I don’t want to write about these things

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I don’t want to write about these things.  Nor do I want to preach about them.  The smart ass response to that is “Well, you should have known what you were getting into when you signed up to be a pastor.”  Yeah, because everybody knows what the future holds.  Thanks for the compassion.

I really don’t enjoy writing about all of the things that are happening every day.  I don’t enjoy preparing a sermon that talks about all the things that are going on either.

I don’t want to, but yet I can’t avoid it.  I guess I could actually.  I could just stay quiet.  I could not speak about any of it.  I could not rock the boat and be vulnerable to the arrows that come my way in response.  I could allow the fear of criticism and negative comments to win the day.  I could allow the potential anger in response to have sway over what I say or write.  I could create a false sense of peace to make sure that no one walks out on the sermon or protests what I have to say.  I could interpret render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s to mean that as a pastor I have no say in politics or what happens in the world.  Jesus didn’t interpret it that way – he ended up being killed by the Romans.  Talk about meddling in politics.  And to anyone who interprets that passage that way, I have a question – what belongs to God?  And why do you get to determine where God gets to speak?

I don’t want to write about any of this.  Who in their right mind would?  Who wants to write or preach about children being separated from families at the border as they seek asylum?  Or trying to make sense of an executive order that allows for indefinitely holding onto asylum seekers?   Do you think it’s fun or enjoyable to point out the uncomfortableness of this, the messiness of this?  The sin of this?  Who wants to write or preach about how we treat our neighbors, our enemies, and refugees?  Who wants to write or preach about dehumanizing other people?  Who wants to write or preach about how they see a nation tearing itself apart because of fear and anger?  Who wants to write or preach about any of this?

Instead we want quick answers that make nice sound bites.  We want to make issues seem easy.  Things like, it’s the law, so we obey it.  Or it was passed by a previous administration, so they are to blame.  Or we should ignore the law here, but not deal with a broken immigration system.  Or so much more.  This isn’t easy.  There are no simple answers.

Most people would rather hear a sermon about mushy love and being nice and tell the pastor how nice the sermon was. Why?  Because that type of sermon or writing isn’t costly.  They require nothing of you.  They don’t require you to do self-examination.  They don’t require you to look at yourself in the mirror and question important things about yourself, what you believe, and what you stand for, and what Jesus is calling you to.  They don’t require a cost or a response or a radical reorientation.  They don’t require a sort of death of the self.  Those are cheap grace sermons that remain silent about the reality of evil in our midst.  Those are sermons that would rather close our eyes because the big bad world is just too scary to deal with.  You can hear many of those sermons in churches each Sunday.

And I don’t fault the pastors that preach these sermons either.  Preaching the Gospel is costly.  It’s disruptive.  It points out the unpleasant truth.  It’s scary.  I know I have failed in this regard plenty of times.  This Sunday we hear the disciples ask Jesus in the midst of the storm – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Many a pastor asks Jesus the same question each week.  Just as Jesus didn’t answer the disciples, he doesn’t make it easy for us either.

I was going to write about where I saw things going – the path we are on, but really, what the heck do I know?

Instead, I’m going to tell you something else.  There is much to worry about in the world – let’s not kid ourselves.  We have an unhealthy society right now.  We are in the midst of a great storm of life.  We are calling out to Jesus – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And like in the boat, Jesus doesn’t answer.  Why doesn’t he answer?  We want Jesus to say comforting things.  But he’s quiet.

Often, I think we get confused. That’s not a radical statement.  The disciples spent actual physical time with Jesus and they screwed up all the time.  Why would we think we are any better.  And after Jesus calms the storm, he asks them a question – “Why are you afraid?”  They completely miss the question.  They marvel about Jesus calming the storm, but miss what Jesus is really saying.

Did they really think that God would allow the storm to harm Jesus?  They were in the boat with Jesus, the incarnate Word.  Did they think that the storm was more powerful than God?  They were letting something else define them and who and whose they were.  They let fear define them and their existence.  And Jesus asks a simple question – “Why are you afraid?”  It’s as if Jesus is asking – did you forget whose you are?  Did you forget that your identity is as a Child of God?  Why are you letting fear define you?

As we hurtle through this immigration mess, I think Jesus’ question is so very important.  Why are we afraid?  What is our identity?  Is politics our primary identity?  Are we Republicans and Democrats first and then Children of God?  Are we Americans first and then Children of God?  Are we legal first and then Children of God?  Are we identified by fear first and then Children of God?  What are we?

If Christ is not the lens that we look through, the foundation of our identity, first and foremost, then there is no hope.  We will end up killing each other.  Nothing but Christ offers us any hope.  History shows that to be true.

Let us remember who and whose we are.  That Christ gives us a different identity.  That this identity doesn’t mean conformity of thought.  Rather, it allows us to have differences, even on important issues, and still see one another as Children of God.  We don’t have to agree, but can we find something, anything, that we overlap on?  Can we start with that?  Please.

Let’s start by acknowledging that we are afraid, and that we are having a difficult time voicing our fears honestly – with being vulnerable with one another.  Let’s start with the fact that Jesus’ question makes us uncomfortable because it touches us deeply and shows our own weakness and brokeness.  Let’s start with the fact that we don’t trust one another – actually voicing it out loud so that the reality is acknowledged.  It is only from there that we can move forward.

It starts with Jesus asking an uncomfortable question that gives us room to respond.

Why are you afraid?

I don’t want to write about any of this.  I don’t want to preach on this.  Yet, here I am.  Yet, there I will be on Sunday.  Silence is not an option.  Anger isn’t either.  The only thing that overcomes fear is love.  Let us speak in love.  Not mushy fake love.  Deep love that shows that there are no enemies.  There are only children of God.  It’s not easy.  We can’t do it on our own.  We follow Jesus who empowers us.  And we risk it all.

Why are you afraid?

 

Is legality the highest value?

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I have a question for those who believe that fulfilling the law is of utmost importance.

Imagine it is 1861 and you live in Maryland.  A fugitive slave family has escaped slavery in the South.  They come onto your land and seek safe passage.  You encounter them.

What do you do?

Do you fulfill the law of the land that states that a fugitive slave shall be returned to their masters – knowing that this will lead to severe punishment, possibly death, and maybe even the separation of families?  Or do you give safe passage to the family on their journey to freedom, thus disobeying the law because you recognize it as immoral and destructive?  Or do you do something else?

It’s easy to point out the differences in this situation with the current immigration mess.  It’s easy to make excuses and dismiss the example I provided.  In fact, it’s easy to decide to see the world in black and white – to separate things into issues and people’s lives and believe that the two are not related – missing the messiness of the impact of this way of thinking on people’s lives.  But are you willing to answer the question given your current logical reasoning?  Are you willing to be the one who enforces this law?  If not, why not?  It’s not your job?  That’s a cop-out.  Are you willing to take a look at how the situations are similar?  To be uncomfortable?  Are you willing to be consistent in your thinking that the obeying and fulfilling the law is of utmost importance – regardless of the morality of the law?

Or how about this situation – you are Jew in Bethlehem during the reign of King Herod – the ruler of the land you reside in.  Herod declares that all male babies two years old or younger shall be killed.  The reasoning doesn’t matter.  You have a one year old.  Would you willingly hand over your child to the soldiers in order to fulfill and obey the law and the governing authorities?  What if you didn’t have a child, but you knew a traveling family passing through did?  Would you turn them in?  Why?  Or would you do what you had to do to disobey this decree in order to save the life of your child or any child?

Now imagine you are a refugee, or even just an immigrant from Central America.  Seriously, put yourself in their just a small section of their shoes.  And don’t give me the nice neat answer of “I would obey the law and follow the rules.”  You are still thinking from the safety of your life.  Imagine that the situation in your own country is not good.  Your family is in danger if they stay – you and your family could end up dead.  You decided to leave and make a journey north to America – a land known as a place of opportunity.  While so much is unknown, you determine that it has to be better than where you are right now.  You make the trip and get to the border.  What you do is illegal, but staying within the law means almost certain death.  What do you do?  What do you hope will happen?

It’s not so easy when we move past black and white thinking is it?  It’s rather messy.  Life is messy.  Law does not equal morality.  This isn’t an argument for lawlessness.  This is an argument about the morality of certain laws and what we are supposed to obey when those laws are suspect or outright immoral – regardless of who passed them or when.  This isn’t an argument about Republicans and Democrats – of who should get the blame.  That doesn’t resolve anything and is a distraction.

What we are dealing with is a difference of image – not the skin deep images of celebrity and consumerism.  No, deeper images – ones that define and shape who we are.

Is our national image shaped by this and what it stands for:

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Or this and the poem which is associated with it:

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(Source: the New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, 1883)

Which image will we embrace?

The first image is an image of the law – cold, heartless, and concerned with security, safety, and control for some.

The second image is an image of risk, welcome, and uncertainty for all.

We can do so many things that try to make us more secure, safer, and give us the false sense of control over our lives.

The disciples in this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage are all on board with that.  They are in the sea, in a boat.  And there is a great storm brewing.  They are scared and they seek safety.  They wake Jesus up because they feel insecure and unsafe.  They are not in control.  They worry about the bad things that will happen to them.  And they ask Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38, NRSV).

Jesus doesn’t answer their question.  He doesn’t give the answer they want – “of course I don’t want you to perish.”  Nope.  He doesn’t say anything.  Hardly comforting.  Later he will call on his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him, to deny themselves.  To die.

Yet, death does not have the final say.  After Jesus calms the storms around the boat, he asks the disciples these questions – Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

These are deep questions for us.  And they are Gospel too.  Why are we afraid?  What do we fear?  Do we believe that Jesus walks with us – with all of us?  Do we believe that Jesus walks with these refugees too?  Or is Jesus just reserved for us on this side of the wall?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  What does it mean to love our neighbors?  To welcome the stranger?  When have we been strangers and been rejected?

What is Jesus calling us to?

Have you still no faith?  Guess what – we can’t have enough faith on our own.  If it’s about us and our faith, what we know about God, our safety, our security, our control – then we’ll just end up failing and dead.

Faith is a gift from God.  It comes to us because we can’t go to it.  Faith isn’t just head knowledge, but it moves through us and causes us to respond.  To pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  Especially in the storms of life.  When there is danger all around us.  Faith moves us forward – in risk, in welcome, and in uncertainty.  Faith means we are not in control and we aren’t going to fool ourselves into believing we are.  We are safe, but in a different way – we are in God’s hands. That regardless what happens to us, God will not forget us.  And God offers us a promise – resurrection.  New life.  Transformed life.  Changed life.  Risky life.  Invitational life.  Life.

The Weakest and Most Vulnerable

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I’m struggling with the implementation of the immigration policy that has resulted in the separation of approximately 2000 children from their parents.  I’m struggling for a variety of reasons.

First, that we have a law that allows for this to happen and that this law has been the law of the land for several years.  I had no idea that this was the law.  It is immoral.  These are not violent criminals we are talking about.  Often these are asylum seekers – people who left places because their life was in danger only to find the life of their families in danger by coming here.

Why? Because we have to carry out the laws?  Except our government has never carried out all of our laws.  The current administration previously stated that it would not carry out the laws related to Obamacare.  So why this law and not that one?

I’m struggling with the Attorney General citing the Bible, all with a smile, as a justification for carrying out this law.  This is the same reasoning that tyrants have used throughout history to gain compliance from people.  It is the same reasoning that the South used to support the laws of slavery.  And it’s completely out of context – using the Bible as a weapon of mass destruction, rather than something that is life-giving.

I’m struggling with other things that go beyond this one decision.  Why is it that children are always the ones to suffer from immoral policies?  Is it because they are truly powerless?

Immigration laws that separate families make no sense.  Unless we are using children as a pawn, a deterrent.  But why are the powerless used at all?  Are they pawns in a game or human beings?

Shootings at schools go on and children die – the least and the powerless suffer.  And they are used in a debate about the laws pertaining to guns – what should be legal and what should not.  Any action is held hostage to the whims of those with power.  And we wait for the next shooting and the body count that will go with it.  It’s just a number after all.  And we aren’t serious about an actual change if it has financial (fundraising) implications, or forces the powerful to acknowledge the least among us – or give voice to them as if they matter.

Why is it that the youngest, the most defenseless, are the ones that always suffer at the hands of the powerful?

While abortion is a topic that is extremely divisive to even bring up, the least and most vulnerable suffer.  Regardless of your stand on abortion – the legality of it – can you see that there are victims in this tragic decision?  The tragedy starts well before the final act and leaves emotional scars the we are not open to offering healing, forgiveness, or help that might change lives, rather than end them.  Instead we offer shame and demand silence of the women who suffer, forcing them to continue to be punished and alone.  After all there is a whole lot of money to be made from this divisive issue – campaign funds are easier to come by from controversial and emotional issues after all.  The women and who they carry become pawns in a fundraising scheme for the decision makers.

Why are the least and the powerless, the most vulnerable, used as pawns?

There are no simple answers to this.  And it is not new.

King Herod was upset about a child being born – the newborn King of the Jews.  Someone who he thought would usurp his power.  So he had to strike.  And strike he did – at the least and the most vulnerable – children.  He slaughtered all the male babies two years old and younger.

The least and the most vulnerable suffer at the hands of the powerful.  Always.

Do the powerful fear children so much that they are willing to kill them?  According to history that seems to be the case.  Power is a hungry idol that demands human sacrifice.

Do the powerful fear the most vulnerable that they are willing to allow terrible things to happen to them?  Apparently.  Power is such that is lonely and has no use for koinonia (community).  It only believes in the self.

Do the powerful fear the children that they are willing to enforce an immoral law?  It wouldn’t be the first.  Nor will it be the last.

And the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  None of it has to.  None of this is set in stone.  Laws can change.  It really isn’t that difficult.  What is difficult is the will to change – the will to empower the powerless.

God presents an alternative to this way of life – not just for us individually, but as a society and how we govern.  God’s way isn’t a top-down, do this or else, type of way of governing.  God is a bottom-up God.  God is one who is incarnate and walks with the least and the most vulnerable.  We see this in the example of Jesus.  God isn’t just a God of Law, but also of Gospel – Good News.  That the captives will be set free.  That the hungry will be fed.  That the last shall be first.

I believe in a different way for this world.  A way that is guided by the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes.  A way that is guided by Jesus command to tend to the least and the most vulnerable.  A way this guided by both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures that call on us to love our neighbors, our enemies – all people.  A way that is summed up in two words – Koinonia (Community) and Shalom (Wholeness).  A way that isn’t interested in using force to get its way, but lives by something else that Paul wrote

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-13, NRSV)

Our world doesn’t have to be this way.  God offers us an alternative – one that is actually unfolding before us.  God invites us to participate in this unfolding.  God gives us the faith to participate in it.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see this way unfolding.  But thankfully, as we were reminded this Sunday – We walk by faith, and not by sight.

Let us walk in the way of the Lord, not in the way of the powerful.  Their way doesn’t work.  It never has.  It always leaves a trail of suffering and death.

There is an alternative.  The path is set before us.  Let us take this path.  Let us walk together and not look back.

What I would do with $54 million

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I’m sure by now you have seen stories about a televangelist who supposedly heard Jesus tell him that he needed a fourth jet to add to his collection – one that costs $54 million.  He already had the trinity worth of jets, this one must be in honor of Paul.

At any rate, it got me thinking about what I would do with $54 million.  I certainly wouldn’t waste it on a fourth jet.

No, instead, I would use it for ministry.  There’s an abandoned hotel – Hotel Carlisle – down on the Carlisle Pike, just past I-81.  It’s a large property that sits with a deteriorating hotel.  I’d buy it, level it to the ground and build a village of tiny homes for the homeless.  There would be plenty of room for a community center complete with separate shower facilities, laundry, and a community kitchen.  There would be plenty of money to hired the professionals needed to work with these folks too – social workers, medical professionals, etc.  And I would create the space for the residents of the community to be able to open businesses too, if they felt so inclined.

$54 million wouldn’t even be needed for all of that.

The point is, this is a big dream – one that would have a major impact on the lives of many.  This would be a huge sign that the Miracle Mile is where miracles are happening.

In the middle of this community of tiny homes, I’d build a modest church for people to worship in, but it wouldn’t be the typical structure.  It would be a worship space that could accommodate many different worship styles – dinner church, traditional worship, taize, etc.  You name it.  It would be an innovative worship space – a place to try things out because this would be a ministry with people where innovation was important.

Additionally, I would create a mission hub – a place to learn about homelessness.  Think of it as Homeless University.  The people who live there would help educate those of us who have never been homeless.  We’d hear from them of what the needs really are, how people survive, the networks that are created.  It would be a lab to test theories and ideas out about how to eliminate homelessness.  It would be a place for debate and conversation.  It would be a resource hub of information.  It would be a mission hub where new mission to other homeless communities could be launched and where these new missions could draw on support.

Imagine what could be done with $54 million.

That’s what I would do with $54 million.  I’d dream big and then carry it out.

Anyone got a few extra million sitting around and you don’t know what to do with it?

Let’s change the world.  Let’s get uncomfortable.  Let’s believe in miracles.  Let’s participate in the unfolding of the kingdom.

Praying

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How do you pray?  Do you really believe what you pray for?

Do you believe in the power of prayer?  Or are you just going through the motions, with an expectation that God will be silent and absent? If that is the case, why both to pray at all?

Let’s be careful here though.  Prayer isn’t like ordering something on Amazon – make your request and you get it like Amazon Prime.  In many ways, prayer is the exact opposite.  It’s often not about getting what we want at all. Prayer is more often than not something that is designed to align us with God’s will.

There’s a parable that Jesus told about a persistent widow that I think fits in this discussion.

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

(Luke 18:1-8, NRSV)

What would happen if we prayed like the widow did with the judge?  What if we were bold when we prayed.

What if we boldly asked for justice – to end human trafficking, prostitution, homelessness, drug addition, domestic violence, war, etc.?

Do we really believe that these things would end?  These are selfish prayers – prayers of “give me more stuff God.”  These are prayers that are really about bringing about the kingdom of God.

Do we really believe what we are praying for or are we just being nice and mouthing the words fully expecting nothing to change?

Do we dare summon God into our midst?  Do we dare poke at God and remind God that God is a God of faithfulness?  There are several Psalms that do just that – why should we be any different?  Read Psalm 44 or Psalm 10 – these Psalms do not hold back.  They get in God’s face, much like the persistent widow in Luke.

Do we dare poke God and ask if God really is who God says God is?

Do we pray with imperatives – demands?

Psalm 88 is another prayer that gets in God’s face.

How do we pray?  And more importantly – why?

Jesus said: “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

Cry out to God day and night with your plea.  And be open to how God answers.

Things I struggle with

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There are many things that I struggle with – questions I ask often.

All of the things I struggle with end up dealing with the ultimate question of am I doing the right thing.  Am I offering the right advice?  And the answer is – maybe, I hope so.

Being a pastor doesn’t mean I have all the answers, or many times, any of the answers.  It means I sit with people where they are, in their situations that have no black and white easy answers.  I sit with them in their gray situations and let them know that they are not alone and that God loves them.  What else am I to do?

Having the answers often doesn’t even matter really.  That’s not what most people are really seeking.  They want to know that they are not alone in the world.  The answers will come, or they won’t.  But facing the world alone – that’s a scary prospect.  Being alone – that’s terrifying for most people.

I struggle with the question of evil in the world – as many have before me and many will after me.  How do you respond to evil?  Do you fight evil and destroy it?  Or by doing so, do you yourself become evil?  Does the method determine the outcome?

I struggle with some of the things Jesus taught.   There are things that I just want to scream about and some people who I would love to see punished for their actions and attitudes.  Yet, that is not what Jesus taught.  And if I am going to claim to be a follower of Jesus – well, then that means I have to give up those desires.  To forge a different path – one in which I take up my cross and follow Jesus.  And often this sucks.

I struggle with not being able to unsee the things I have seen and unhear the things I have heard.  Once you see them and hear them, there is no turning back.  There’s no going back to the way it was before.  And they break your heart – over and over again.

Things like homelessness – homeless men and women and families, who live in their vehicles in a parking lot.  Things like human trafficking and prostitution. Things like drug trade.  Things like dehumanizing rhetoric and talk – certainly from politicians, but more disheartening is from “average” people you see on the streets.  Things like domestic violence.

I struggle with how cruel humanity is and has been to itself for so many centuries.  So cruel.  And for what?  What purpose?  The cruelty makes no sense – yet it persists.

I struggle with people living in anger and fear.  I struggle with people wanting to have all the answers – especially where answers are vacant.  I struggle with people believing being right is the most important thing in the world.  I struggle with loyalties to things that will not last.

I struggle with people not being open to conversation or challenging beliefs to discover the truth.

I struggle with people choosing comfort and convenience over following Jesus.

There are many things I struggle with.  I ask God about these things every day.  Why, Oh Lord, does this persist?  How long Oh Lord will you allow this to go on?

But, regardless of the struggle and how long it grips me, I know I am not alone – Jesus walks with me.  Jesus walks with me in the uncertainly and struggles of life.  I know this because there is no way I could do this alone.  It would be overwhelming.  It would be too much.

I struggle, but Jesus is there.  He struggles right along side. Actually, he’s been struggling for so very long.  I’m new at this in comparison.  It’s not even close actually.  The weight of the world isn’t on my shoulders – it’s on his.  I’m responsible for adding some extra weight onto his shoulders too.

And so as I struggle, I pray.  I pray that the struggle will be worth it.  That no one will be alone.  That I can be an instrument of God’s mercy and grace.  I struggle.  But I am not alone.  And neither are you.

Are you all in?

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Are you all in for Jesus?  I mean really all in?

Not “yeah, I think he’s a good guy” kind of all in.  Not “I call myself a Christian” but in reality I don’t follow what he taught kind of way.  Not “I follow Jesus when it’s convenient” kind of all in either.

All in means All in.  All in means you believe Jesus is more than just a good guy or a prophet or someone who had some good ideas.  All in means you believe that Jesus wasn’t about only being nice to people.  All in means the Beatitudes – as in living them out.  All in means living out the Sermon on the Mount.  All in means picking up your cross, the instrument of death that will kill you, and willingly carrying it.  All in means being uncomfortable and inconvenienced.  All in means following what Jesus actually taught – knowing that what we taught doesn’t match up with either major political party and usually is in conflict with both parties over a variety of things.  All in means following a Gospel that is in conflict with the empires of the world – empires are things that make demands on people for their loyalty and allegiance and offer nothing in return.  All in means being counter cultural at times.  All in means speaking up when necessary – even at the expense of ridicule, anger by others, and people pushing you away.

All in also means experiencing the fullness of who Jesus really is – the Savior who comes to save us.  All in means experiencing death and resurrection.  All in means seeing the world differently.

Are you all in?  Because Jesus was all in for you and for all of creation.

We have a choice

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There are many in this world that think that the only way to get what they want is through force.  Some will choose violence to get what they want and what they think is right.  Violence can come in many forms – physical, verbal, mental, emotional, etc.  It can come through dehumanizing comments, how people are treated, and by destroying property of targeted groups and individuals.

And we have a choice of how we respond.

There are many in this world who live their life in fear – fear of “those” people who are coming here.  They fear they will lose something – maybe the status quo, maybe some kind of rights or privlege, maybe a job or a job opportunity, maybe their definition of “normal.”  And so these people who live by fear and in fear strike out.  When someone feels cornered, sometimes they strike out.  Especially when that person had authority, or power.  They have lost their status and get angry about losing it.

And we have a choice of how we respond.

Yesterday I saw a video that showed a “Christian” family videotaping themselves going around degrading a Mosque – teaching their children hatred of Muslims and tearing down fliers about the Mosque.  There was dehumanizing language about Muslims.  This video was on Facebook, and it was meant to show how some people are hate filled.  Unfortunately, all these videos really do is give free rein to the message that is being proclaimed – a message of hate.

And we have a choice of how we respond.

We can respond in kind – saying all sorts of terrible things about this family.  We don’t have to think very hard to come up with some very harsh comments, belittling statements.  We don’t have to work very hard to dehumanize the dehumanizers.

But does that make us any better?  Or are we just using the same tactics that have been used – an in doing so, legitimizing the approach?

Oh how badly I wanted to let my comments rip this family a new one.  Oh how badly did I want to label them.  Oh how badly did I want to respond in anger.  Oh how badly.  My insides were hot with rage.

And yet, we have a choice of how we respond.

As I was watching, willingly exposing myself to this anger and fear, a small voice inside me whispered a passage of Scripture – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The whisper was powerful and strong in a different way than the anger.  It offered words that touched the very heart of me.  It offered words that I needed to hear.  It offered words that others needed to hear.

And so I posted parts of this passage of Scripture in the comment section, along with a prayer.  A prayer that highlighted a response of love.

We have a choice in how we respond.

We can’t control what others will do, but we can control how we respond.

For those of us that are Christians, or Christ-followers, the question is this – do we really believe Jesus?  Do we really believe that love will win?  Do we really that peace is a way of life and not a destination – it is the now, not someday?  Do we really believe that love will conquer?  Do we really believe that 1 John 5:3-5?

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Do we really believe?

We have a choice in how we respond.

Here is what I will be doing going forward, when I see a disturbing or upsetting or angering or fear-filled article, video, or comment – I will be responding to it with Scripture and prayer.  I don’t promise that I’ll do this for everything – but for ones that I feel a response is necessary.

We don’t stop fear and anger and violence and hatred and prejudice and the -isms through fear and anger and violence and hatred and labeling.  We stop it by changing the focus completely.  You can’t put a fire out by adding more gasoline.  You can’t stop a war by dropping more bombs.  You can’t stop shootings by adding more bullets.  You can’t stop hatred by adding more anger.  You can’t stop fear by adding more anxiety.  You can’t stop dehumanizing by dehumanizing in response.

You stop it by changing it – you change how you respond.  You change how you talk and interact.  You change how you show respect.  You change by loving, being peaceful, offering mercy and grace. You change without expecting others will change, but inviting them to change too.  Jesus didn’t confront the Empire or the Temple authorities by using violence.  He didn’t use the same tactics that those in authority used.  He presented an alternative way of living, and invited others to participate in this way of living.  And by doing so, he change the world.

We have a choice in how we respond.

I choose this.  I invite you to join in.  Especially if you are tired of being angry, living in fear, and being upset at the world.  There is another way.  You don’t have to be fluent in Scripture – you can google passages that seem appropriate to the situation.  If you are going to respond, respond out of faith and love.  We have a choice in how we respond.

Live the way that Christ calls us to live.  Some will join in, some won’t.  You can’t control it.  But there will be an impact.  It’s how the world is conquered.

We have a choice in how we respond.  Respond well.  Offer a response that changes the world.

Jesus Interrupted

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Does Jesus interrupt your life?  Or is Jesus just an interruption in your life?  If all you do is go to church on Sunday for an hour, but live how you want, then Jesus is just a minor interruption in your life,

Jesus should be interrupting your life all the time.

But do we try to bring the narrative of our life back to something in which we believe we are in control?

That doesn’t end well.

Throughout the Bible we see story after story of people trying to do just this.

God interrupts in the Old Testament all the time – much to the dismay of the people who have been interrupted.  With the interruption usually comes a change of their life.

In the New Testament, it starts with Jesus being born and interrupting King Herod’s narrative and life.  Herod thought he had control over time and the narrative.  He certainly had everyone scared.  Only he didn’t have control.  He loses control of the narrative to a baby and strangers who aren’t even on the map. They are from the East.

Seriously though – he loses control of the narrative to a baby.  How fragile is Herod’s narrative that he loses control that easily?

And what does he do when he loses control?  The same thing all those in power do when they lose control – they try to take down as many others with them as possible.  He kills the innocents because he is weak.  He needs to kill those out of power to show his own supposed strength, but the reality is he is far weaker and his end ends with him being a footnote in history to a greater narrative.  He becomes a minor actor with a short scene in a greater narrative.  It’s a narrative he doesn’t control.

This is how all those in power end.  Especially the truly weak – the ones who have the biggest egos and make the biggest claims.  The reality is that they are full of emptiness and empty rhetoric and empty promises.

Instead, it is a baby who offers hope for a new reality.  It is strangers who have a vision of the future.  Herod, like all those who think they control the narrative, ends up destroying innocents in an effort to keep the narrative.  But God interrupts.

How is God interrupting your life?

NFL and the National Anthem

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Here’s a confession – I haven’t watched an NFL game for several years.  There have been a few exceptions here and there – parts of a Super Bowl, mostly because the kids were interested in the outcome, etc.  I stopped watching football regularly though when we moved to Finland back in the summer of 2014.  Having been a long time Buffalo Bills fan, it was easy to stop watching – my team sucked – for many years.  And frankly, I was tired of rooting for a crappy team that never seemed interested in doing anything to become uncrappy.

Then a decision was made that helped me see something else about the NFL – it was a decision to increase the number of games that the players play overseas.  There was talk about launching teams in Europe.  And it was then that I realized that all the NFL really cared about was making a profit – it was the almighty dollar demanding more human sacrifice.  In this case, sacrifice of the player’s health and the fans dollars and euros.  There was big money to be made at the expense of the players.  Granted, they aren’t doing shabby financially.  But still – how much are the players’ health worth?

The concussion situation doesn’t help the NFL either.  Again, a disregard for the players, all in the name of making a buck for the owners.

And us fans aren’t innocent in this.  It is our thirst for sport, for seeing the modern-day gladiators, hit each other violently.   Oh how willing we are to pay these owners to see violence done to people in the name of one of our own idols – entertainment.

And now yesterday we get the decision that players and teams can be fined if they offer a protest during the national anthem – kneeling silently.

This was a bad decision in many respects.  You can read about these in stories that are all over the news sites.  It was bad because it brought the issue up again – it was not being talked about.  It’s bad because it was based on fear of a certain politician – would his tweets have an impact on sales of tickets and merchandise.  It’s bad because it’s just going to cause more people to tune out.

But the biggest reason, and most important reason, that I saw was because the NFL made the decision based solely on finances.  There is money to be made and so rights and protests need to be pushed out-of-the-way.  This is what we in church call systemic sin.  This isn’t about the national anthem at all – it’s about making a profit off of people at their expense and pushing away anything that might impinge on that profit.  And it is something that pervades our culture, with limited escape.  We wrap the flag around this sin, as if washing in soldiers’ blood will cleanse us and save us.  And we demand that the presentation be a spectacle – full of pomp and circumstance, complete with a fly over of the jets.  We want to hear the roar of unity and since that doesn’t actually exist, the owners did what they could to create the illusion – they pushed the protest out of sight.  Nothing says American values and what the Anthem stands for like silencing peaceful protest apparently – all in the name of keeping the status quo of making a nice juicy profit.

Which is interesting since the NFL is a non-profit according to the tax law.  Look it up if you don’t believe me.  Yet, I don’t hear protests from people about these non-profit executives’ salaries. Why?  I often hear how terrible it is that a CEO of a non-profit, ones that actually impact people’s lives for the better, will be compensated six-figures or possibly more.  Yet, I hear no complaint about how terrible it is that the owner of a team that is part of a non-profit makes multi-millions and allows for these men to be billionaires.  Why?  Maybe it has something to do with the idea that it is easy to criticize the non-profits that are helping if we don’t contribute to them.  It’s much harder to criticize the NFL when we are contributing to these profits – we would have to do some self-examination and ask how we are contributing to propping up the system that exists.  And that would be a bit to uncomfortable and close to home for us I guess.

Yesterday I heard Fr. Richard Rohr speak about systemic sin in an interesting way.  He said that we have a world that upholds the seven deadly sins in a corporate (communal) way, but punishes individuals that practice these.  In other words, killing is ok when it is done by the state and is called war because it is for defending what we stand for, but it not ok when an individual does it.  We put statues up to people who caused great killing and suffering on behalf of the state, but punish individuals who do this on their own.  You can see this same type of logic in other areas as well.

This sends a mixed message at best.  And when we give a pass to such systemic sin but condemn individual sins, then we are fooling ourselves into thinking we can have a just and free society.  We aren’t really free at all – we are in bondage to sin.  A bondage that doesn’t allow for freedom.  A bondage that will squash any opposition that exists and silence those who question what is happening.

We think of these systems as super powerful.  Yet, the reality is they are weak beyond belief.  I say that knowing that really, there is a paradox.  These systems are very power – they have immense pull and sway over us.  Yet we willingly participate in them.  Sometimes we can’t avoid participating in them.  But think about this.  The only way these systems continue to persist is through threat and silencing opposition.  They are weak in this regard.  When exposed, they fall apart.  They can’t withstand the truth.  And they crumble like a statue made with clay feet.

The NFL is promoting greed corporately and wrapping it in the flag – as if the national anthem had anything to do with football.  As if what the anthem stood for was actually being promoted through football.  It isn’t.  But the NFL punishes individuals who use something supposedly cherished by what the anthem stands for – free speech.

The NFL has become an empire that demands allegiance and turning a blind eye to the systemic sin it is protecting and benefiting from.

This really has nothing to do with the national anthem or the flag.  If it did, they would follow all the rules related to how the flag should be used and how it should not be used – like on clothing.  But when profit is your idol, your god, then that doesn’t matter. All that matters is making appropriate sacrifices to your idol.  Players’ health and freedom of speech need to be sacrificed apparently – the gods demand it.  There’s a profit to be made.  There’s the spectacle of unity to be shown, even when it doesn’t exist.  Silence has to be forced on those who raise an issue.  It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.  Empires thrive on complacency and spectacle.  It’s also how they end up falling apart.  They get lazy and lethargic.  Their chants become empty and they are shown for what they are – greedy.  And eventually, the “barbarians” waltz into Rome and expose what is left as weak.