Faith isn’t just a private matter

Religion and faith are only private matters.

Do you really believe that?  I don’t.  In fact, in order to believe this, you have to change the very definition of what faith is.

Here’s a screen shot of the definition of faith from dictionary.com:

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 10.56.33 AM

The very idea of faith is grounded in relationship beyond yourself – whether you are talking about faith in a person or thing, or God, or religion, or a code, or standards, or a system.  These all relate to others.  No part of the definition of faith is about you and you alone.

If your faith is only a private matter, then it is a waste.  If our faith doesn’t have a public witness or impact, then why bother with it?

Faith isn’t just a set of beliefs that we accept, faith impacts our life in a very public way.  Faith impacts our relationships with other.  Faith impacts how we speak and act.  Faith is the lens through which we see the world.  Because of faith, we can see an injustice in the world and are moved to act to change the situation.  Our faith prods us to action.  And action is public because it impacts others.

One of the reasons I think the church is in decline is because we, as a church, adopted the idea that faith is just private, that it has no place in the public square.  More to the point, if faith is only private, it is weak, it is secondary, and it ultimately doesn’t matter.

The unfolding of the reign of God, which we are invited to participate in, isn’t some kind of a private affair.  It’s very public.  It’s in the face of the culture and the world.  It offers an alternative to what the world thinks is normal.  It changes lives.  It flips the structures that exist.  It counters the status quo.  It empowers those who have been silenced.  It frees the captive.  It welcomes the stranger.  It claims that Jesus is our Savior, not Caesar or the empire.  It calls on us to love our neighbors and our enemies.  It re-orders society to live in kingdom values rather than empire values.  None of these things listed are just private.  They are very public.  And that’s a good thing.

Faith calls on us to follow Jesus, the one who holds very public titles – King of the Jews, Prince of Peace, Messiah, Son of God, Lord.  These are not private labels.  They are very public.  It is because of these labels and their impact – because of the faith that Jesus brought that has a public impact – that he was crucified by the empire.  Faith is in conflict with the empire and empire theology.

Empires have faith too – their credo, their faith, is summed up as a belief in the ends justify the means, the strong survive.  These are also public faiths.  They are designed to enslave many, to enrich the few.  To maintain order and status quo.

Jesus offers a faith that sets people free, that welcomes many, that offers forgiveness.  That lives out love for both neighbor and enemy.  That changes the world.

Faith is not just private.  It is very public.  Thanks be to God for that.

Let’s be honest…We’d rather not follow Jesus

How many of us claim to be followers of Jesus, yet really have no idea of what Jesus asks of us as his follower?  I guess that’s better than knowing and willingly rejecting what he asks.

We have plenty of excuses for not doing what Jesus calls on us to do – maybe we claim to not know the bible.  Or that we can’t get to church very often.  Maybe we think we’re a good person overall.  Maybe work keeps you tied up.  Or the kids have soccer practice so very often.  Pick your excuse, they all work the same.

Yet the ironic thing is that we, as a society, seem to have very little trouble expressing our political beliefs about any issue, regardless of how truly informed we really are.  Opinions on political topics are a dime a dozen.  Some of us spend time studying and memorizing political arguments too.  We wait with bated breath to hear proclamations of the high priests of our political tribe so we will know what to think about any given subject and accept these proclamations as the gospel truth.

Often, we are willing to go through mental jujitsu when our political high priests contradict themselves – all in an effort to believe we are rational beings in regard to our political beliefs.  Too often we make excuses for our political saviors’ actions and words – rationalizing them away.  We make excuses for their lies.  We make excuses for their past.  We make excuses because what we really believe is that the ends justify the means.  We give a pass to our political high priests, even when they commit the same exact sin as the political high priests of the other political tribe.

And when we look at faith and religion, we throw the bible aside when we find something that contradicts another passage of Scripture.  We use it as an excuse to make our faith unimportant in our daily lives, because it just isn’t rational.  No, faith isn’t rational.  Faith never claimed to be rational.

Following Jesus is just too difficult, we believe.  Without actually knowing what it is Jesus calls on us to do and to be to follow him.  We prefer to set Jesus aside.  We prefer a savior more to our liking.  A savior that we believe will have a bigger impact on our lives directly – more money in our pockets, more services, more protection, more stuff, some way to fill the void in our life.  We want that, but we also want a savior that asks nothing of us in return for any of this – a savior that in actuality has no impact on us – in terms of making a change in our lives.

When Jesus offers us discipleship, we claim that it has no bearing on our lives.  We really don’t want it to have an impact on our lives.  That would mean that we aren’t in control.

Jesus offers us love, being truly fed, forgiveness, peace, joy, mercy, grace, not being alone, resurrection, and actual salvation – things that we can’t get anywhere else.

It’s time to stop making excuses.  It’s time to be honest with who is Lord of our life.  It’s time to admit we suck at following Jesus.  And it’s time to be embraced by Jesus.  It’s time.

The Audacity of Good News

We live in a society that is intent on taking offense.  A society that can’t handle a difference of opinion, or the pointing out an outright lie.  A society that is more interested in dividing and separating people rather than seeing the humanity in another person.  A society that desires to win at all costs where the ends justify the means.  A society that doesn’t seem very interested in taking the effort to build trust.

It can be overwhelming.  It can be debilitating.  It can drive a person crazy.

It can, but it doesn’t have to.

My only strand of sanity in such a world is Jesus.  I don’t mean that in a nice fluffy, theological way either.  I mean that literally.

This past Sunday, our Gospel reading had Jesus telling us:  “Blessed are you who are poor…Woe to you who are rich.”  Society laughs at this.  Didn’t Jesus get the memo about the American dream?  Doesn’t Jesus understand that money is our idol that we worship?

Hmm.   It’s almost as if Jesus knew this long ago.  It’s almost as if Jesus knew our reaction before he stated those words.  And then said them anyway.  Just to ruffle our feathers.  To see how we would react.  Would we ignore him?  Would we make excuses?  Would we scapegoat and call others names in response?

Or would we listen and hear the Good News in such a message.  The Good News that our stuff and our money doesn’t define us and our value.  Blessed are you who are poor.  Some of the most generous people I have every met are poor.  People who have very little.  And the little they have, they give away.  Stuff and money just doesn’t matter that much.  Blessed are you who are poor – money isn’t your god.  Money is a hard task master – a demanding god.  Blessed are you who are poor, you recognize who your God is.

Good News is around us – all around us.  Sometimes it just takes looking and you will see it.  It happens around us all the time.  You can see it.  You can hear it.  You can feel it.  Good News is the very fabric of life.  Good News is a choice – we have been empowered by God to see the world around us in all its brokenness and sin.  We have been empowered to see the world in its hate and fear.  We have been empowered to see the world for what it is.  And then to see God’s kingdom and how it is unfolding in our midst.  Without that, nothing makes sense.

Money – Stuff we don’t talk about

Money is one of those things people generally don’t like to talk about.  Actually, let me clarify that a bit because people love to talk about money.  People don’t like to talk about the money they earn.

Throw in faith with money and you have a recipe for a quiet room.

This coming Sunday, the lectionary has Jesus talking about money.  Luke quotes Jesus as saying:

“Blessed are you who are poor…”  (Luke 6:20).

“But woe to you who are rich…” (Luke 6:24).

Doesn’t sound very American does it?  Our definitions of success might come in conflict with Jesus’ definition.

That might be because of a difference in understanding about money and people.

Too often in our society, we judge the value of a person based on money.  We want to know what they do for a living – an end run to get to an understanding of how much money they make often.  We want to know what they are producing.  We want to know what kind of stuff they have bought with their money.  We end up equating material wealth with value.

Yet Jesus rejects this.  How else can we possibly understand Jesus saying “Woe to you who are rich…”  For Jesus, money isn’t the measure of worth and value for a person.  Their value is inherent in who the are – beloved Children of God.  Our worth and value doesn’t come from what we do or how much we make.  It comes from the relationship God has with us.

Money is a tool to be used, not an ID to define us.

 

Build the Calf! Build the Calf!

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’

(Exodus 32:1-4, NRSV)

“Build the Calf! Build the Calf!” the crowd chanted.  The noise became an uproar.

“Build the Calf! Build the Calf!” the crowd demanded.

Everyone had wrapped themselves up in the building of an idol.  One that they told themselves offered salvation and freedom.  The golden calf offered the people salvation – it set them free from Egypt.  The golden calf would protect the people from the Egyptians.

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

(Exodus 32:5-6, NRSV)

The golden calf offered pleasure and safety.  The golden calf had a prosperity gospel message that promised riches to those who worshiped it.  The golden calf sold the idea that worshipers would eat, drink, and be merry.

“Build the calf! Build the calf!”

And it was a lie.  Every last bit of it.  Every idol we create tells us the same lies and comes up empty.

What are our personal golden calves?  What are the things that make promises to us that are really empty?  What are the things that tell us that we will be prosperous, happy, free, having fun?

What are the things that we willingly chant “Build the calf! Build the calf!”?

What are our national golden calves?  What at the things that make promises to us that are really empty?  What are the things that tell us that we will be safe, secure, prosperous, and free?

What are the things that we willingly chant “Build the calf!  Build the calf!”?

What are our religious golden calves?  What are the things that ask us to treat them like a god to worship?  What offers us false salvation?  What demands so very little from us and yet offers us everything we desire?  (Not what we need).

What are the things that we willingly chant “Build the calf! Build the calf!”?

 

Leadership is…

“Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.”  (Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky)

I heard this definition last week.  It immediately made sense to me.  There’s no sugar-coating leadership.  Often leadership, especially in a church setting, is messy.

Here’s a paragraph on the topic that cuts to the core of leadership:

When you stand before people and tell them that in order to accomplish a mission, they have to change, adapt, give up something for the greater good, work with those whom they don’t like or compromise on something that they care about they get mad.  They get really mad.  And mostly, they get mad at you.

(Source)

I think about all the things that Jesus said in the Gospels.  Often we like to focus on the nice things that Jesus says and skip the uncomfortable parts.  But those uncomfortable parts are important. It is in those uncomfortable statements of Jesus that we are called to change, to be different, to be more fully who God intended us to be.

And often people don’t want to hear that.  It’s much easier to put up a facade – a facade that tells everyone that I’m ok, I’m doing well, I have my act together.  Except I don’t.  And neither do you.  We are all broken and sinful.  In the Lutheran liturgy we start the service with a confession and forgiveness.  We confess that we are captive to sin and can not free ourselves.  This is powerful.  And it’s often the part people want to speed through.

Acknowledging before a whole bunch of people who you are broken and captive is not fun.  It’s uncomfortable.  We don’t want to admit that we are broken and enslaved.  We don’t want to admit that the facade that we created is false.  We don’t want to admit that our Facebook profile is just the highlight of a good moment in life – but it’s not our life 24/7.  We have to keep up with the Jones’ after all and their facade too.

Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate at which they can absorb.  Leadership is being vulnerable to share how broken you are.  Leadership is sharing truth about ourselves and our world.  Leadership is saying stuff that people do not want to hear about.  Leadership is exposing injustice for what it is.

Leadership is also about empowering others, especially when you’d rather do something yourself.  Leadership is about moving the spotlight off of yourself to others so that whatever you are leading can thrive.  Leadership is about getting out-of-the-way.  Leadership is about more people engaging in the life and work of the church.  Leadership is about discipleship.

And none of that is easy.  But it is worth it.

Last week

Last week was a great week.  I was at a retreat and a church training.  Getting away is necessary from time to time.  It’s like a reset button, or unplugging for a time.  A reset pulls us away from the routines we construct.  It pulls us away from the habits we have developed.  It pulls us away from the information we are exposed to every day.  It gives us a chance to take a breath, to reconsider, and to rest.

The training I attended was great.  Not because of the information I learned – that was good too.  It was great because of the people who attended.  It was great to see the excitement.  It was great to see the realizations.  It was great to be surrounded by people who are on fire and ready to go.  It was great to be around people who are just as broken as me.

In our current days, getting away is essential.  I know my limitations.  I can’t go week after week in a healthy manner without an opportunity to get away from the constant distractions, the constant emotional roller coaster.  I need to get away from the latest thing done or said that will set off high emotions until the next thing.  I can’t keep up with it, nor do I want to.  I’m tired of the constant drama.  I’m tired of so much.

And getting away is a breath of fresh air.  An opportunity to breath.  An opportunity to see the world freshly.  To put down the things that distract and cause distraction.  To get to work on the things I am called to.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be away last week.  It was a blessing.

Our golden calf

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

(Exodus 32:1-6, NRSV)

The story of the golden calf is a familiar one for many people.  Often, our response is something along the lines of: “How silly,” or “they made the false god, knew it was fake, and yet still worshiped it.” Our reaction to the story is often one of mockery at a people for doing something so obviously fake.

Yet, are we any different?  The people of Israel had literally just been set free from Egypt and started on their journey the Promised Land.  They stopped at the holy mountain so Moses could have a conference with God.  And when Moses didn’t come down the mountain right away, the people changed course and invented a god to worship.

What are our golden calves?  What are the golden calves that we create for our own lives?  Do we dare name them?  What might they look like?

How about our national or political golden calves?  What the things that we, as a nation, are willingly melting down our gold (wealth), making an idol, and worshiping?

A god is something that we worship.  It is something that we put our hope in.  It is something that offers us salvation.  The people of Israel created a calf – made from their wealth, and told themselves that this god was the god that brought them out of slavery and gave them salvation.

There are many things in our world that offers us salvation.  These false gods tell us that if you build or create them, they will be the ones that offer you security and safety, power and might, wealth and health, happiness and fulfillment.  The false gods proclaim these messages to us individually and as a nation.  And they are just as empty as the golden calf and what it promised.

And as a result, the people suffered – their wealth was sacrificed for this false god.  Their food was used for this false god.  Their people were literally killed because of this false god.  False gods – golden calves – lead to death and destruction.  What else should we expect from something based on a lie?

What are you golden calves?  What are our nation’s golden calves?

Your theology determines your actions

Actions stem from theology and belief systems.  Your actions are the outgrowth of what you believe about something.  Another way of talking about belief is the attitude.  An attitude can be defined as a state of mind.

Here’s one way to think about the relationship between beliefs/theology/attitude and actions.

A – B – C

Our attitudes drive our behavior which give us certain consequences.

Why is this important?  Because so often what people observe about others is inconsistent.  An example of this is that awhile back someone told me that they didn’t like my theology, but they liked the ministry I was doing with the homeless.  The problem with that is the inconsistency.  My theology drives my actions when it comes to the ministry I do.  My theology tells me to listen to what Jesus said about the poor and how we are to serve the poor.  I take that seriously and therefore I do what I can to live out the belief.

If you believe a certain thing, then you’ll do actions that carry out that belief.  But only if you really believe that thing.  If you just affirm it, there’s a good chance you won’t carry out actions in alignment with the belief.  Those actions would make you uncomfortable and probably violate whatever it is that you truly believe.

Humans are nothing if not consistent in their actions aligning with their true beliefs.  The human brain craves consistency and congruence between belief and action, making it far more important than other things, except our survival instinct.  We don’t want to be considered a liar, which would be shameful.  So we prefer to be consistent in our actions with our beliefs.  And we carry out what we actually believe.

If you believe that you can’t trust other people, then you will carry out actions that telegraph to others that you don’t trust people.  If you believe that Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, then you’ll figure out ways to feed someone who is hungry when you come across this person.

But it comes down to how truly you believe something.  One way to tell what you really believe about the world, people, etc., is to take a look at your actions.  What do your actions tell you about what it is that you actually believe and value?

Our beliefs/theology/attitudes all drive our actions.

Waiting

Have you ever heard someone talk about how they are just hanging in there until they can retire or get another job?  I don’t want to be too difficult on someone like that.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t know what they have gone through.  I don’t know what they have put up with in their life and their job.  I’m willing to bet they have worked long and hard and are just plain and simple tired.  They are probably tired of the rhetoric.  They are probably tired of the hypocrisy.  They are probably tired of their boss and their boss’s crappy management style and personality.  They are probably tired of crappy customers and/or coworkers who were abusive or degrading.  They are probably tired of all the meetings.  They are probably tired of the distractions that kept them away from just doing their job.

People who are waiting to retire or get another job show up, and do what they have to – sometimes it’s just the minimum.  They do what will allow them to keep their job.  They do their job, or what they can and leave their job at work.  They aren’t interested in saying anything about the company they work for outside of work.  They don’t have anything much to say about the company they work for – often it’s best to not say anything at all.  Just wait it out.

When asking someone who is waiting to retire or get another job what they do and where they work, they will tell people, but not give much details.  They show up, get paid, do some work.  They are waiting to retire or get another job.  Waiting to retire is different from someone who is looking forward to retiring.  Waiting to retire is just hanging in there and hoping that life can begin once they leave.  Looking forward to retiring is recognizing that life is going on now, even in the work that you do and that when you retire you’ll have even more opportunity to live fully, just in a different way.

How many Christians in the church are waiting to retire?  Not from their job or employment – but from having to follow Jesus?  Especially when Jesus calls on us to do something uncomfortable or inconvenient?

Are you a Christian who is waiting to retire from active discipleship so that life can begin?