If you don't protect yourself and you get Covid, the world is ready to say that you should just die. A horrible, agonizing death. Because that's what you "chose." 

On the other side of the medical ethics discussion, we have hospitals and health organizations that are withholding care from some - even cancer patients and transplant patients who will likely die without care - to make certain that care is available for Covid patients. This is an ethical question, too. Actually, it's the same one: who gets care and who doesn't? Who deserves care and who doesn't?

In the religious realm, we now have questions about religious freedom. The Taliban in Afghanistan has declared that they are reinstating executions and amputations for criminal offenses. That is, if you steal something in Afghanistan, they will cut your hand off. They used to do this all the time, and we called it an atrocity. They have announced they will be doing it again, and we say the same thing. At the same time, though, we have voices calling for us to allow Muslims in America to worship the way that they want to. This law is part of their holy text; it is part of their worship. It is part of the way that they make themselves a people presentable to God. So which is it - do we value their right to worship freely or are we so appalled at the way that they worship that we take away that right? To what extent do we get to impose our ethics on theirs, especially in their own country? 

Ethical questions are all around us right now. Truthfully, they probably always have been. The question we have to ask ourselves, then, is how we should respond to them as Christians. What does God desire from us? What would God have us do with these situations? 

The answer, as we know, is love. But love is messy, and it's not always easy. And it doesn't always look like what the world says it does. 

So this week, we're going to look at Christian ethics - namely, Christian love - and what it looks like in response to some of the questions that our world is asking. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Something Sacred

As always, we now circle back to where we started - to something sacred. We started this week by talking about how the world will use anything it can get its hands on to further its own agenda - marked by the way that the somber and once-sacred anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was twisted to become a commentary (an ill-crafted commentary) on our current response to the pandemic. The world decided it was okay to deepen the wound of this remembrance by diminishing the true nature of the day in order to push another narrative. To the world, this once-sacred day is no longer sacred.

And we saw how, then, the words that we sometimes use are not actually the words that we want to talk about. We don't mean them in the way that we say them, although we imply that we do. Words like "unity," when what we really mean is "uniformity." And we're just hoping the world is emotional enough about everything right now that they don't notice. We hope that everyone is so exhausted from all the fighting that even the hint of something that might pass as unity becomes a breath of fresh air. 

But then, we talked about what it means to have a "new" normal, what it means that things change and how much we are willing to let them change. We know that change is inevitable, but that doesn't mean we should just accept it wherever it tries to squeeze into our experience; there are some things worth fighting for. And just a breath away from that, we saw how this narrative is pushing into the church - into the very heart of who we are as a people of God - and how, all of a sudden, these conversations that seem so small and maybe even inconsequential in the grand scheme of things are actually being used as introductions to things that deeply, deeply matter - and again, the world is hoping that we won't notice the transition. 

When it comes to the church, though, and to who we are as a people of God, we start to understand the importance of the conversation. And we start to see clearly how it is that we have to respond. 

We have to make things sacred again. 

We have to set some things apart in this world and tell our culture that these things are non-negotiable. They're untouchable. There is no circumstance that would convince us to put them back on the table as bargaining chips. We have to carve out little recesses of the sacred life and declare them off-limits to any conversation that culture wants to have. These things have got to be non-starters. 

And yes, we're talking about the things of the church, but we're not just talking about the things of the church. We're not just talking about our Sunday mornings and our meetings together, although these things, too, must be set apart as sacred. We're talking about the fundamental depths of holy human experience - the most holy of all human experiences - even those that aren't directly related to the church. 

We have to create sacred space for humans to be human again. Because, as we've seen, this is where the conversation always seems to start. With a moment we should have set aside for grief, but we don't allow grieving any more. With a space we ought to set aside for love that is now filled with argument and disagreement. With a connection that ought to be made in genuine care but is now questioned because of a difference of opinion. With a unity that comes, as we said a few days ago, with all of us spreading out of one heart in a thousand different directions according to our own gifting and passion and purpose but has somehow devolved into an aggressive uniformity. We have to start by telling the world to lets its beings be human, even if just for a breath, and then to fight for what that means not just for our flesh, but for our souls. 

There are things in this world that are sacred, and the last year and a half have called into question so many of them. The world has shown that it doesn't care any more, that it no longer concerns itself with what ought to be sacred. 

Which is why we, as a people of God, must. 

There are things in this world that are sacred, and it doesn't matter what else is going on - these things are off the table. Period. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A New Church

We're talking about the way that culture drives conversations, touching off of a twisting of the once-sacred narrative of 9/11 to make culture's latest point. And that brings us to this term that we all know and don't particularly love - the "new" normal. 

Of course, we know that things change - and that they're supposed to - but when we talk about what a new normal looks like, we have to consider what kind of sacrifices we are willing to make and what we're going to declare is untouchable. What is essential for us? What are we not willing to give up? 

This question becomes even more important when it comes, as it is already coming, to the church itself. And now, all of a sudden, all of this talk we've done about how we respond to culture's narrative makes sense. It comes down to the very heart of who we are as a people of God. 

We started having this conversation last year at the start of the pandemic, and I wrote about it then and a lot of persons - even a lot of pastors - called me crazy. I was blowing things out of proportion, they said. It was never going to get here. But here we are. 

We are living in a world where one of the first things our culture called into question was the church. They told us we didn't really have to meet in person. They threw our own theology against us - can't you be the church anywhere? You don't really need a building. 

So we said, sure, we can be the church without a building. We can be the church without actually meeting together in person. And now, here we are more than a year later. Many of our members have not come back. Most of our churches continue to stream services online. Those that have gone back to meeting in person have sometimes adjourned again over new outbreaks or new concerns. They are requiring masks. Or vaccines. They have moved their seats so far apart that you still aren't attending church together; you are just a bit closer to being in the same space. They have removed their fellowship times and non-Sunday morning activities. All in the name of "safety." 

Welcome to the "new" normal. 

The church has simply agreed to become this, without considering what it means for us to be a people who meet together. And the truth is, our culture has been pushing this for awhile. A not-insignificant number of Christians have left the church because they "still love God but not so much His people." This is how we got our "spiritual, but not religious" nonsense. This thing where a bunch of Christians proclaim they don't have to be part of a church to be a Christian, despite what God has to say about us being part of a body of believers and not neglecting meeting together. 

This conversation around "new" normal, then, has major implications for the church. Who are we? Who are we willing to be? What are we willing to sacrifice, and what do we demand to hold onto? These are the questions we will have to answer moving forward. These are the questions we have to answer now. These are the questions we should have been considering from the very start of this whole thing, eighteen months ago. 

Because here's what happens - the world tells us that we don't need to meet together, so we stop meeting together. We have attempted to build a church without meaningful physical connection for more than a year, but the truth is that under this model, the church is becoming a service. We are becoming a group that meets the needs of those affiliated with it, that reaches out when we become aware of something. We aren't familiar to one another any more; we are names on a prayer request or blurbs in an email. We have become projects to one another. We have become needs that others can step up to fill. 

And when the church becomes a service, then its people partake of it only when they need it. Need a bill paid?  Call the church. Need a ride somewhere? Call the church. Need a funeral performed? Call the church. Looking for a wedding officiant? Call the church. We are becoming a 'call the church' people in a culture in which it's harder and harder to call us the church...because we aren't connected any more. We aren't a people; we are persons. 

Soon, we reach the point where a person goes to the church for a wedding the same way one goes to the library for a book or goes to the DMV to renew a driver's license. Nothing more than a place of service. Nothing more than somewhere to get a need filled. Even many of our members have not returned. And as the era of livestreams has waned, so has our viewership. Fewer of our former members are tuning into our live online services. Fewer are sitting in our pews. Just as many as ever are asking for our help. 

There is a disconnect building in our churches, and we have to talk about this. We have to figure out if this is a "new" normal that we're willing to accept or if we're going to demand more from ourselves. If we're going to demand more for the glory of God. 

Listen, I get it. It's complicated. We cannot be attached to a physical building, but we cannot be so separated from a meaningful, life-giving community. We cannot pretend there is anything special about what happens on Sunday mornings, but we cannot deny that something powerful is happening there. We cannot think for a second that what God wants from us is for us to be in a pew, listening to a sermon, clapping along with the worship but we cannot forget or neglect how often God calls us to "one another." One anothering is the main function of the church, and we do not do that in fundamentally the same way in what our culture is already willing to call our "new" normal. We have to do better. We have to fight for more. We have to put our foot down and declare what the church is, what it will always be, and what we aren't willing to let go of, not even for something the world is trying to sell us as "life." 

We know better. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A New Normal

In this ongoing conversation that we are having with our culture, one of the things that we keep pushing for is a return to "normal." We all want to go back to our lives the way that we remember them. But the world keeps telling us there is no such thing, that whatever normal we go back to will be a "new" normal.

In our hearts, we know that this is true. We know that life changes and that it is meant to change us and that when we experience such a dramatic change in our experience, we cannot simply expect things to go back to the way that they were. Not now. Maybe not ever. 

But here, too, we have to be careful about figuring out what it is the world means when it says "new normal" and whether that actually gels with our own understanding of this reality. 

The world is using this phrase to get us to concede to some of its points, and if the world is the way the world has always been, it is right now trying to figure out what it can get away with. How much "new" are we willing to accept in our "normal"? How much can the world convince us is absolutely necessary?

We learned a few lessons in this after 9/11. We all lined up to go through body scanners; we still submit ourselves to pat downs and searches. Nearly every venue we enter has metal detectors and security guards. We decided you can't even take hand sanitizer on a plane because if you do, you might be a terrorist. Mothers are struggling to get sufficient quantities of breast milk on board a plane for their infants. This has all become so routine that most of us don't even blink any more.

Yet, many of us can remember a time when none of this was true. None of it. It is the "new" normal, but we remember when it wasn't normal at all. 

The same thing is happening again, and we're going to have to decide how much "new" we're okay with in our normal. What are we willing to sacrifice, and what are we wanting to keep in order to do that? 

This is the real argument that we're having right now, by the way. The world won't tell us that, and it will try to distract us from it, but the truth is that what we're arguing over - what we're fighting about - right now is our "normal." 

There are some who are perfectly okay if masks are a part of our new normal. If we have to wear masks for the rest of our lives, that's okay with them. If we have to wear masks just in the winter, that's okay with them. If our children have to wear masks at school for thirteen years, that's fine. There are some who want proof of vaccination cards to be part of our new normal. They want us to have to show our commitment to public health to be in public places, and that's perfectly okay with them. There are others for whom masks and vaccine cards are non-starters. They simply refuse to go there. They cannot imagine a future with them and more importantly, they don't want to. 

Eighteen months ago, it wasn't too difficult, relatively, to get everyone behind "two weeks to slow the spread," but we aren't talking about the spread any more; we're talking about normal. We're talking about what our lives look like on the other side of the pandemic, and we're starting to make long-term plans. We're not talking about temporary sacrifices any more; we're talking about permanent ones. Not everyone has recognized this shift in the dialogue, and that's exactly what culture is trying to do. Culture is trying to keep the conversation in the present...but we are eighteen months into those two weeks to slow the spread, and the people are catching on. This isn't about today any more; this is about what we're doing with the rest of our lives. 

But it's more important for us, as Christians, even than masks and vaccine cards. There's something more at stake - that is, the very essence of who we are as a Christian people. Which is why recognizing that we've shifted this conversation is so important. It's why we have to recognize what's happening around "normal." 

Because it's time for us, as a church, to figure out what we're willing to accept...and what we're willing to fight for. (More on this tomorrow. Today is just the teaser.) 

Monday, September 20, 2021

A Call for Unity

One of the ways that our culture took over the message of 9/11 was to use it as a call for "the same kind of unity that we had on 9/12." That's the kind of unity, they said, that we need in order to combat this pandemic, to finally kick Covid to the curb, and to get back to life as we know it - not life as we knew it, since that is gone forever.

We need the kind of unity that stops seeing differences. That stops seeing age, race, sexual identity, opinion. We need the kind of unity that joins arms and walks away from the dust and ashes with a resolve to defeat our common enemy. 

The problem is that this is the same culture that has been using its rhetoric for far too long to divide us. Even just a few days (two?) before the remembrance of 9/11, our president - backed by millions of those who voted for him and love his policies - came out and said he was sick and tired of the percentage of Americans who are holding the rest of the country back, those who won't do what they ought to be doing (by getting a vaccine), those who are only thinking about themselves and are helping Covid defeat us. There have been calls by many who think along the same lines that persons who "refuse" to get the vaccine (not "choose not to," but "refuse") should be denied medical care when they get sick. That hospitals and doctors should be preserved for those who "deserve" their care. The president himself launched into a tirade condemning millions of Americans who don't think like him...then turned around two days later and issued a call for unity. 

And here's where we start getting back into what we were talking about last week - the way that our culture uses words to try to guilt or shame us into one response or another. In this case, when this group says the word "unity," what they really mean is that everyone who has so far been holding out on their own principle should finally cave and do what they've been told to do for the past 9 months. Everyone should just shut up and do what the majority or the powers that be or whoever wants them to do. 

Everyone should do what I want them to do. You know, in the name of "unity." 

But here again, this isn't unity. This isn't what the word means, and it's not the heart of the idea. It's not even the heart of America's reaction to the actual 9/11 events. Nearly everyone agreed that we needed to do something, but not everyone agreed on what that something should be. 

Some turned their attention toward the survivors. Some turned their attention toward rebuilding these areas. Some turned their attention toward the deceased. Some turned their attention toward the terrorists. In response to the events of 9/11, Americans set their faces toward one thing - healing together - and then spread out in a multitude of directions to make that happen. Together, we covered a thousand different needs, made a million different plans, put into action countless tiny things that marched us forward as a people. No one would say we were not united, even though we all had different responses. 

Yet today, they want to use "unity" to argue that there is only one response. Only one thing we should all be doing. 

And I don't buy it. I cannot look at the real unity of 9/11 and think that uniformity is better. I cannot look at any threat that America has faced - nationally or locally - and believe that we would be better off if we all did exactly the same thing. I think we're better when we're allowed to let our hearts drive our responses...and not our politics. I think we're better when we respond as human beings. 

And just look at the pandemic, if that's what you want to do. Some have turned their hearts toward medications and vaccines. Some have turned their hearts toward caring for the sick. Some have turned their hearts toward protecting their vulnerable neighbors. Some stayed home; some went to work. Some cut down on the social burden of having everyone out; some courageously stayed out to provide for everyone. Some have celebrated victories; some have mourned defeats. Together, in all different directions, we have loved each other. Together, we have said - we will make it through this. We have come together in beautiful, beautiful ways over the past year and a half. Despite what the voices for "unity" are trying to suggest. We can't let our culture take this away from us. 

Our unity - which we already have - is sacred, too. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Nothing Sacred

A little over a week ago, Americans celebrated Patriots' Day - our rebranding of the national tragedy of 9/11 into a celebration of the American spirit, of community, of camaraderie. This year was particularly striking, as the 20th anniversary of the event. 

So you know someone had to go and ruin it. 

The same thing happened a little over a week ago that always seems to happen in our society, and it's why it's so hard for us to have real conversations about things. Someone hijacked (yes, I get the irony of this term) the remembrance of 9/11 in order to twist it into a conversation about the current pandemic. Specifically, what started coming out toward the end of the day - after the names had been read, the bells had been tolled, and Taps had been played - was how the nation needs just as much "unity" in response to the pandemic as we had in response to these terrorist attacks. 

You knew it was coming. You knew someone was going to do it. You were thankful that they at least had the tact not to say it while flowers were being laid and names were being read. But honestly? The timing was still terrible. 

We talked last week about how our culture twists conversations to its own aims. About how we need to be mindful about the ways that we use the name of Jesus and how we let the name of Jesus be used. About how our culture will interject the name of Jesus just to get us to do something they want us to do. And here we are with a great example of how nothing is sacred to American culture.

Not even, interestingly, American culture itself. 

And it's such a subtle shift, so subtle that most don't even recognize it (which is why it's usually so effective). 9/11 ought to be a sacred day in America. It ought to be a time of us setting aside all the rest of our junk, coming together, remembering together, grieving together, communing together. It ought to be a day in which all that divides us just...disappears and we all walk out of that cloud of dust together

The problem is that when we start talking about how we ought to do that, instead of just doing it, we often 1) don't do it and 2) create divisions. And let's just add this, 3) diminish the experience of our friends and neighbors who have a real, meaningful connection to the event that we're trying to turn for our own gain. 

Every single person who lost a loved one on 9/11 or who was otherwise impacted by the events of that day got to listen to talking heads on that very night proclaim that a virus is no different than a terrorist, that getting sick is just the same as being blown up (sorry for the graphicness). That something spreading by chance through our communities is not fundamentally different than someone plotting and planning and deliberately executing the attacks on 9/11. What these survivors got to hear was, hey, it was basically chance. Nothing really but like getting sick. 

I cannot imagine that anyone with a personal connection to 9/11 particularly enjoyed the comparison, much less the realization that yet again, the pandemic had stolen one more sacred moment in our culture by making everything about itself. 

This is important to talk about because it continues the conversation we were having last week - our culture doesn't know how to have respectful conversations any more, it seems. Not about Jesus. Not about community. Not about life as we know it. Not even, as I said before, about itself. There is nothing in our culture that our culture is willing to recognize as sacred, nothing that is untouchable, nothing that it is not willing to twist and to commandeer and to use for its own advantage, without any regard for the way that it bulldozes through the most sacred moments of human experience. 

And we have to change this. We have to stop this. We have to start setting aside times and places and spaces for the sacred. And that means, in part, that we're going to have to start standing up to culture on this. 

So we'll talk some more about it in the coming days, of course. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Unknown

There is, of course, a glaring problem when we say that we must talk about the whole truth of Jesus when we speak of Him. And that is...none of us knows the whole truth. We are finite human beings who are limited in our understanding of divine things, and most of us are even more limited than that - we are limited by our experiences, by our circumstances, by our need of Him. Some of us just haven't met much of Jesus; others of us have met much more, but not all of Him. So if the standard is that we must speak the whole truth of Jesus, who among us can speak at all?

That's not the point. The point is not to silence everyone and to say that we cannot speak of God. The point is that we have to be mindful of the ways that we do speak. There is a way to talk about Jesus without knowing the whole truth but without pretending that there isn't one. 

And that's the problem that we run into in things like this pastor wrote - he was pretending that what he said about Jesus was the whole truth when anyone who knows Jesus at all knows that it is not. 

So what do we do?

First, we have to recognize the limits of our own knowledge. We have to be a people who say, Jesus is greater even than my understanding of Him. He is greater even than this. We can absolutely talk about the things that we love about Jesus and the things that make us love Him, but we have to be willing to say that what we know is so limited and that Jesus is even greater than we are able to say. 

Second, we have to be cautious about how we present Jesus. When you talk about Jesus, does He look an awful lot like you? Does He think an awful lot like you? Does He sound an awful lot like you? Then you're probably not presenting a full picture of Jesus. This is a moment when we have to watch ourselves and ask - are we talking about Jesus at all? Or are we really just talking about ourselves?

This is true, by the way, when we listen to someone else talk about Jesus, too. Does the Jesus they are talking about sound a little too much like the person who is doing the talking? Then, we should be wary of what is being said. 

Third, we can ask if what we are saying is true about the whole heart of Jesus that we do know. Most of us are aware when we are putting an emphasis in a certain place. Most of us can feel that tug of a competing truth, of something that makes what we're saying just a little bit messier. Most of us know this because in the back of our mind, we're just hoping no one else brings it up. When you're talking about Jesus, are you hoping there's no question-and-answer session? Are you hoping that no one's going to bring up that thing that you don't have an answer for in the context in which you're presenting Him? Then that, too, might be a clue that you're skewing the conversation a bit. 

The easy way to address this is to go back to guideline number one - be the first to bring it up. Admit that there is this other thing about Jesus that doesn't fit neatly in the box you're building right now, but that it is nonetheless just as true as the rest of the things you're saying. Put it out there that you're wrestling with this, and let it be okay to wrestle with it. Give others permission to wrestle with it. Make it a normal part of our faith journey that we wrestle with the truth about Jesus sometimes. That's okay. And you know what? It is a normal part of our faith journey, whether we like to talk about it or not. 

But let us like to talk about Jesus. Let us be a people who love talking about Him. What we understand, what we don't understand, what we love, what makes us love Him, what we know, what we're still learning. Let's talk about Jesus, and let's lead the conversation. 

But let's really talk about Jesus and not just talk about ourselves.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Talking About Jesus

It's not just pastors looking for a voice in the local paper who are misusing the name of Jesus as an instrument of shame, when they don't really want to talk about Jesus at all. The world at large - our culture at large - is doing this to us, too. 

And we're letting them. 

The world often just attaches the name of Jesus to whatever pet project it currently has, creating a dialogue around how Jesus would respond to this or that thing that happens to be making the headlines right now. Sometimes, it's right - it reminds us of the love that we are not showing, but should be. But often, right as we're starting to catch on to how the world is right, they push it just a little further, cut out part of the truth, and create this little shift from conviction to shame...and we follow them right into their trap. 

We're seeing this in a number of areas right now, and none of them are comfortable to talk about - precisely because of the way that the world has convinced us that Jesus wouldn't talk about them. He'd just affirm them, love them, and, well, ignore them and move on. So we've been taught that's what we're supposed to do. 

We could get into what some of these things look like, but at this point, that would be a distraction from the greater point that I want to make today, which is this: this is precisely the reason why, as Christians, have to be the ones leading the dialogue about Jesus - inside our walls and outside of them. 

This is why we have to push for full truth - for conviction - and not for half-truths, shame. This is why we have to push back against pastors who publish articles in local op-ed sections that aren't meant to talk about Jesus at all but only to use His name in vain. This is why we have to put our feet down and declare when someone is misrepresenting the heart of Christ by only including a small part of it. This is why we can't just be so quick to say, "oh, you said Jesus? Then, of course...." 

Because not always. Not always of course. Sometimes, absolutely not. And more often than that, not quite. 

We have to take back the conversation about Jesus. We have to be the ones to step up and start putting truth - full truth - on the table. We have to stand there when it's complicated and not pretend that it isn't. We have to talk about the things about Jesus that we love and that we agree with...and the things that we still wrestle with. We have to be honest about what we know, what we don't know. What we understand and what we don't understand. And we have to, at every turn, keep making Jesus bigger than we are. We have to keep making Him greater than our limited perspectives and personal prejudices. 

It's not easy, but it's what God calls us to do. He wants us to be ambassadors of Jesus; He doesn't want us to make Jesus an ambassador of us. 

And what's happened is that we stopped talking about Jesus. We stopped talking about the things about Him that still make us uncomfortable. We stopped talking about the things that challenge us. We stopped talking about the fullness of His truth and started diminishing Him to our smaller things and then...the world started diminishing Him to their smaller things. And now, we're stuck in a place where we're having all of these smaller conversations about Jesus that feel so big. And the reason they feel so big is because we know they are so small. We know they are so limited. We know they aren't hitting at the heart of Him, but it's hard for us to know how to stand up and say, wait a minute; let's make Jesus bigger than this. We've forgotten how to do that. 

But we must remember. We must. We have to take back the conversation about Jesus - first among ourselves and then in our world, in our culture. We have to stop letting the world use Him to shame us into something He never intended in the first place. We have to hold onto the full truth with both hands and declare that we're not letting go - not for a headline, not for a cause, not for a pastor with an opinion on these things, not for anything. Not for anyone who doesn't really want to talk about Jesus. 

And anyone who does? Let's talk. And let us, as those who love Him and who are loved by Him, lead the conversation and not merely follow it. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Shame or Conviction

Yesterday, I said that we cannot use the name of Jesus to shame others into doing what we want them to do or believing what we want them to believe or behaving in a way that makes us more comfortable. And undoubtedly, I know that there were Christians who were reading that post and saying, wait a minute. I'm not using Jesus to shame anyone; I'm using Jesus to convict them. 

Isn't that what the faith journey is all about? Being convicted? 

Conviction convinces us to change our hearts and minds. Conviction calls us to change our behavior. Conviction shows us where we are missing the mark on God and beckons us to living better. Conviction is a great thing in the life of a Christian, and we could all use a little conviction every now and then (or, okay, a lot). 

But proper conviction in the Christian tradition requires full truth. It requires a holistic approach. It depends upon the revelation of the whole heart of God and not just the parts that seem convenient at the time. And that's what's missing from so many of the conversations that we're having that we claim are about Jesus. 

Over the past two days, we've looked at a conversation about the same topic from two different perspectives, and what's happened is that we've seen two different Jesuses. We've seen two different images of the Son of God, each presented from the perspective of the person doing the talking. Each agreeing wholly with what the person doing the talking already believes. Neither one of these has actually presented a true image of God. Neither one has even desired to. 

That's why what we're talking about here is shame and not conviction. 

Shame works in these half-truths; it is the only way that it can work. To understand that, we have to look no further than the Garden of Eden, where shame was first introduced. Shame convinced Adam and Eve of all kinds of things, things that they already knew to be true - that they were naked, that God was in the garden with them, that they should not eat from the tree in the center of the garden. Adam and Eve already knew all of these things; they already lived with all of these truths. But shame convinced them they were bad because of it. 

How does that happen? It's because shame slants the perspective just enough that what is true seems a little shady all of a sudden. It seems less than good, like it's some kind of trap they've just been caught in. They've always been naked, and they never noticed until they already felt exposed. Now, they're ashamed because they're naked, but they've been naked their whole lives without ever once thinking it was a bad thing. Nakedness is a half-truth, missing the context of being a glorious part of God's design for them. They lost the glory of the image of God in their nakedness, and it became a shame for them - because it wasn't wholly true any more how they saw it. 

Adam and Eve weren't convicted of their sin; they were terrified of God. That's shame. That's not holy. That's not what God wants for us. 

Yet, that is exactly the aim of the article that we saw on Monday (and the alternate version we looked at yesterday). Written from these angles, the goal is not to convict, but to condemn. It's to make the reader feel guilty in front of God, to believe that God is disappointed in him or her for not wearing a mask (or for wearing a mask). The goal of these articles is shame. And never holy. 

So we have to stop doing this to each other. And more importantly, we have to stop doing this to Jesus. We have to stop using His name to shame one another. Not just because it is unholy, but because in doing so, we are losing the name of Jesus altogether. And we're losing control of the conversation. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Another Angle

Maybe you read yesterday's post and you're thinking to yourself, okay, maybe this pastor didn't want to actually talk about Jesus, but at the very least, he's not wrong about Jesus. Everything he implied about Jesus is true. 

And maybe it is. Maybe you have a point there. 

But the truth is that this article could have been written from someone with a different view on the masking issue who could have also said true things about Jesus. So the question becomes - what do you do then? 

Someone could have written this article to say, would Jesus wear a mask? Would Jesus do what the authorities told Him to do, without questioning it? Would Jesus do something that decades of research into creating meaningful, effective masks have already shown doesn't work, just to make someone else more comfortable? Would Jesus let the world decide how He responds to the world's problems?

Or would Jesus stand up for truth, even when it's uncomfortable? Would Jesus push back against authorities whose motives may or may not be pure? Would Jesus live a better way in light of what is being pitched to Him as a good way? 

And all of a sudden, we have some very true things about Jesus - that He stands for truth and that He is not controlled by worldly authorities. These things are just as true about Jesus as saying that He cares for other persons and that He isn't troubled by the inconveniences of being a human in community. 

So...which is it? Would Jesus wear a mask? 

This is exactly what makes this kind of rhetoric so dangerous, not only to us as human beings trying to figure out how to live together, but for us as Christian human beings trying to figure out how best to represent Jesus in our world. When we just use the name of Jesus, without really wanting to talk holistically about Him, we are able to prooftext nearly anything we want and claim that it is holy. 

Even if it is anything but. 

We have to be clear and say that there is nothing in the Scripture that tells us whether Jesus would have worn a mask or not. There is evidence to say that He would have, and there is evidence to say that He wouldn't have. There are very real characteristics of God that we could use to validate our position on either side of this debate. 

The trouble comes when we use only the name of Jesus and the parts of Him that happen to agree with us in order to make a point not for Jesus, but against those who disagree with us. And that's what is happening in this article. This pastor doesn't want to talk about Jesus; he wants to condemn those who don't agree with him by using the name of Jesus as a burden of shame. 

Do you think that Jesus would ever use His name to shame someone? Do you think that's how He wants us to do it? 

(Sadly, I know that some of you are probably nodding your heads right now, saying, yeah, if that's what it takes. But let's be clear - our God is not a God of shame. He covers shame with tender mercy; He doesn't weaponize it.)

Some of this, we can handle just by being discerning readers/listeners. We have to be aware of times when someone - Christian or not - is using the name of Jesus this way. We have to understand that just because someone uses the name of Jesus, that doesn't mean that person is really talking about Him. 

What's harder is when we must be mindful as speakers of Christ. What's harder is when we have to catch ourselves in moments when we are prone to do this same thing - to invoke the name of Jesus when we're not talking about Him; we're talking about our neighbors and trying to shame them. 

For now, let's keep talking about this - there's a lot more to unpack in this conversation. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Let's Talk About Jesus

Last week, I shared a brief story about this on my Facebook, but the truth is that it deserves much more space than I am able to give it in a single social media post. So I've decided to move it over to the blog this week and expand on the idea so that we can really get down into it.

It started a few weeks ago when one of my friends posted an op-ed piece from a man claiming to be a pastor. In this piece, the pastor asked what seemed like a simple question - would Jesus wear a mask? 

The problem is...this pastor didn't actually want to talk about Jesus at all. 

What this pastor wanted to talk about was masks. He wanted to talk about his opinion on masks. And he wanted to talk about what he believes about persons who do not wear masks. 

It's not too hard to see this if you actually read the article and look past his mention of Jesus. The entire rest of the article paints a caricature of those who choose not to wear masks, always framing these objections under the guise of, "Does this sound like Jesus?" 

Would Jesus be complaining about His freedoms being taken away? Would Jesus be screaming about oppression? Would Jesus be touting conspiracy theories about the nature of the virus or the efficacy of masks themselves? Would Jesus be concerned about His own comfort or about the way He looks when He wears a mask over His face? Any idea that you've ever heard that a person who advocates for masks uses to paint a caricature of a person who does not wear a mask, this guy threw it into his article and tried to attach it to Jesus. 

But again, he wasn't really talking about Jesus; he was talking about persons with whom he disagrees. 

He goes on to ask, "or" would Jesus care about others around Him? Would Jesus be willing to sacrifice Himself for the good of others? Would Jesus wear a mask for the good of those who are asking Him to wear a mask? 

Still, we're not talking about Jesus. We're talking about what this guy personally believes about masks and the persons who wear them (or don't). 

Not once in the entire article does this pastor reference the actual Jesus. He is only using the name of Jesus to try to guilt his readers into a desired reaction, to try to tell them - without any proof from the life of Jesus at all - what they would do if they were actually good and righteous persons. What they would do if they really wanted to be like Jesus. What they would do if they were really the Christians that they claim that they are. 

And the implication in something like this is that if you aren't wearing a mask, then Jesus is disappointed in you. Because, hey, Jesus would wear a mask. 

But would He? 

This pastor wants us to believe that Jesus would wear a mask just because this pastor says that Jesus would wear a mask, without any evidence at all except for the pastor's own caricaturization of persons who do not wear masks as being un-Jesus-like. And yet, Christians all over social media were re-posting this, sharing this, commenting on this in massive agreement because...he used the name of Jesus. Even without saying anything about Jesus at all

We have to talk about this. You know that we have to talk about this. We're going to start tomorrow with something that might surprise you.... 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

One Thing

Sometimes, we think that faith is this big thing with a lot of pieces, that we have so much to put together and to hold together and to try to figure out when we need it. Sometimes, we think that faith is hard...and that if it's not hard, if we're not doing it the hard way, it won't be effective. It won't be good for us. God won't be good to us. 

Yesterday, I talked about how, when we pray, we ought to pray out of what we know about God. We ought to affirm the promises that we hold onto about who He is and how He loves us. And I absolutely believe this. Not only do I believe this, but I know it to be valuable. Of this, I am absolutely sure. 

But what if you're someone who doesn't have a lot of experience with God? What if you're someone who is new to the faith? What if you're someone who has never needed your faith in the way that you need it now? What if you're someone who has believed in God, but has never put Him to the test - has never called on Him before? What if you don't have twenty things that you know for sure, that you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, about God? What if you don't know?

This is the story of more persons than we think. It is the story even of more Christians than we think. And I say that just to let you know that you're not alone and that you don't have to be ashamed of this. Hey, the last thing you need right now is shame on top of whatever else you're dealing with, right? So listen, it's okay if you don't have this kind of depth of faith affirmations on which to draw. 

What I want to suggest, if this is your story, is this: just pick one thing. Just pick one thing you know about God and start there. Maybe it's something you've experienced first-hand, so you know it for certain in your own life. Maybe it's something you've read in the Bible that you just desperately want to be true right now. Claim it as true. Don't ask God if He's faithful; tell Him that you know He said that He is and that you're going to trust Him on that. God, You have said that You are faithful, and I need a measure of that faith right now. It's as simple as that. 

Maybe what you've got that you know for sure about God doesn't have anything to do with what you need Him for right now. Maybe God brought you out of a dangerous situation, so you know Him as a Deliverer or as a place of Safety, but what you need right now is a powerful God or maybe a tender one. That's okay. Call out to God and tell Him that you know that He is Deliverer. Start there. Pray that you know that He is Safe. Start with that. Then tell Him what else you need to know about Him, without putting parameters on what that has to look like. 

When we pray a powerful prayer, what we're really doing is asking God to be God. We are confessing that He is God. We are committing ourselves to His God-ness and declaring that because He is good, because we know Him, we trust Him. Even if we don't really trust Him right now. Even if we're not sure. Even if it's hard. Tell Him you trust Him. 

Because, as I said yesterday, what this does is helps us to break a pattern of self-interest, of self-obsession. It gets our focus off of ourselves and off of our problems and off of our anxiety and onto something bigger than us - it gets our focus on God. It makes Him the primary thing in our lives. And what we need in moments where we're burdened and for God to be the primary thing in our lives. Isn't it?

That's why it doesn't matter what we know about God; what matters is that we're willing to declare it. What matters is that we're willing to make it the thing. That we're willing to make God the thing. Not ourselves. Not our great ideas. Not our worldly wisdom. Not our limited perspective. Our God. 

So if you don't have twenty things you can just start rattling off, that's okay. Start with one. Just one. Any one thing that you know. 

And grow from there. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

A Way to Pray

If the ways that we are tempted to pray - either with arrogance that we know what is best for us or with resignation to a God that we know hardly at all - are only adding to our anxiety and distress, what is the better way? As we have asked so many times over the course of our Christian journeys, how, then, should we pray?

We should pray in full recognition of the things that we know about God. 

The most simple way to do this is to frame our payers with a simple phrase: "God, I know You ______." God, I know You are good. God, I know You are Healer. God, I know You love me. God, I know You have a plan. God, I know You work all things together. God, I know You are already working on this. Whatever your prayer might be, for whatever situation, start with what you know about God. 

This addresses both of the problems that our lesser prayer gives us. It takes away the self-centeredness of our arrogant prayer, which, we must confess, only keeps us focused on the trouble in front of us. When we keep praying incessantly for a certain answer, for a certain solution, for one particular intervention, we're focused on the problem. It becomes the dominant narrative in our prayer, just like it is in our mind, and it's no wonder that we end up more anxious than when we first started to pray. Praying what we know of God changes our focus to the things that we are most sure of in the world - that God is good. That He is God. All of a sudden, this is what we're thinking about - our God, not our trouble. 

In the same way, when we pray in resignation to a God we claim to know nothing about, then all we know of our lives is that we are victims of them. We feel the weight of everything we don't know weighing down on us, and we feel powerless. No wonder our burdens seem so troublesome, so heavy, so oppressive. But when we pray what we know about God, we remember not just what we know about God, but what He knows about us - we remember that we are loved, that God loves us. We remember all of the ways He's already worked in our world and in our lives, and we can breathe a little easier because we don't feel so alone, so abandoned, so victimized. We don't feel like we're at the mercy of our lives; we remember the great mercy He showers upon us. 

Inevitably, when I begin to pray this way, I always end up at the same place. When I start to pray what I know for sure of God, I build my confidence in Him with every phrase. Every time I mention a characteristic that I know is true of God's heart, I become more settled in myself. And eventually, I come to remember - and to know in my heart - that God's already got this, whatever it is. My prayer quickly becomes, "I know You've got this, Lord." 

And from there, it's just a quick step to remember all of the ways He's already worked things out in my life beyond my wildest imagination, all of the other hard moments and dark days that He's brought me through in typical glorious God fashion. I remember all of the times I haven't felt alone, that I haven't felt abandoned, that I have known without a doubt that God is with me. And my prayer quickly comes to, "I know You've got me, Lord." I know You are holding onto me. I know You are comforting me. I know You are taking care of me. 

That's what praying this way does for us. It gets us out of ourselves and puts us into God's hands in this powerful way that actually does soothe our souls. When we come to these two simple conclusions - I know You've got this, God, because I know You've got me - all that anxiety just...disappears. A peace comes to settle in. I'm not stressed any more. I'm not worried any more. I'm not overwhelmed any more. I just come to this place of rest that puts me firmly in God's hands - the hands of a God that I know. And I know that I know Him because that is what I have just been praying. All the things that I know about Him. 

In a moment of anxiety, or despair, or grief, or whatever, there is just no substitute for this kind of prayer. And it will never, never leave you empty. 

But, you probably knew that. That is, if you know that this is the God who fills you. (And you do know that, right?) 

Lord, I know You ________. 

Lord, I know You. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Knowing God

If it's true that many Christians don't love to pray, especially when they are most in need of praying, then we have to ask why that is. And the answer is simply that too many Christians have never experienced the power of prayer. They have never experienced God answering their prayer in a meaningful way. And that is because too many Christians are too often praying for the wrong things. 

We've heard this before, and we just sort of groan and say, yeah, yeah, and resign ourselves to forsaking our own best prayer in favor of simply giving ourselves over to "whatever God wants to do." But this doesn't help, either. In fact, this makes things worse because it gives up our last bit of connection to our own circumstances and makes us victims to our own lives and, worse, victims to God - the very same God that we had hoped would help us. 

The trouble is that our prayer often falls on either side of the sweet spot of the heart of God, and this is what leaves us more distressed than when we came. 

We usually start by praying for our needs. Or rather, for our wants. We have invested ourselves in figuring out exactly what it is that will soothe our souls in this situation, and we know exactly what we want God to do for us. So we pray these super-specific prayers for how we expect God to act if He loves us, and then we maybe throw in a little guilt for Him, too, because He does love us, right? Well, God, time to prove it. Here is the best way You can show that You love me right now. 

The problem, as we all know, is that we don't always know what's best for ourselves, even when we think that we do. Even when we're absolutely convinced that we know what is good, we might be wrong. And we even less often know what is best for the glory of God. So many of the good and beautiful things that we have learned about faith, faithfulness, and the Father have come through seasons of adversity in someone's life. Imagine, then, how much far less we'd know if everyone just had their adversity taken away because they prayed for that. It would change everything that we know about God - and not for the better. We cannot settle for a God who makes our lives easy when we have a God willing to make them holy. 

So then we go the opposite direction and claim that we know nothing about God at all, that we can't know anything, that we are just pawns on His chessboard, and we resign ourselves. We give Him permission to move us around however He wants, and we think that there's nothing we can do about it and nothing we can know about it. That God just controls our lives however He wants to, and our most faithful act is just...letting Him do it. 

But this doesn't satisfy our souls, either. This can't be what the faithful life is really all about.

It isn't. 

Our best prayer, then, has to fall somewhere in between. It has to fall into that sweet spot of knowing God and His love and surrendering to Him, without demands and without resignation. It comes in this place that we might call "boldly approaching" the throne of God - knowing the very character of the King and trusting in His goodness and mercy while at the same time recognizing His authority and power and our position of surrender and our need of mercy. 

What does this look like? We'll look at that tomorrow.  

Monday, September 6, 2021

A Matter of Prayer

It's no secret that we are a people burdened by anxiety in a world riddled by it. Most of our anxiety comes from a sense of our own vulnerability and the realization that we do not have as much control over things as we would like to have. It's a condition that affects almost every human being on this planet; we cannot escape it. But we, as a people of faith, have an ace up our sleeve when it comes to all of this. 

We have prayer. 

That sounds cliche to a lot of persons, even to a lot of persons of faith. Ugh...prayer. What is with Christians who are always suggesting that we "just pray?" 

To a lot of Christians, praying doesn't mean a whole lot. It's something we do, but we don't have to do it with a lot of gusto or a lot of particular interest's basically something that God has on our star chart. You know, we get a sticker if we do it, but we don't understand really why we should be doing it in the first place. 

Oh, sure, they tell us it's because it brings us closer to God. They tell us it is because it connects our heart to His. They tell us it is because it helps us to exercise and to grow our faithfulness. They tell us all kinds of things about why prayer is good and why we should do it. 

But tell a kid every good thing about having a clean bedroom, and that still doesn't convince him that cleaning his room is a good thing. He still doesn't want to do it. He still doesn't understand. 

It's not until many years later, when this child is truly fully responsible for his own living space, that he comes to understand the importance of cleanliness and organization (hopefully). In the same way, it's not until we come to a more mature place in our faith that we understand the importance of prayer. 

And it's usually these persons in more mature places in their faith that are the ones insisting that the rest of us should pray, especially in times of need - when the burdens of the world and the weight of being human are simply more than we should bear. 

If we're being honest, one of the biggest problems that we have with prayer is often that most of us don't believe our prayer is being answered. And if our prayer is not being answered, we are left with a heavy question: does God not hear me...or is God not good? 

These seem to be the only answers when our prayer goes unanswered. These seem to be the things that we jump to. If God does not respond to the anguish of my soul when I am praying, is it because He doesn't hear it...or because He doesn't care? We are so wrapped up in our own perspective, in our own personal desires, that we can't fathom that it could be anything else. 

Then, however, someone will step forward and tell us that we would be better off using our prayer to resign ourselves to God's will. That it would be best if we just give up everything, empty ourselves, lay ourselves bare, and "let" God do whatever it is that He wants to do. 

I am here to tell you - that doesn't work, either. God never calls us to be people who resign ourselves to Him. He doesn't want us to be a people who just give up and ride the waves of His Will wherever they passively might lead us. This isn't the relationship God wants with us; it never was. God doesn't want us to just "let" Him be God. 

But I do think that our prayer often misses the mark of what God desires from us. And more importantly than that, I think our prayer misses the mark of what we want for ourselves. And I believe it is because we are praying weak prayers that we do not experience the strength of God, especially when we are most in need of it. 

Why is our prayer so weak and how can we change it? We'll talk about that tomorrow. 

Friday, September 3, 2021


If you're not feeling at least some measure of anxiety right now, you would be in a very small minority. Our whole world has been shaken and the things around which most of us built our lives are showing themselves to be the unstable foundations that we never wanted to admit that they were. And beyond that, even the things that are supposed to be strong and stable - things like family and community and even church - are shaking. It's hard to not have at least one nagging thought in your mind right now. It's hard to not have at least one thing that keeps you up at night. 

Most of us can feel our blood boiling when we read through social media, no matter what we believe about whatever issues seem most pressing to the world today. We see others who continually choose against what we believe is in their - and our - best interest, and we can't fathom how anyone can be so...dumb. So shallow. So selfish. So whatever. 

The truth is, we're not really as upset with them as we think we are. What's happening is that our anxiety over a particular situation has led us to adopt a certain position in order to give us some sense of a measure of control. If we believe X about Y, then we can convince ourselves that we have a handle on it, that we know what we're doing, that we can see a way out. And then, when someone else comes along and doesn't follow our master plan, we feel our control slipping away and we start to feel all of our vulnerability and insecurity all over again. 

Why can't everyone else just see that I'm right about this and work together to give me my life back? (At our most noble, we're certain this gives everyone their life back, but the truth is that if it did, it's what everyone would be choosing and there would be no debate about such things. And that's where so much of our tension between folks comes from.)

Oh, we couch this in all kinds of other things. Most notably, we try to call it "moral indignation." That is, we believe ourselves to be morally correct in our assessments and therefore, anyone who does not agree with us is an immoral buffoon. They are "evil." They are unjust. They are selfish. They are ones doing "this" to all of us. And so on we go until our hate builds....

...our hate builds because we can bear hate far better than vulnerability. 

It's not long before our desperate clinging to our own sense of control starts to permeate every facet of our being. It dominates the way that we deal with our families. It dictates the circumstances under which we are willing to engage in aspects of public life, everything from going to the grocery store to sending our children to school to attending church services.

And it's not long before our desperate clinging comes to dominate even our life of faith. This is most true in our life of prayer, and it is manifested in two different ways: either we pray for God's judgment (or, more mildly, His conviction) on those who aren't doing as we believe they should do or we pray for exactly what our own sense of control demands God do for us in this situation. 

Neither is particularly helpful and actually, both of these approaches tend to worsen our anxieties because they keep them playing out in front of us all the time. They make them "the" thing in our lives, the one thing that drives all other things. In fact, they even bring us to the place where if God Himself doesn't play by our rules - the rules we've set up for ourselves because we alone know the way out of this mess - then we are ready to disown Him, too.

Are you feeling this? Is this sounding familiar? (Probably not. It's hard for most of us to consider that we might be acting out of our own selfish need for control when we feel so downright morally justified and even gregarious for offering our wisdom to the world.) Take a good look at your own heart...are you feeling this? You're not alone. 

We're going to talk about anxiety and prayer this week. It's important. Stay tuned.  

Christian Community

All week, we've been looking at the world's criticism that Christians ought to be socialists - that this is what Jesus has called us to economically. And we've built our response around the basic idea that Jesus never called us to an economy; He called us to a community. This includes several uncomfortable truths, the most uncomfortable of which is that Jesus never once called us to eliminate poverty. 

So where does this leave us? 

It leaves us in the same place that so much of Christian truth leaves the Cross. It leaves us picking up the burdens of living in the flesh and carrying one another to a hill outside the city, outside the culture. It leaves us demonstrating, by the lives that we live, that the Christian call is a better way than even the finest wisdom of culture. 

Culture insists that socialism is the better way. It insists that socialism answers the call of Christ on our lives. It insists that if we're looking for a way of love and provision and equality, then socialism is the way to go, and it struggles - as most of us do - to swallow the truth that Christ actually spoke. (And, as we saw earlier this week, not always Christ, but sometimes Paul or Luke. Not that the world understands the difference.)

What we have to do, then, is to live our Christian call to community in such a way that we show the world what Christ truly has to offer. 

We have to live self-sacrificially and demonstrate that our generous, free giving of grace to one another is better - for us and for others - than the forced redistribution of resources. We to have to live with a humble posture toward one another that is always open to learning from another perspective. We have to live with eyes wide open, valuing one another and the diverse experiences we are all having here. We have to not only leave the edges of our fields unharvested, but recognize and honor the dignity of those who come to glean from them. 

We have to start shouting about the widow and her two mites and not let the world change the narrative to question how the widow only has two mites to begin with and how, then, the church must be failing her. We have to instead be prepared to testify to the thousands of small contributions made by the weakest and poorest among us...and declare humbly, yet boldly, how we simply could not live without them. That widow's two mites may not pay many bills, but the example she sets is far more valuable and cannot be included on any tally sheet. 

We have to honor the woman of ill-repute who brings the most expensive of all her treasures and breaks it open in front of God for us. And we have to resist the world's temptation to think that we owe this woman a bottle of new perfume (at the very least). Instead, we must confess how she convicts us, how she calls us to a greater faith of our own.

We must, at every turn, show our true engagement with one another in the kind of blessed and beautiful and yes, broken, community that God truly calls us to, a community that can never be achieved by simply moving numbers around on a balance sheet. This kind of community requires us to know one another's stories, to get involved in one another's struggles, to honestly assess our own wealth and giftedness, to be a people not just of love, but of grace. This community calls us to so much, and we get so much more out of it than we would any economy where the whole goal is that we are all, each one of us, "comfortable." 

We need to show the world what a little holy discomfort can do for us. What it can do for them. 

Does Jesus call His followers to socialism? No. He calls us to something much, much greater. 

He calls us to community.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Called to Community

We've looked at some difficult ideas already this week, ideas that run counter to what our world tells us is important. We started by recognizing that two ideas so important to our world - politics and economics - are two things that Jesus deliberately had very little to say about. And yesterday, we saw how the Christian community values poverty and how Jesus gave us no command at all to eliminate it, but rather, taught us how to honor it. 

And what it all boils down to, for the Christian, is this: God has not called us to live in an economy, but to live in a community. 

That's a tough pill for the world to swallow, but it's true. And the world would like to twist this to tell us that this, too, means God has called us to socialism, but those very things are incompatible. God has not called us to live in an economy (i.e. socialism) and socialism leaves a lot to be desired for this thing called "community." 

God's economy (God's community) cannot be forced. You cannot just take from one and give to another and call it good. You cannot force someone to live according to a principle, even a principle that God has espoused. Just as you can't make someone stop sinning, you cannot make someone economically just. 

God's economy runs on grace, pure and simple. There is something far different about a man who sees his brother in need and chooses to step into that void and offer assistance than a man who is deemed to have too much and is required, then, to give it to his brother. 

God has called us to live with eyes wide open to one another...and to ourselves. He wants us to see each other, not numbers. He wants us to honor one another. He wants us to have a real perspective on who we are, who others are, who He is. He wants us to learn to live and to love like He does - graciously. And grace fundamentally requires inequality. 

We hate that. We do. Our world hates that, and it has taught us to shudder at the notion of inequality anywhere. And the truth is that those of us who have ever been on the receiving end of grace, in whatever form, hate that feeling of inequality that makes us stand in need of it. We don't like having needs in the world. We don't like feeling our emptiness, our weakness, our void. On the other end, we don't like feeling "guilty" for having more, for having resources that others don't have. Inequality keeps us off-balance to the depths of our soul. 

But it's supposed to. 

It's supposed to because that's the only way we ever find grace. That's the only way we ever find love. That's the only way that we ever find each other in the way that God intended us to find one another. And it's the only way we ever find Him. 

Inequality gives us perspective that we just couldn't have if everyone was on equal footing. It gives us the opportunity to learn from one another, and more importantly, it keeps us from putting too much emphasis on the wrong things. If we were to have one metric that guided our entire understanding of the world - let's say economics - then that would be all that we would ever see. But if we live in a world where that one thing is not the thing, where there are actually many things, then we get to learn something new from one another every day. 

I get to learn from those richer than me what it means to be generous; I get to learn from those poorer than me what it means to be tenacious. I get to learn graciousness from both. I get to learn from those sicker than me what it means to be strong; I get to learn from those healthier than me what it means to be whole. I get to learn from those smarter than me what it means to be observant; I get to learn from those still learning what it means to be curious. Everyone in every place that is somewhere different than we are has something to teach us About love. About being human. About being faithful. 

This is God's beautiful design for community. It requires that we are walking different paths from one another. It requires that we experience different things. It requires that we fight different battles and have different struggles and achieve different victories. It requires that we put emphasis on different things. Socialism....can never accomplish this. It can never make us the people - or the persons - that God has called us to be. 

Only real community can do that.