Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Talking Points

We have reached another series of talking points in America, which generally comes out of either crisis or trauma. We are pushed to our edge on some issue or another and for awhile, it's all we can talk about. Or rather, shout about, as all most of us do is scream at one another and anyone who cares (or dares) to disagree with us. 

These types of moments in our culture, which seem to be coming along more often these days, are a real crisis point for the church. 

You might be thinking that already. You might be among those thinking that the church really has to figure out how to respond to these sorts of things or we're going to lose our "relevancy" or something like that. You might be thinking that the church has historically dropped the ball on these things and that it's time for Christians to stand up and stand with the world, stand with our culture, on these deep cries of the heart. 

Or maybe you're someone who believes that moments like this one were made for the church, that this is exactly where the love and grace and goodness of God ought to be shining and that if we don't step up now, then when are we going to teach the world about Jesus? 

On one hand, yes to all of that. On the other hand, not quite. I think the crisis point we're in is even tougher than this.

What we're tempted to do, as a people who understand the brokenness of the world and the consequences of sin, is simply talk about sin. We can't start spewing our church language all around, the kind of language that understands things like grief and grace and redemption and the Promise that was once wrapped in swaddling clothes and a few decades after that, in grave clothes. We can't talk about how the world is broken and it's not supposed to be like this and how what's really wrong with the world is our own depraved hearts. 

We can't do this because the world doesn't understand the paradigm. To them, it's just talk. Just empty, random talk that isn't actually doing anything, although we know better. We know that what we are doing is drawing into our holy grief because that is the only thing that draws us to God. We know that through is the way out. But the world doesn't understand that, and it sits back and scoffs at us for what it calls "thoughts and prayers" - empty gestures, it says, that don't do anything for the heart of the problem. 

So the other thing that we're tempted to do, because we can't do what we'd naturally do best, is to adopt the world's language about all of this stuff and stand in the front of the picket lines and lead the prayer before the riot. We use the same words our culture is using, and we affirm their ideas about things. And then, we slap the name of Jesus on it - because there's no way we're letting a good cultural moment when everyone is paying attention get away from us, not this fantastic opportunity for "evangelism" (okay, just mentioning the name of Jesus is not evangelism, and it's certainly not evangelism to simply tie Him to the cultural tides of the day, but again, I digress) and then, this strange thing happens where the world starts to say things like, "even the church agrees with us." Even those Christians, those fuddy-duddies who have everything backward and put our culture under attack, agree with us...and so does their Jesus. 

And we can come up with some pretty good ones, too. We can twist all kinds of words to sound like God's Word if we want to. We can spin a story and preach a sermon and make even the most devout, the most studied, the most diligent and discipled Christians among us have to think hard for a minute. Or maybe even two. Wait a minute...what? Is that what Jesus is really about? 

Often, sadly, the answer is no. And that's why this is part of the crisis point for Christians. Because we're talking like the world, we're using their language, and we're lending them our Jesus. It looks like  a win-win-win, doesn't it? We maintain our relevancy, the world hears the message of Jesus, and Jesus gets a place at the table in the conversation. It's everything we - I mean, He - could be hoping for, right? 

Yet don't forget that I've called this a crisis point, and it is. It's not the best thing that could be happening right now. It's not the best thing that could be happening for the church. It's not the best thing that could be happening for the culture. And it's not the best thing that could be happening for Christ. 

Why on earth not? 

Stay tuned. 

Monday, May 30, 2022


It's Memorial Day in America, a day set aside to honor the sacrifice of the men and women who bravely served their country but never came home. Which means it is also a day in America where you're going to see a lot of this: 

"As we remember the sacrifice of our soldiers, don't forget the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for you!"

Or one that has been extremely popular in recent years: "Only two forces have ever volunteered to die for you - the American soldier and Jesus Christ." 

Christians, please don't do this. I'm begging you - stop doing this. Now. 

Somewhere along the way, we got it drilled into our heads that in order to be good Christians, we have to make everything about Jesus, all the time. It doesn't matter what's happening in the world or what the circumstances are or who is involved, we're supposed to take every opportunity that we get to make sure that we preach the message of Jesus and throw His name into every conversation. This is the way that everyone in the world will come to know that Jesus loves them. And more importantly, it's how they will know that we love Jesus.

(We don't say this last part out loud, but it's sadly true in too many cases. It would be more convincing, I suppose, if our lives were more full of the things of Jesus than the words of Him - or words about Him - but hey now....) 

What's happened as a result of this understanding that we have is that we have become a people who hijack every cultural occurrence and try to bend it to our evangelistic will. Everything becomes a moment for outreach, but it's not real outreach - it mentions Christ, but it does not honor Him. 

Here's what I mean: when we just throw Jesus around like this, when we try to work Him into every conversation, when we blast through the sanctity of our cultural moments, this isn't what Jesus wants. It's not the way He lived His life. It's not how He taught His disciples to live. It's not the example He set. It does not honor Him. And it doesn't make us the kind of persons He's called us to be.

Remember that God has always told us to love Him first, but to love our neighbors, too. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

How do you think our neighbor feels when we tell her that the sacrifice her family made in the military - her husband who is never coming home - is an incredible gift to all of us, but that he's no Jesus? He didn't save us from our sins. Sure, maybe he did something for our freedoms, but let's just take this day meant to honor him and turn it toward what really matters - Jesus. Doesn't sound very honoring, does it?

These men and women died in love of their neighbor, and here we are, constantly trying to turn the second commandment into the first because...why? Because we feel more Christian-y when we're talking about Jesus? 

It's a slap in the face to our neighbors, to our brothers and sisters, and to the Jesus we're claiming to honor, who told us from the very beginning that they'll know we are Christians by how we love one another

So stop with all of the nonsense. Stop with trying to take a beautiful moment of neighborly love hostage to some perception you're trying to create about your holiness. This is already a sacred moment in our togetherness; you don't have to baptize it any more than that. 

Love one another. Honor the sacrifices of those who have laid down their lives for you. Honor the sacrifice of every man and woman, every brother and sister who isn't Jesus. In doing so, you will honor Him. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Weather

So what's your excuse? 

When you're standing in the pouring rain and your life is being called out, what is it that keeps you from stopping your sin right then, right there? What kind of weather are you waiting for? 

Listen, we all do it. Most of us do it more than once. Our lives come to this point where we know that the way that we're living is no longer sustainable, and yet, we can't make a different choice. We don't try something different. We convince ourselves that what we really need is to continue doing our broken thing just a little bit longer until the weather is better and the ground a little bit more stable, and then, we'll quit. 

The old joke is absolutely accurate. What's the most popular day to start a diet? Tomorrow

Addicts do this when they are trying to quit. Their life is falling apart, their job is hanging by a thread, their family is already halfway out the door and they know that they have to stop using whatever substance it is that's led them here. But at the same time, all of the stress of having all of these big changes just hanging over their head convinces them that they still need that substance until all of this settles down. 

But it doesn't settle down; it blows up. The whole thing explodes. The whole fragile network that exists right there on the edge of getting your life back shatters and then, well, what's the point? Might as well keep drinking or smoking or toking now. It's all done for. 

Persons trying to get away from pornography decide that they're going to watch one more time, for old times' sake, and then that will be it. But then that one time triggers a memory of another time that they have to revisit, which triggers a memory of another time...and before they know it, right on the edge of getting out, they get sucked right back in. 

Have you ever known a gambler who put money on their ability to stop?

We just keep doing this to ourselves. We get right to the edge of finally breaking our chains, of getting out of our bad habits, of stopping our sin, and we have all of these things that convince us that now is just not the time. Today is not the day. The circumstances aren't quite right. The weather just isn't favorable. 

How soaking wet do you have to be to realize that when your sin is catching up to you, it's already raining

The men in Ezra's time stood outside all day in the pouring rain to listen to how terrible their sin was and to be convicted of the ways in which it was putting not only their lives, but the community of Israel, in jeopardy. How it was hurting them. How it was keeping them from God's best for them. How it was breaching the covenant that they had with Him. And sometime in the afternoon, it comes down that there's only one way forward from here, and that was for them to stop living in their sin. And all of a sudden, the men of Israel all look up and like hey, wait, whoa. That sounds good and everything, but not right now. Right now, it's raining. 

Brothers, you are already soaked. What in heaven's name is five more minutes, or five more hours for that matter, to do one righteous thing? To make one good choice? To turn yourselves back toward God? 

If you don't want to do it right now because you might get wet, it just doesn't make sense. At this point in the journey, all we'd have to do is throw a little shampoo on your head and at least your hair would be clean. 

What about your heart?

So what's your excuse? What are you waiting for? What kind of weather would you find favorable to stop sinning when, my friend, it's already pouring in your life? 

What are you afraid will happen if you take five more minutes, five more seconds, five more breaths right now to do one righteous thing? To make one good choice? To turn yourself back toward God?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Pouring Rain

When Ezra is told about the sin of the Israelite exiles who have returned to Jerusalem, he is overcome with grief. His troubled down to his very soul. He takes a moment to manage his own heart, and then he calls together the people. 

What happens next is one of the most poignant, and somewhat laughable, examples of the human condition that we have ever seen. 

All of Israel gathers together in the courtyard of the Temple, they come into the most holy of places in their midst, and they stand there as they listen to the charges against them, as they listen to Ezra talk to them about this great sin that they have committed, as they hear the word of God regarding what they have done, and as they talk about what must come next, what they must do to atone for their sin and set their tiny community right before God again. And they do this, standing in this courtyard for hours, in the pouring rain. 

When all of this is done, they affirm everything that they've heard, confess their sin, and promise to take care of the problem as quickly as they can. They commit to doing the thing that will glorify God and restore the heart of Jerusalem - they will get rid of all of their foreign wives, every single one of them. Every man in Israel says he will do it; from the least to the greatest and everyone in between. 

But not right now. 

Because it's raining. 

You can read this story in the late chapters of Ezra, and if you do, pay attention to this.

These men have stood in this courtyard and listened to themselves accused for most of an entire day in the pouring rain. They have promised to do the very hard thing required to atone for their sin and to take care of the problem that has permeated their community. They have even said this is "very good." Everyone is on board with this plan and knows it is the best thing for all of them. 

But as they stand there sopping wet, dripping with rain that is still falling on their heads, rain that has not deterred them one breath from standing in the assembly, they decide that they cannot possibly do this "very good" thing right now because it is raining and they are wet. They can't just stop sinning right now; the weather conditions are not favorable. 

Sound familiar? 

I laugh at this story because it is so very thoroughly a human story. It's the same story that so many of us are living even today in our own lives. Yes, yes, we say; it would be very good of us to stop sinning, and we should definitely do this. But not right now. The weather conditions are not favorable. Not today; it's raining. 

Never mind that we're already sopping wet. 

Honestly, what would a few more minutes in the rain have done to those men of Israel, if those were the few minutes that they took to correct the sin in their lives? What would a few more minutes in the rain do to us? 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

A Holistic Approach

How is it that Ezra, a devout man of God and leader of the entire rebuilding enterprise, missed the fact that the leadership of the people of God were committing a great sin? 

To put it simply, his focus was too narrow.

Ezra was concerned with the rebuilding of the Temple. He was planning the rebuilding of the wall. He was thinking about the resettlement of Israelites back into Jerusalem. He was working out all of the little details about who would do what and what they would need and how long it would take them and what was still vulnerable to outside attack and how to build buy-in and how to get more persons on board and...and on and on and on the list goes with the massive project that was right in front of him. At the end of the day, Ezra was not thinking about what the men might be doing in their own homes; he was thinking about what they had accomplished at the build site and what they would need to work on tomorrow. The private lives of the men was off his radar...because enough persons were watching their public lives. 

This is one of the greatest tensions felt by church leadership even today, although really, it shouldn't be. Pastors and elders all across this country, at least (perhaps the world, but in places where the church is more localized, this tends to be less of a problem), are trying to figure out how it is that they grow their congregation. 

They are thinking about their programming, about their Sunday morning services and their mid-week offerings. They are thinking about small groups and online Bible studies and children's classes. Summer is coming, so they are thinking about vacation Bible schools and week-long retreats. They are thinking about community groups and community service projects and church outreaches. They are thinking about missions and missionaries and the ongoing work that never seems to stop. They are thinking about the messages on their church signs and how often the church lawn gets mowed. 

They are planning vacations and trying to figure out who fills the pulpit in their absence. They are dealing with broken-down air conditioning units and holes in the ceiling and doors that don't quite shut all the way. They are looking at their churches, constantly, through the eyes of the consumers that may walk through their doors and they are trying to fortify their walls. They are trying to build up their weak spots, defend their open places, make sure that work continues to progress on the most important thing of all, it seems: building the church. 

With this kind of emphasis, it's easy to lose sight of what's actually happening in the lives of the men (and women, of course) already in the church. It's easy to lose sight of what's actual important on this holy ground - and that is the building of holy lives. That is the discipleship of the members. That is the leading and guiding of men into holy living that is good and glorifying and pleasing to God. 

And then, all it takes is for someone to come in and tell the pastor, tell the elders what's up and all of a sudden, like Ezra, it all comes into focus. All it takes is for someone to say, "Wow. This church is full of domestic abusers" or "Can you believe all the pornography these men are looking at?" or "Did you hear how much gossip the women are spreading?" All it takes is for one person that you're hoping will be impressed by the programming to walk in and comment on the character of the church and...wow. Ouch. 

In that one breath, you realize all the things you've been missing because you've been too narrowly focused on good, but not whole, things. Because you've had your sights set so much on the physical work, you haven't seen the spiritual sickness that is spreading through the people of God. 

Let us not be like Ezra. Let us not be a people so concerned with building the Temple that we neglect the holiness of the persons inside. Let us not be a people who so lose sight of things that we have to be reminded by those we have known were watching us all along. 

Let us rather be men accountable to God on all things and more interested in living holy lives than building holy places. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Working for God

So how does it happen that the men of Israel who returned from captivity in Babylon rushed so quietly right back into the same kind of sin that God had told them for their entire history to avoid?

Simple: they spent their whole day working for God. 

Most of these men were Levites, at least; some, priests. And even for those who weren't, Ezra tells us that the problem was particularly pronounced among the leadership of the people - the Levites and priests and perhaps a couple of governor-types.

They returned from exile to rebuild the Temple of God. They were working on the wall around Jerusalem, the city of God. They were putting together everything they would need to offer sacrifices to God. They were surrounded by the sacred objects of God. Their lives were centered around all of these holy things that they were doing all the time, and, well, if you want to be pleasing to God, just make sure the majority of your work is for His glory, right? 

That's the trap that they were falling into. That's the trap that we fall into. We fill our calendars and our schedules very deliberately with "Christian" things - church services, small group, community service projects, midweek Bible study, nightly prayer, praise band practice, and whatever else we might have volunteered for this month, and we convince ourselves that we've satisfied our obligation to God. We convince ourselves that we are thoroughly "Christians." Especially if we add a little financial giving on top of that. 

Then, we go home and we curse at our children. We yell at our spouse. We drink a little bit too much. We look at pornography on the computer. We start scheming and planning on how to get things that we want that aren't ours - be they physical possessions or intangibles, like that promotion at work. We gossip. We sabotage. We betray those who have put their trust in us.

But hey, we're thoroughly Christian. I mean, just look at all the stuff on our calendar. 

This is what the Levites were doing, Old Testament-style. They were working all day for God, working in the service of the Temple, working on the rebuilding of the Temple. They came back to Jerusalem with this really prestigious title on their shoulders - everyone knew they were the Levites. Everyone knew they were the chosen few servants of God. They knew they were the chosen few servants of God. 

And they figured with as much as they were doing during the day, all day, with trowels in one hand and swords in the other, there was never going to be any question - on earth and certainly not in heaven - about what kind of men they were. They were God's men! 

Somehow, that convinces us that we don't have to live thoroughly godly lives. That because we are already holy, we don't have to live holy all the time. That because we fill our schedules and book our days with service to God and overt acts of worship, there's no question about what kind of men we are. Thus, it doesn't matter much what we do with our non-God time. It doesn't matter what we do in the privacy of our own homes. It doesn't matter what we do "after dark." 

As long as in the light, everyone sees and knows what kind of men we are. We are Levites! We are the chosen few holy servants of God.

Of course, that never means sin isn't sin, and it doesn't get us off the hook for the ungodly things we do with the "empty" spaces on our calendar, but it's the sin the Levites fell into, and it's the one we keep falling into even today.

What's also interesting, though, is that even Ezra, the leader of the returning exiles, the interim governor of sorts of the land, didn't even notice what was going on. He was in charge of all of this, and he didn't notice the massive number of foreign marriages that were happening right under his nose. How is that possible?

Monday, May 23, 2022

Sneaking Sin

After a long captivity in Babylon, Israel starts slowly moving back toward Jerusalem. Cyrus, then Darius, not only permit them to go, but load up their shoulders with the blessings of Babylon, that they may go back and rebuild the Temple of the Lord their God. The books of Ezra/Nehemiah capture this work and this move toward home for us. 

They tell us about the Israelites working faithfully on not only the Temple, but the wall - carrying trowels in one hand and swords in the other to protect themselves from those who oppose their work. They tell us about the opposition that they encountered along the way and how they pushed through and kept doing what God had given them grace to do. They tell us about how Nehemiah asked for a bit of leave from his position as the king's cupbearer and how Ezra didn't want to ask the King for soldiers or even for a letter of safe passage back home because he had already so confidently declared how the Lord his God was with him (and all the people of Israel). They tell us about how the returning Israelites completed the work on the wall, each at their own home, and so were building for themselves a place to live while rebuilding God's house among them. 

It's a beautiful story of redemption and restoration, and it sets ours hearts dancing a little bit on what heaven might look like. 

But this is not heaven.

We get almost all the way to the last of Ezra's record of this return, just a page or two from the end, and...shocker. Even Ezra wasn't expecting this one. Even Ezra, who was a leader among the people of Israel and who had been laboring alongside of them and leading them not only in the work, but in their defiance of all opposition, was stunned. His own account tells us that when he heard about this, he was severely grieved. He tore his clothes, as men of God did in those days, but he also ripped out his hair and his beard. He was seriously distraught. 

What was happening was that as they were working, as they were rebuilding the city of God after being restored to it from exile in absolute grace and in a beautiful act of God's mercy and promise, the men of Israel started marrying the women of Jerusalem - women who were not Israelites. 

See, when Babylon had taken Israel captive (and of course, when we're talking about Jerusalem, we're talking about the nation of Judah, whose relationship with the rest of Israel was...complicated, but I digress), they had relocated the Israelites to Babylon, and they had sent men and women of other conquered nations, or even of Babylon herself, to occupy Jerusalem. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem that the returning Israelites were encountering were, by and large, not Israelites. They were not peoples of God. 

It was quite like the first time that Israel came into the land, and they should have known better than to intermarry with the peoples who lived there. These were the equivalents of the Canaanites who were living here now. There's no way God would have approved. And yet, here we were - and the trouble wasn't isolated. 

The report that came to Ezra declared that not only was this happening, but it was happening to the greatest degree among the leaders, even among the Levites. Those with the most central position in God's redemptive story, those who had come along to offer the sacrifices, those who had the most vivid memories of the Temple in all its glory (because it was their personal family story) were the ones most guilty of polluting the new thing God was doing among them. 

How does this happen? How do these faithful men, who are willing to leave everything to go back to a place they barely knew, pollute themselves this way? How does Ezra, charged with leading them and defending them and standing in the gaps for them, miss that this is happening? 

Sadly, it's too easy. 

Friday, May 20, 2022


Elijah prophesied that a drought was coming upon Israel. With drought comes famine. With famine comes hunger, and we can create all kinds of narratives around hunger (how God fed His hungry people in the wilderness, how physical hunger drives your hunger for God, etc.). 

But drought was a great judgment of God not just because of the hunger that it produces, but because of all of the things that it strips away. Specifically, drought strips away every offering you might bring to God until there's nothing left to bring but yourself. 

When there's a drought, your crops don't grow. That's the first thing you're going to notice; what used to be green is now very, very brown and nothing around you is edible. This is the first thing we think of, and it's what leads us to think of a famine. There is no grain. No wheat. No barley. No nothing. There's nothing to grind into flour, nothing with which to make bread. The Table of the Lord sits empty.  

There is also no harvest, so there are no firstfruits. There's no tithe. There's no grain offering to bring before the Lord.

It's not just grain, of course; none of the crops grow. That means there are no fruits coming from the trees, no figs, no pomegranates. Nothing with which to make raisin cakes. There are no grapes growing in the vineyards, which means no wine. No drink offering. 

The livestock cannot find good grass on which to graze, so they start to starve. Their breeding slows down because they are too weak to mate, let alone to carry and birth young. Their bones are starting to show through their hides. All of their defects are starting to come out. All of a sudden, there is nothing healthy or without blemish or even fat enough to bring to the Lord as an offering. There are no rams, no lambs, no goats. There is no sacrifice. 

It doesn't take long after a drought hits before life at the Temple starts to slow up, too. There's simply nothing to bring. There's simply nothing to burn. There's not even anything to wave before the Lord. There is no wine, no grain, no olive oil, no incense, no livestock, no nothing. Slowly, you lose all of the ritual and there's something in you that won't even let you go to the Temple any more because you know you're empty-handed (remember, this is before the Cross - before grace), and no person of God in his right mind is going to show up to the Temple empty-handed. So you start to go less and less, with less and less in your hands, until you don't go at all. 

That's when famine hits. That's when hunger hits. That's when you start to long for the days when you felt connected to the Lord. That's when you start to long for that feeling of standing in the Temple courtyards. You realize how full that made you feel, how satisfying that was to your soul, and you start to look around and wonder if there's anything, anything at all left that you can bring to God as an offering, as a sacrifice - anything that will let you stand in His presence again, even for just a few seconds. Even for just as long as it might take for the priest to lift it up and wave it around. Anything...

And then you realize, there is. It's you. 

You're all you've got left. You, your heart, your hands, your hunger. Your desperation. Your love. The only thing you can offer to God in the midst of a drought is...yourself. And so, you go to the Temple, you run to the Temple, and you throw yourself on the altar. You cling to its horns. You beg the priest to anoint you anew, to make you clean again, to give you a standing - any standing - in this place. Because the drought has done what it was intended to do. It has stripped away all of your offerings until you've got nothing left to give to God but yourself. 

That's why God keeps sending droughts on His people.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

A Bold Word

So the question comes back to you: would you be willing to speak a bold word for God? Would you still be willing to speak it if you knew that it applied to you, too? 

What about that judgmental word you want to speak to someone else? That word where you're so sure that you're right about it? Would you speak that one if you knew that it applied to you, too?

Most of us think that being a prophet is a tough job; and it is. It's difficult to be the one sent out into the world with a word of truth, especially when that word of truth is a hard truth or in today's age, when the world is hostile to real truth. We think that being a prophet, speaking truth, requires a kind of courage that we just don't have. That we're not sure we could muster, even for God. That we're not sure we would even want to have, if it means that God would ask us to do things like stand in front of the king and announce God's judgment on Israel. 

And being a prophet does require some courage. It does require being bold. But it also requires humility. 

I think that's what the world is missing from our witness. I think that's why the world gets all up in a bunch about what the church is trying to say. We talked about this a little bit a couple of days ago, how the world calls us hypocrites, but even the world knows this is not the right term for it; it's arrogance, and the world sees it louder than they see any truth we're trying to speak. 

Being a prophet requires being humble. It requires always remembering that when no rain falls, your fields don't grow, either. That when the earth shakes, your knees tremble, too. That when God speaks, you fall on your face just the same as everyone else. It requires remembering that when God so loved the world, He loved you, yes, but that when Christ died for sinners, that also means you. 

You have to know that, but you also have to be able to push all of that aside and trust in the goodness and the grace of the God who sent you - as well as His power. You have to speak His word in such a way that He gets the glory, but you recognize what it means to be a people, too. It's a tough balance; it's hard to do. 

For what it's worth, Elijah nails it. In dramatic fashion. He boldly says exactly what God sent him to say, and you can just imagine him unafraid to make eye contact with King Ahab. And then, suddenly, he seems to just spin on his heels and walk confidently out of the king's throne room, walks confidently right into the drought. Right out under a cloudless sky, right out onto a parched land. Elijah speaks, and then steps boldly into the very truth he's proclaimed. 

I want to say I could do it. And on my best day, I might be able to. Bold, but still humble. Confident, but not cocky. A woman of God, but one of the people of God. But if we're being honest, I think as soon as I know that the King's not looking any more, I can't help but look up at the cloudless sky or look down onto the parched land and have my own set of questions. Maybe Elijah did, too. Who knows? 

What about you? Could you do it? Could you speak a bold word with confident assurance and humble acceptance? Could you look the king in the eye and pronounce a drought that you knew would parch your land, too? What would it take for you to have the faith of Elijah? What do you need to do today to start building that? 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Person of God

Our blind spot, when we speak God's truth, is not in thinking that His Word doesn't apply to us, but in believing that we are so righteous that we've somehow escaped it. This is precisely the trap that the prophet Elijah did not fall into. But...how could he not? 

How is it that Elijah understood, when he spoke that word to King Ahab, that he, too, would suffer the effects of the drought? How is it that he didn't believe that God was going to follow him around with his own personal rain cloud and water the ground under his prophetic feet? 

Simply put, Elijah kept in his vision what we often lose sight of - that as a man of God, as a person of God, he was forever and always an inextricable part of the people of God. He was never apart from the community of God's people; he was always deeply embedded into it. 

This is the thing that our arrogance makes us too easily forget. We think that God put us here so that we could be above His creation, so that we would live a higher life than everyone else on this planet. We think that what we're doing is acting as guides for the rest of this lost word. What we're actually doing is trying to put ourselves in the shoes of "savior" - we think ourselves all high and mighty that it's a step down for us into a community of God's people. That we have to soil ourselves and submit ourselves to get down into the muck and mire of this place and that it's somehow noble of us. 

Elijah never forgot that he rose from the dust, not shook it off his feet. 

This is the essence of Jesus, right? Jesus came and lived the kind of life that we're supposed to live - not above this world, but right in it. When Jesus gets to Simon's house, one of His complaints is that Simon didn't give Him anything to wash the dirt out of His hair. He'd been walking through the region, traveling down dusty roads for a long time, and Simon didn't pour oil over His head or wash His feet or anything. 

Jesus, God Himself, was covered in the dust and dirt of this world and yet, we somehow keep trying to convince ourselves that He never meant for us to be. That God's whole plan for our lives was that we'd never get dirty in this place. 


But that's what Elijah never forgot. Elijah never forgot that he was just as bound to the region of Canaan as the rest of God's people. That whatever happened to them happened to him. That when he spoke the truth of God, it wasn't just for them, for everyone else; it was for him, too. He didn't get to escape the drought. He didn't get to bypass the famine. 

Now, it's true that he lived a life of miraculous wonders - oil that kept pouring, flour that never ran out, ravens who fed him in the wilderness - but Elijah didn't know any of this when he spoke God's Word. He wasn't counting on it. He might have believed in his heart that God was capable, but he had no promise that God was going to exempt him from the most severe of it. He had no expectation that God should somehow set him apart just because he's the one who spoke the word. He spoke the word anyway, taking one of what he thought would the last sips of water for awhile to wet his tongue to do it. Because he knew - when no rain falls on Israel, I am a prophet who lives in Israel. I'm not just God's person; I'm part of His people. This isn't just their homeland; this is my homeland. 

And I'm here for it. All of it. Let the rain (not) fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Prophetic Blind Spot

Why am I telling this story about Elijah and the drought? Because I think sometimes, Christians are too guilty of developing a prophetic blind spot. We believe that because we're the ones speaking the truth, it somehow won't apply to us. 

The world calls this hypocrisy, and it's one of the things they most criticize the church for. But I'm not convinced that it's actually hypocrisy. A hypocrite is someone who doesn't believe that the same rules apply to them, someone who is always holding others to a different standard than she holds herself to. I don't think this is true of most Christians.

I think we're just arrogant.

I think we believe the rules apply to us, but that we also believe that we're already fulfilling them. I think we believe that we are sinners, but we have this sense that we used to be sinners - we're not any more. I think we believe that God's grace is for all of us, but we also believe that we have accepted so much of that grace that we don't need it any more. I think we know the rules apply to us, but we've convinced ourselves that we're not breaking any of them. I don't think we're hypocrites; I think we're arrogant.

And we read our arrogance right into the stories of God. So much so that when we read this prophetic word of Elijah, we think that he, too, is exempt from God's Word. He's speaking it, but he's not going to have to live through the drought. He's telling the king, but he will not suffer from the famine. After all, he's God's prophet, right? He's the one speaking the truth. So obviously, just like the rest of us, he's going to escape it. 

We forget that the Bible tells us that God's judgment rains down on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. That's exactly what this passage is saying - that just because you're righteous doesn't mean you escape what God is doing in the world. It doesn't mean you're exempt from the re-creation of all things. It doesn't mean you're not part of what God is up to here. 

It's amazing because so many of us have even convinced ourselves that because we are so righteous, when Christ went to the Cross, it wasn't for us. It wasn't because of our sin. It wasn't because we needed Him. All of those other folks did, and we get to benefit from His grace poured out, but if the world had been full of persons like us, He wouldn't have had to go to the Cross at all. And then, we look down our noses at all of those...sinners

No, we're not hypocrites; we're arrogant. 

Contrast that with what we see of Elijah. There is not a single hint of anything in this story that gives us the sense that Elijah thought he would somehow escape the drought. In fact, he immediately begins preparing himself for it. He immediately listens to God's plan for getting him through it. He doesn't protest or try to declare his own righteousness. He doesn't make a case that he's the one speaking the truth, so the truth somehow just passes through him or passes over him and doesn't impact his life. He knows that he's about to go hungry, too, but God's Word is more important to him. He gets that it is a Word just as much for him as for the rest of the people of God. 

What's up with that? Why didn't Elijah just declare his righteousness and take a pass? Why didn't he protest when his own stomach started to grumble? Why didn't he just remind God of what a good person he is and how often he goes to church and how many times a day he prays and get God to send some rain on his own little parcel of land? 

Because that's not the way God works.  

Monday, May 16, 2022

Lack of Rain

In 1 Kings 17, we encounter the prophet Elijah. As he's known to do, he speaks a word that the King doesn't particularly care to hear - a drought is coming. 

Most of the time when we read a word like this, we get it - the King is wicked, the people have turned their backs, and God has to do something to remind them of how much they need His provision. A drought seems almost good to us. It will do just what God desires for it to do. 

A drought back in these times was disastrous. Today, when we think of a drought, we think most often of wildfires popping up. Because of advances in irrigation and an essentially-global supply chain, drought doesn't have as severe an impact on our food supply as it would have back in Israel. Back in Israel? A drought was devastating. 

Without rain, you could not grow crops. Without rain, you would not be harvesting food, not even the most basic staples of wheat and barley. Without rain, the wild grasses weren't going to grow, either, which meant that you couldn't graze your flocks. Now, you've got no crops and no meat because if you can't graze your flocks, you certainly can't afford to be eating parts of them - you'll lose your good breeders for the season when the drought breaks, and you're going to need every possible one of them after all of the weaker members you're going to lose to the oncoming famine. 

Nobody wants a drought. 

But, we say, Israel deserved one. This King (Ahab) deserved one. The queen, Jezebel, certain deserved it. And so did the hundreds of prophets of Baal who were rising to power. Nobody wants a drought, but Israel...man, if anyone deserves it... 

Except, think about this: the very drought that Elijah was prophesying to the King wasn't just going to affect unrighteous Israel. It was going to affect Elijah himself, too. He doesn't escape this. No rain falls on the land of Israel, but no rain falls on Elijah, either. 

He doesn't get to walk around with his own personal cloud building above his head. He doesn't get to magically eat a secret stash of well-watered wheat or barley that God will tuck away for him. He doesn't have a lush land where livestock are going to thrive for him. 

Elijah speaks a drought that is going to have just as severe an impact on him as it will on the rest of Israel. He boldly stands in front of the King and declares, "We're in for it. We're all in for it." The Word of God is just as real and heavy and terrible for him as it is for everyone else. 

But he speaks it anyway. 

Would you? 

Friday, May 13, 2022

The First Domino

Perhaps one of the more bizarre arguments that has been presented, even as far as into the mainstream media through talking heads, in the wake of a leaked decision potentially overturning federal abortion law in this country, is the idea that this is just the "first domino." If we let these "Christians" overturn Roe v. Wade, they are saying, then we lose homosexual marriage, too. And maybe women in the workplace. And desegregation. The end game, they say, is that we're going to reinstate slavery. 

Yes, actual slavery. 

The narrative is that what we are trying to do is turn back the clock and reclaim all of our "beloved Conservative values," whatever that means. Whatever they can spin that to mean to make sure that you are scared that your very lifestyle is at stake because hey, if sex isn't free then nobody is free

That's the argument, anyway. 

On the surface, it seems silly. But if you start going down an ethical rabbit hole, it's not as far-fetched as it seems. If we are "radically pro-life" and if we actually live a pro-life ethic, then it rattles the foundations of homosexual marriage because homosexual relations are not biologically able to have life. If we are basing our pro-life stance, even in part, on a notion that sexual relations belong in the covenant of marriage, then it might make sense in some understandings to say that we must then safeguard the covenant of marriage anew, too, to preserve the kind of sexual relations that are had in it, as it is the place that life is conceived. 

One of the rationales for slavery, for a long time, was that certain classes of persons were "less" than human, less than fully human, somehow defective compared to the superior class of individuals. And it can be scary to think that if we start talking about only having life that is carried to full term, how easy it is to want to start determining which life is even worth conceiving. If we start doing that, then we start categorizing persons as worthy of reproducing or not and if we start doing that, then we end up with a class of undesirables that we not only are trying to control, but we must. 

It's interesting that these sorts of ideas spin so easily off of an ethic that begins at a place that says that all life is valuable, but we have seen how broken men (and women) act. We have seen how we treat one another. We know, sadly, what we're capable of. 

So it's not as simple as just dismissing this weird argument as totally offbeat; based on human history, it kind of makes sense...but only in the world's ethic. 

See, it's the world's ethic, not the Christian one, that worries about preserving a certain gene pool. It's the world's ethic that wants to determine which lives are worth living and which aren't. It's the world's ethic, which is right now trying to argue that a fetus should be allowed to be killed because it is undesirable by any measure anyone can come up with, that would then want to try to strap down and say that only certain lives are worth even conceiving, if they are forced to be carried to term. It's the world that would want to control that, not Christians. 

I have actually heard talking heads say that if a woman's "right" to an abortion is removed, then all of our other rights fall one by one. Equality is lost. Everything we've fought for for generations is just gone, just like that. But I don't think that has to be true. 

It could be, if the world pushes it that way, but it won't be Christians pushing it that way. We'll probably get blamed for it, but it's just not the Christian ethic. Not the real Christian ethic, anyway. Which is why it's so important, as we push deeper into this, for us to affirm a truly pro-life stance through and through - a stance that cares as much about the life of the living, and the dying, and even the undesirable (whatever that means), as the unborn. 

It's so strange that in a moment when we are standing up and pushing back against those who favor a free and unhindered access to abortion, to the killing of the unborn, that we are the ones who have to keep saying, "We are not trying to take your life away from you." 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

About the Men

One of the loudest criticisms being shouted against a pro-life position right now is, "What about the men?" If you're so interested in what a woman can do with her body (which is a terrible argument, since we're not talking about only the woman's body, but another living body that is inside of her which, by the way, might also be a female body), then what about the men? If you're so interested in regulating the egg, what are you going to do about the sperm (to put it less crudely than the world does)? 

Ha! Gotcha!

This is the world's position - that we need to stop talking about pregnancy as a women's issue and pretending that ending abortion is the answer to life when it takes two to tango. And there has been no shortage of very crude, obscure, and not-really-comparable suggestions of what we should be doing to men if "forcing" a woman to carry a child is our end goal. And then the world shoves the question back in our faces and dares us to have an answer. 

But Christianity has always had an answer for this. In fact, it has been the only truly Christian position on the issue since, well, Christ (and actually, before that). It is the moral conviction that sex should remain inside the covenant of marriage, where the man and woman are already committed to one another and prepared to face life - as well as its challenges and developments - together. 

See, the world's argument goes right back to what we were talking about yesterday, this notion that sex should be free. It is only because the world believes that sex should be free that they can even talk about a separation between man and woman in the sexual act and its outcomes. To the world, sex is just an act that occurs between a man and a woman, any man and any woman, and therefore, attempts to "regulate" one party must be matched by efforts to "regulate" the other. 

The Christian ethic needs no such regulation because it has always maintained that sex should not be an act between any man and any woman, but that it is a sacred act between one man and one woman who have left father and mother and cleaved to one another and become helpmeets under the authority and grace of God. 

Of course, as soon as we say that, the world snarks back. "So that's your answer? Marriage? We should just force these men and women to get married?" And of course, not really. Our answer is marriage before the sexual act. Despite the history of the church that has seemed to commend marriage at least before the contractions start, there is not really a Christian ethic that would say that a man and a woman who find themselves pregnant by a sexual act outside of the covenant of marriage should, or should have to, get married. That doesn't suddenly align them with God's idea of intimacy and sex. In Christianity, the time for marriage is always before sex. 

It's tough to explain this to the world, who just keeps shouting, "Okay, so now what? What about the man and woman who are pregnant outside of marriage? What about him?" 

And, well, that's where grace comes in. This is the challenge we face in every area of our lives every day. It's the question of what we are supposed to do with broken things in our lives, with the things that don't live up to the standard that we know God has set. It's what we all have to figure out to do with our fallen shorts - quite literally in this scenario. 

But it doesn't mean that we don't pretend that we don't have a moral standard when in fact, we do. Just because we're failing to live it perfectly doesn't mean it's not still the best way. Just because we have to figure out grace when we mess up doesn't mean that the standard itself is not good. 

So what about the men? In a truly Christian ethic, this is a non-question; it's already been answered. Sex is not free; it is reserved for the covenant of marriage where the man is already committed and involved. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Free Love

Another argument that has come out in the wake of the potential of an abortion reversal is this one: "if it were really about the unborn, everything would be free." Prenatal care would be free; birthing would be free; diapers would be free; formula would be free. Everything that is needed to raise this child into adulthood would be completely and totally free if our concern was really about the baby. 

The rationale is that the pregnant woman didn't ask for this baby, but now, society is demanding it of her, so society ought to be the one to pick up the tab. For everything. Forever. 

The implication is that if we don't pay for all of the child's needs, then what we are really interested in is punishing the woman for having sex.

This argument arises out of the world's decision, a few generations ago, that sex ought to be free. Remember that whole "Free Love" thing from somewhere around the 60s? This is the essence of it. "It's my body, and I ought to be able to enjoy it and do whatever I want with it without repercussions." 

This is the era when cohabitation started to rise. When sex before marriage went way up. When sex without even considering marriage was put on the table. This is the era when men and women decided that sex doesn't have to mean what God says it means - that two persons are cleaved together - but that it can just be fun. And that it shouldn't have to get messy.

In fact, it is this ethic of love that "necessitated" abortion in the first place. Women were tired of bearing the consequences of their supposed-to-be-free love and were looking for a way out. Remember, the push for the legalization of abortion was never because there were a bunch of unviable pregnancies being forced to be carried to term. It wasn't because ectopic pregnancies were rupturing all across the countries and killing mothers. No matter what the abortion advocates are trying to spew about how "necessary" abortion is medically sometimes, the abortion movement arose out of one concern: free love. Women simply could not fathom that they might be saddled for a lifetime with a burden of one night of "free" sex. 

Abortion gave the world what it wanted and made sex "free," even though anyone with intimate knowledge of the actual impact of abortion knows that even abortion isn't free; it has devastating effects on the woman for the rest of her life. 

And now, we've wrapped this whole thing in layers of mock social concern - parents aren't prepared to raise children; they don't have enough money; the child will live in poverty and never have the things that it needs; the parents work too much, or not enough, and can't give the child a good life. And on and on and on we go. But don't be fooled because what's really happening here continues to boil down to the same thing: men and women want "free" love, so they don't even think about the costs of it. 

They aren't even considering, when they lay down together, whether they're ready for it. They just want fun. They aren't thinking about the timing or the finances or the resources or the commitment; they're thinking about how much they're going to "enjoy" these next few minutes. 

They've been told that sex is free by a generation that demanded that it had to be, and the possible end to free-for-all abortion smacks right in the face of that. It threatens to take away all the "fun." It threatens to remind them of what they've been trying to shield themselves from all along, that sex is not free. That it never has been. Whether conception occurs or not, whether there's a baby coming out of it or not. Sex is simply not free.

Which leads us close to another argument that the world is trying to throw at us. Namely, what about the men? (See you tomorrow.) 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Easy to Love

When a potential decision on abortion law in the country was leaked, one of the criticisms that came out was this one: "Of course Christians love the unborn; the unborn are easy to love." And closely related to that, "The unborn are convenient to love." 

The argument was that the unborn make no demands of those loving them. The unborn aren't going to let you down. They aren't going to reject you. They aren't going to demand more of you. They aren't complicated like the born are. So if you want to be a Christian and say that you love human beings, the unborn are a really easy group to love; they just aren't messy like "real" persons are. And then, hey, you can say that you're doing what Jesus asked you and loving others. 

This is a really weird argument that the world is trying to make. I mean, wouldn't you think that if the unborn are so easy and convenient to love, even the world would love them? Wouldn't this be the place where the world itself tries to stake a claim on being loving, if it's so easy and convenient? 

And yet, the very culture that is trying to shame you because it claims the unborn are so easy and convenient to love...is doing so while trying to convince you that you should be okay with killing the unborn because of their inconvenience. 

It doesn't make a lot of sense. 

The truth is, and the world knows this, the unborn are not an easy and convenient group to love. They aren't. In order to love the unborn, you have to hold onto things like hope. And confident assurance. And a sense of the dignity of life. You have to be able to hold in tensions a thousand unknowns about every unborn life with the truth of the things that you do know - that God knit together that life, that God has a plan for it, that it has inherent dignity as a being created in God's image...even when you don't know what that life will go on to do in the world, who that unborn child will go on to be. You may right now be fighting for someone that, if you met him thirty years later, you wouldn't be comfortable walking in the doors of your church (sadly - and this should be a good lesson in grace for all of us). But it's true - you could be fighting right now for a drug addict, a rapist, a murdered, a child abuser. You don't know. 

All you have is a moral ethic that subscribes to the dignity of all life, a confident assurance that God has knit this life together in the womb, and a hope that this life becomes all of the things that God has ordained for it to be. 

At the same time, we wrestle with knowing that all life is sacred, but not welcome. And potentially not provided for. When you love the unborn, you accept and embrace all of the struggles and problems that that life is going to encounter, whether that be being given up for adoption or needing a refuge or becoming hungry or thirsty. You acknowledge that this life can't make it on its own, and you have to start preparing for what the unborn might need from you - from us - as it enters into this world. 

That's another one of the world's criticisms, by the way - that Christians only care about this life being born; they don't care what happens to it afterward. And it's a fair criticism. If we are going to be pro-life, then we have to be truly pro-life. All of it. From unborn to the grave, from the first breath to the last. Loving the unborn means having a plan and a commitment to care for them beyond the birth canal. 

That's not easy nor convenient. Again, that's why the world doesn't do it. 

But that leads us into our next criticism/conversation point that has been coming up in the past week: what exactly does it mean to care for the unborn? 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Culture Wars

With last week's leak that the Supreme Court of the United States is likely set to overturn Roe v. Wade, the land's "abortion law" for the past several decades, there's going to be a lot of rhetoric. There already is. There are already groups in the streets (and out en masse via social media) on both sides of this issue, and we must be prepared to engage well. 

We do not need to spend our time this week creating a defense of a pro-life position. We do not need to really talk about why God is heartbroken over our rush to abort fetuses. We do not need to talk about what it means to honor the dignity of life. These things, we already know. These are the things that the conversation always centers around, and every side is very good at their talking points. 

To rehash just a couple, though, as a foundation here, here are two that I think are vitally important to the pro-life position. 

First, all human life is created in the image of God. Therefore, it must be treated with the dignity due to an image-bearer. This is true of every single human being ever to live, including those with whom we disagree or those who make choices that disgust us (murderers, rapists, child molesters - even these are created in the image of God and due the dignity of an image-bearer, even in the midst of reprimand and consequence). The same is true for the fetus, whose life is only starting to become realized. 

Second, life is a miracle. Every time. We know that the sexual act does not always result in a pregnancy, even in a couple who is diligently trying to get pregnant and time their cycles and figure out the schedules. We know that IVF, even done exactly perfectly, does not always result in a pregnancy. Despite our very best attempts through science to control pregnancy, we are simply not able to do it. That is because life is the miraculous working of God and God alone. And if it took a miracle to begin a pregnancy, it is quite a smack in the face to God to abort one. "No thanks, God. No miracles here. Not today." 

(Closely related here is that we know that every life is knit together by God in the mother's womb, so an abortion is not just a rejection of His miracle, but a destruction of His work.) 

Pro-life is a position that most Christians don't articulate very well. Too many just end up shouting things like "Abortion is murder!," which doesn't really get at the heart of the sanctity of life at all. It doesn't demonstrate anything about God, except perhaps that He enjoys a good shouting match (which isn't true). It doesn't give us a chance to talk about God in a meaningful way. And of course, it doesn't help us advance understanding of the pro-life position. We have to get better at this. 

And we're going to have plenty of opportunity. Because as this debate heats up again, the world is already throwing its toughest questions at us. It looks at our position as untenable, at best. Hypocritical, at worst. And everything in between. We say that we are pro-life, and the world says either, "No, you're not really" or "How could you be?" 

This week, I want to talk about some of the arguments that are already coming up and some that are likely to and how we should respond with truth, yes, but also love and grace. We have to know how to engage the world and how to handle the questions they're going to throw at us and the accusations they're going to hurl our way. 

Things like: "You only love the unborn because it's easy." Or "If it were really about the babies, then everything would be free." Or "Why are you so interested in a woman's choice but you're not holding the men accountable for their part?" I've even seen this one this week already - "You only care so much because you can't have a baby of your own, so you want to make sure you can adopt one." (Not me personally, but Christians in general, which is a really weird accusation to make, especially when the world also says they can't believe how many kids "these Christians" have in their families.) So we'll look at these, and maybe some others, and talk about 1) what's really going on and 2) how we should respond.  

Friday, May 6, 2022


Yesterday, we said that if we're looking for a candidate, Jesus is Him. He's the one. Jesus is the person who can relate to what we're going through and who also has the expertise necessary to address the issues in our lives that are most concerning to us. 

But that doesn't mean that He campaigned for the job. 

This is something we have to be careful about when we draw connections between the things in our lives that make sense to us (like elections) and Jesus; we can't get the two of them tangled up. 

Jesus didn't come to campaign. He didn't come here to win your allegiance. He's not asking for your vote. God didn't send His one and only Son in the hopes that you might like Him better because He did. He didn't send Jesus to the Cross so that He might recruit you to His team. His end goal is not that you put a sign in your yard, wear the T-shirt, and maybe hang out at the polls and ask a couple of friends to vote for Him, too (even though we so often think that is exactly the goal of the Christian faith - and most of us have the T-shirts, bumper stickers, and yard signs to prove it). 

God sent Jesus into the world for one reason and one reason only: that He might reconcile you to Himself so that you don't have to spend eternity apart. So that you have a way back to the place that your heart still longs for, for the Eden that echoes in all of us. So that the very big distance between us and Him could be bridged by the outstretched arms of Christ, all the way from east to west. 

Jesus came to accomplish His purposes, not to campaign for ours. 

It just so happens, of course, that the real longing of our hearts is for His stuff anyway. So it's nice how that all worked out. 

The point is that we can't let ourselves think, even as we think of Jesus in the context of being the guy we would vote for if we were voting, that God came as one contender among many, as one option on the ballot, as one God in a race of many. Jesus is not some final nail in the coffin against Thor or Odin or Baal or Milcom or any of the other number of gods that peoples have worshiped over the years; He's not some campaign tactic so that you might write His name down somewhere. 

He is the reconciling, full-blooded body of God Himself, come in the flesh to deal a death blow to death itself with three nails - not in the coffin, but in the Cross. And that's not something we get to vote on. That just is what it is. 

And if you want to vote, if you really feel the need to vote, if this is the Guy you choose to give your voice to and want to even campaign for, then you vote with your life, not your T-shirt. You pick up a Cross, not a yard sign. You come to the table, not the ballot box. 

Yes, Jesus is the guy we would vote for; He's everything we're looking for. But this is no campaign; it's a covenant. 

It's not a promise; it's the promise. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Choosing Jesus

Okay, now that we've waded through all of the human tangle of politics and established that yes, God does want us to participate in this, and we've seen how it is that we choose our candidates (either persons we can relate with or those we believe have the expertise that we need to address the concerns in our hearts), we get to what it is that I was thinking last week, just out of nowhere, that is what I really wanted to say this week:

I would vote for Jesus. 

That's it. That's the thought that I had. As I sat here thinking about the races that were going to be on my ballot and trying to make decisions about which candidates I should give my voice to this cycle, it struck them that if I'm looking for someone who can relate with the kind of life that I actually live and someone who has the expertise necessary to address my primary concerns, I would vote for Jesus. 

That's the whole point of His coming to earth, isn't it? To show us that He is exactly this kind of guy? That He is exactly this kind of God? 

Jesus came and lived in the very same flesh in which we live. He walked on the same kind of dusty ground that we walk on. He traveled by boat and He ate in houses and He even fried fish a time or two. He dealt with the rejection of those who thought they were better than Him, and He lived with the fierce attachment of friends who would not leave Him. He had a mother and a father and some brothers, at the very least. He had women who followed Him around, and we'd be hard pressed to create an argument that none of them had a crush on Him, even a small one. 

He carried around money bags with Him, which means that He went to the market and He paid for things. He even paid taxes! He had hair that He had to comb, skin that He had to wash, clothing that He had to mend or maybe even buy new when He put on a few pounds. He put on a few pounds! Jesus has lived in my flesh, so He gets it. He can relate to the things that I am going through. 

Not only that, but He demonstrated that He has the kind of expertise necessary to handle my issues. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute. He clothed the naked and fed the hungry. He cast demons out of the possessed. He forgave the sinner. He freed the prisoner. He moved heaven and earth to get here and then, when He came, He moved heaven and earth again for the good of those who love Him. 

He performed the ultimate act of authority and power - He took on death itself and won. If I'm looking for a guy who can take care of the things I'm concerned about, Jesus is Him.

I've heard stories for a lot of years about what it means that Jesus came in the flesh. I've heard stories for a lot of years about these very ideas that I've expressed here. I've even understood some of them; I've even agreed with some of them and assented to them intellectually. 

But when I had this thought last week in the context of the upcoming vote, something clicked for me in a way that it hadn't clicked before. If I'm looking for the guy, Jesus is the Guy. That's the whole point of the whole thing: Jesus is the Guy. He's the One I'm looking for. 

(I'll tell you what that doesn't mean tomorrow.) 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Selecting a Candidate

Okay. Now that we've gotten the two major objections out of the way (yes, God expects you to vote as a citizen of Babylon, even though the political system seems corrupt), we can start working toward what I really want to say this week about Jesus. 

To do that, I want to ask you a question: how do you choose your candidate? 

When you're looking at any election in which you cast a vote, how do you decide where your vote goes? How do you pick between one name and another? 

Yes, I know that far too many of us just show up at the ballot box and pick a name that sounds good. Or a name that we've heard a lot about in the past few weeks. Or maybe we just vote for our friend's cousin's ex-roommate because we feel some kind of obligation to vote for that person or else we'll have to hide from that friend when we run into her at the Walmart. But I'm not talking about mindless voting; I'm talking about engaged voting. When you actually consider the power of your voice, how do you decide who to give it to? When you think about who you want to be representing you, whether it be in Congress or on the local school board, how do you decide who to trust?

Most of us choose the candidate that we think can best understand and appreciate our specific concerns, which are borne out of the particular life that we lead. That means that if we live in a small town, we're more likely to pick a candidate who either lives in a small town now or came from a small town; we're less likely to choose someone from a major metropolis. If we have worked with our hands all our lives, we're more likely to choose a blue-collar candidate; if we have a white-collar job, we're more likely to choose a candidate with administrative experience. 

If we're Christian, we're more likely to choose a candidate who professes a Christian faith. If we are living in poverty, we're more likely to pick a candidate who understands what it's like to try to navigate the very system that we are putting them into. 

Sometimes, we don't pick candidates based on our ability to feel an affiliation with them; sometimes, we pick candidates based on what we think we need. For example, if finances are a specific issue of concern for us, maybe we choose someone with investment experience, even if we're living paycheck-to-paycheck, because we believe that candidate has the professional knowledge and skill needed to address that issue of our concern. If we're concerned about healthcare or access to wellness, maybe we vote for the doctor, even if we never visit one (for any number of reasons). If we are facing some kind of moral crisis in our community, maybe we vote for the pastor - even if he *gasp* has a different denomination than we do. 

Primarily, our vote comes down to these two things: 1) who do we believe has the life experience that is best able to relate to what I'm going through? and 2) who has the qualifications, experience, and ability to address the things that I believe are the most pressing concerns for my community right now? 

Now, what does all of this have to do with Jesus? 

Quite honestly, everything.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

A Corrupt Institution

The other reason why we say that as Christians, God wouldn't want us to vote is because the political system is so corrupt. This is true almost everywhere around the world in what we call "developed" countries (which seems weird, right?). The playing field isn't level, and a vote of conscience doesn't seem to matter much. 

Except, of course, if a whole lot of consciences are voting. 

But I digress. See, we say that Christians participating in politics is a lot like Jesus dealing with the Pharisees. We say that He didn't do it. He didn't want to play their games. He didn't want to be part of their corrupt system. He didn't want to create any scenario by which He could be seen as condoning what they are doing, so Jesus simply steered clear of the Temple and the Pharisees and spent His time on the streets and at the houses of sinners. 

In fact, we say, every time we see Jesus coming into contact with a Pharisee, He's calling them out for their blindness and hypocrisy. 

So we develop this same sort of relationship with politics, and we call it "Christian." We stand off at a distance, and every time politics crosses our path, we call it corrupt and hypocritical. We point out that politics is not just part of the problem; it is the problem. And we decry its injustices and how it perpetuates the systems of inequality in our culture. And on and on and on we go. 

Except that when we confess that we keep seeing Jesus calling out the Pharisees, what we're really saying is that Jesus kept putting Himself in contact with the Pharisees.

Listen, it wasn't the Pharisees who were lining the streets to see Jesus. It wasn't the Pharisees who were climbing trees to get a better look. It wasn't the Pharisees who were crying out for mercy. It wasn't the Pharisees who were climbing into boats to follow Jesus out of the very territory they were trying to get Him to leave in the first place. 

When Jesus comes into contact with the Pharisees, it's because He entered their space. He kept going to the Temple. He kept sitting on the porch. He kept involved Himself with matters of "organized" religion, and there's one very good reason for this: 

That's where the people were. 

That's where the broken, burdened hearts were that Jesus was trying to reach. That's where the faithful who ought to be able to recognize the Messiah were hanging out. The persons in the culture who were wanting to know if Jesus was the guy were, by and large, asking the Pharisees about it. The persons needing healing were hanging out where the prayers were going up. The persons searching for mercy were heading toward the Mercy Seat of God, which rested between two cherubim in the Holy of Holies. 

Jesus knew that if you want to reach the people, you have to go where the people are - and the people were in the courtyards of the Pharisees. 

The same is true in our culture. The people are in the courtyard of the politicians. They are lobbying for legislation on one side of an issue or another. They are looking for justice. They are looking for peace. They are looking for hope. They are looking for a promise that they think that politics is going to give them, which means they are hanging out in the courtyards of the politicians. And if we expect to have a voice in the courtyard, then we have to involve ourselves to some degree in politics. 

If you don't vote, you don't have access to the courtyard. Period. You don't have a right to criticize a system that offers you the opportunity to speak into it and you're not taking that opportunity. You don't have a right to have a voice, not use it, and then claim that no one's listening to you. You vote because that gives you a right to enter the courtyard and from there, you can talk to the people. From there, you can meet them where they are.

From the very place where they are crying out for hope, now you can bring your hope because you've established your place here. 

So yes, you vote. Even in a corrupt system. Because your vote is your ticket to raise your voice and speak for true hope. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Preparing the Vote

It's primary election week in Indiana, and that got me thinking about something really important about Jesus. But I realized that if I was going to talk about politics (not really, but "voting" seems political to a lot of persons) in a theology blog, I was probably going to turn a lot of persons off. A lot of readers might think, ugh...I'm gonna skip this week. And I so hope that you don't. 

But in order for you to stay, I think we have to start with a conversation about why "politics" really isn't a dirty word in theology. 

There are Christians who believe that they should not be involved in politics, that they should not be voting in a governmental election. Primarily, this comes from the notion that we are citizens of Heaven and we already have a King, so we don't need a bureaucracy. Basically, it's cute that the world likes to run itself this way, but we know how leadership and "government" really work and our allegiance is to Lord Jesus; thus, we separate ourselves from the state and simply do not participate in its little games. 

To respond to this, we must look no further than Israel in exile. We are, after all, living an exile of our own - living enfleshed lives here, though we be citizens of Heaven. And what God says to the Israelites in Babylon in pretty clear - 

Pray for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Go there, set up your homes, build your lives there. Become a part of the city in which the Babylonians place you and you will not only be blessed there, but you will be a blessing there. 

That's different than the argument that we usually hear. Usually, it's something like this: as Christians, we must make our voices heard so that our cultures and communities will be shaped more in accordance with God's desire for communities so that we can legislate our way into righteousness and be a political people who God loves. 

That's never what God says. Never. God says, be part of the place where I've put you because I will bless you there and you will be a blessing there. So our participation in the political processes of our communities is our chance to be a blessing to them. And how is that? By showing our investment in the places we live. By showing we are part of these places. By showing that we're willing to get involved and to bring what we have to offer to the table. We bless our communities by sharing our voices in them. And one way that we share our voice is to vote. 

There's another argument we use to explain why we don't need to vote as Christians, why God wouldn't want us to vote, and that one is equally flimsy. We'll talk about it tomorrow, and then move onto what I've really been thinking about for the past few days.