Idols aren’t idle

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Idols are things that we create to represent God. Sometimes we confuse these things with God. Idols are often things that we worship. They are things that we will protect from others – because we equate the idol with God.

Idols can be anything.

What are the things in your life that you aren’t willing to question? What are the things that you will defend from others touching – or possibly even talking about?

Often we have idols, but we don’t really want to even acknowledge that they are idols. We call them other things and give excuses for why they can’t be examined or exposes for what they are.

In politics, they are called “third rail of politics.” These are the subjects that you aren’t supposed to talk about or even offer proposals to improve or update. Some examples might be Social Security, abortion, guns, etc. They could be, but then again, they might not be for you.

In church, we call these things “But this is the way we’ve always done it.” There is a variety of things that could be considered an idol. And then again, it’s not universal – it depends on each person and how they view these things: As things or as something more.

We have these in our personal lives too – things, habits, stuff, you name it. The thing by itself is not the issue. Money is a good example – A common idol is money, but it doesn’t have to be. Money, on it’s own, is neither good nor bad. It just is. It is a tool to be used to assist society in exchanging things of value. It is when money becomes more than a tool to exchange value that we have a problem. When money is the thing that we based all our decisions on. When money is what we listen to determine the worth of people. When money is something that we hold onto and protect against everything else. When we do these things, we distort what its purpose is – to exchange value. Instead, it becomes the thing that we value at the expense of everything else.

Idols become idols when they become active participants in our life and no longer idle things that carry no life of their own.

Lent is a great time for self-examination – to take a look at the idols that we have created in our life. Sometimes that can be painful and unpleasant. But calling an idol out is healthy. It is the first step to letting go of it and returning it to it’s proper place – a created thing that can help or harm us – a tool.

It’s a time to turn our idols into idle things again.

Being First

Waiting at the school bus stop is an interesting adventure sometimes.  My youngest son is still in elementary school and I’m fortunate enough to go to the bus stop with him – sometimes our dog Jimmy goes too when he isn’t too comfy laying on our bed.

The bus stop is full of talking, laughing, kids doing what kids do.  Sometimes it is quiet.  Other times it is loud.  And on occasion it’s a bit challenging.  My son usually just comes over, gets in line and waits patiently for the experience to be over (at least that’s what it looks like to me).

There are some kids that are older and several that are younger.  I imagine that the challenges that take place at our bus stop are not unique and they will take place at future bus stops long after I am no longer at the bus stop.

The biggest challenge that I watch with intrigue has to do with the line.  Specifically where people end up in line.  Some kids, like mine, really don’t care where they are in line.  They get that regardless of where they are in line, everyone ends up the same way – on the bus in their assigned seat.  It’s usually the older kids who get this concept.  But…

The younger kids haven’t quite grasped this idea.  It is just about every day that there is some kind of maneuvering in order to be first in line.  Sometimes I see it happen with kids getting to the bus stop extra early, just so they can be first in line.  Lately, some of the boys have resorted to getting to the bus stop early, dropping off their bag, and then going back home for whatever they need to do.  Occasionally there is taunting of other kids who end up further back in the line.  When this happens, the parents are pretty quick to shut it down.  Sometimes there is figuring out ways to be invited in line, so as to be ahead of other kids.  It’s all very interesting.  And a bit annoying, to be perfectly honest.  Where any of these kids end up in line is pointless.  Being at the front of the line doesn’t make a hill of beans difference for anything.  Yet, when I see someone cry because of the line, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder why – why does the line matter to some?  Why are some kids willing to go out of their way to “be better” than other kids by being at the front of the line when it ultimately doesn’t matter?  Why does any of this annoy me – it’s just a bunch of kids wasting time and energy on something that doesn’t ultimately matter.  Why?

I don’t have the answer to that.  I’m just tired of the senselessness of it all.  How many other senseless things do we create and participate in that ultimately don’t matter?  How many imaginary things do we place value on that are just imaginary?  How many ways do we try to show that we are better than others, when in reality we are just like everyone else in line as far as value and worth go?  We have different talents and skills, but our value is inherently the same.

How many lines are we adults standing in and trying to move up to the front of when it really doesn’t matter?  Why are we wasting time and energy trying to move up in meaningless lines when we should just be grateful that we are getting on a bus?  Maybe my son is wiser than me – he just stands there with no expression at all.  Just waiting.  Never annoyed.  Never bothered.  Just waiting.  He knows that regardless of where in line he and everyone else stands – they all get on the same bus and go to the same place.  And when they get on the bus, the line is forgotten.  There’s other lines that will take its place throughout the day.  Each one just as contrived and meaningless as the next.

Maybe my son understands something that I don’t.  That there is line for everything.  But really, the lines don’t matter.  The line just show us for who we are and how we treat others – regardless of our age.  We have a choice.  We can try to get to the front of the pointless line.  Or we can treat others in the line with respect and gratitude that they are in the line.

Cutting funds doesn’t cut problems

I was at a county housing meeting yesterday morning.  There was a lot of discussion about all the efforts to get as many people as possible out of homelessness and into housing.  The county has a Local Housing Options Team, which brings together a variety of agencies and interested parties to find solutions to homelessness.

During this meeting, there were several mentions of funding cuts – proposed and actual cuts in funding for housing programs.

Speaking about funding cuts in the abstract is easy.  It becomes a theoretical discussion on the role of government.  Funding discussions at this level are just numbers.

And then there’s the real life implications of funding cuts.  As a result of cuts to two specific programs, 25 households will be affected.  Their lives will be changed as a result.  There is hope that all 25 households will be moved to other housing, but there is no guarantee of course.

This is no different from the President’s proposed budget for 2020 – including a 16% funding cut in HUD funding.  This will impact many programs.  And that’s easy to say on the surface because we can ignore the reality of what that means.  Programs = lives.  Programs are not some government spending program created just to get more government employees.  These programs exist to assist and help the poorest among us, the outcasts in our midst, those with mental health challenges, those who can’t work for a variety of reasons, etc.  Government programs exist to do things that we as individuals and churches and communities cannot and probably should not do.  These are the people who will be affected by such cuts if that budget is passed as is.  They all have names, families, stories.  It’s easy to ignore this reality.

Speaking as a pastor, it drives me crazy when I hear people say that churches should pick up the burden of the poor.  Here’s the reality – Churches can’t do this on their own.  Pastors and their small and often non-existent staff, are not trained in this.  And churches are not social service agencies either.  Churches don’t have the capacity to do ongoing client management.  Churches don’t have the financial resources.  Churches don’t have the energy level necessary to do all of it.  Churches have a role to play, but it is not to take it all on and run everything.  That’s not even close to being realistic.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

To often, many people – especially the middle and upper class economically, are blind and deaf to the needs that exists of the poor.  It’s not totally their fault – I’m not blaming the middle and upper classes here.  If you are middle class or higher, how often do you come across someone who is poor, has mental health challenges, etc.? Probably not that often.  How many poor people are saved on your cell phone and that you talk too regularly, know their stories, and their challenges?  You are even less likely to know someone who is poor or facing these challenges the higher your economic status.  That’s just reality.

So it’s easy to ignore the need that exists – you probably don’t know that it exists.  That doesn’t make you a bad person.  Your life if just different and far removed from the poor and homeless.  Everyone around you is probably in a home, has a job or can get a job, has a nice vehicle (or at least a vehicle that works pretty good and when it doesn’t you can afford to get it fixed), has kids looking at college (Or maybe not, but college is a real possibility and option), etc.  It’s easy to ignore poverty because in your world, the problems of homelessness and poverty don’t affect you or anyone you know.  So they must not be “real” or all that difficult to solve.  Or the simple clichés must be true – if they only worked harder or got a job, they’d be able to pay for housing.  As if homelessness were a one problem situation.

By cutting these programs, do we really believe that the problems will just go away magically?  Of course they won’t because that’s not how people’s lives work.  Every time a housing program is cut, someone has to leave housing – sometimes there is something to fall back on (maybe another program).  Other times, people end up homeless because there isn’t another option.  Homelessness and poverty compound problems.  If you have no place to call home, I’m willing to bet that you have health challenges that are made worse.  I’m willing to bet that you have a challenge in getting a job or keeping a job.  I’m willing to bet your transportation is not reliable.  I’m willing to bet you spend a great deal of time trying to secure food.  I’m willing to bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the last couple of years, there have been an increase in homelessness among those with disabilities and those that are elderly.  It should come as no surprise when we have an administration that supports and pushes policies that are based on Social Darwinism ideology – a belief that only the strong should survive.  These policies carry out this ideology with a vengeance on those who are considered “weak” in society – those with disabilities and the elderly.

They aren’t going away.  The problems are getting worse.  And the ironic thing about all of this is that the very reason to push these cuts is to save money.  The reality is that because we willingly ignore the challenges that the poor and disabled face in our country, it costs us much more than if we just helped these people out.  Homelessness works just like compound interest – it grows bigger the longer it goes on.  It gets more expensive too – for everyone.

Cutting funding doesn’t solve the problems and challenges that we face, it just makes it worse and ends up costing us far more.  The difference though is that when we actually fund programs that assist the poor and homeless, we are faced with the uncomfortable reality of the challenges we face – often challenges that have no easy answers and in some cases, people who will never “get better.”  Should we just cut these people off?  Should we let them starve to death, or live on the streets where they can freeze or have increased health problems?  That’s a real possibility when we cut these programs – not hyperbole.  That would be the Social Darwin answer.  It certainly isn’t the Christian answer.

Responding to attacks

What do you when someone attacks you?

What do you when they attack you verbally?  Do you lash out?  Do you defend yourself?  Do you strike back?

There are no nice universal answers to such situations – something that works for every single situation.  Humanity is complex after all.  And circumstances are unique.

While it’s nice to be able to say simple solutions, the reality is much more complicated.

We could also say one should turn the other cheek.  Is that the best answer for every type of attack that might happen to you?  I doubt it.  Yes, Jesus said it.  But does that make it a universal answer to every single instance of conflict?  I wouldn’t argue that.

Besides, we can also cite Ecclesiastes 3 – there is a season for everything.

So does this mean that anything goes in how we deal with people who attack us?  No, I don’t think so either.

There’s an immediate response and a longer term response.  Often, we have very little control over our immediate response – our bodies just do what they need to defend themselves.  And that’s not a bad thing.  That’s a survival mechanism.

But what about longer term?  After the immediate threat to safety is over?  How do we respond to an attacker – someone who wishes to demean or degrade us?  Someone who attacks us verbally?

One way is to do the most unexpected thing you can do – offer forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t a two-way street.  It’s one directional.  It is a person releasing another of the power they have over them.  Here’s an example – let’s say someone attacks you verbally, calls you names, insults you, etc.  In such a situation, many people would respond in kind to this person, or walk away – fight or flight.  Another option may be to stand and wait the person out, not interacting with them at all.  But what if we just forgave the person on the spot?  It may be dangerous an invite worse insults.  It depends on the person.

Forgiveness in this instance would be releasing the power of the attacker over you – releasing their insults, pain, and suffering from you.  Saying in essence that they have no power over you.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.  Reconciliation is a two-way street and requires both parties to want to come together and reestablish a right relationship. It requires both parties working together – one acknowledging their wrong and the other forgiving them, and ready to move on to a new stage in relationship.

Is forgiveness right in the moment?  Again, it depends on you.  It depends on the situation.

I know this much, forgiveness is always a good option at some point.  Even after an attack on you – the effect will be felt for a long time.  Holding onto that, instead of releasing it, only does further damage to yourself. It does nothing to the other person.  Forgiveness helps you move on with your life.  It releases the person and you from the bondage that was holding you.

“I forgive you” – these are powerful words.  Both for you and for the other person.  The other person may not like hearing them either though.  But again, forgiveness isn’t about the other person.  It’s a way for you to be released from someone else.

And it isn’t easy.  It’s not easy to forgive someone who attacks you.  It’s like opening a wound and rubbing salt in it.  Yet, it is necessary to truly heal.  To move past the desire for revenge and pay back.  Forgiveness allows a person to live again.

Matthew 25 – encountering Jesus

All I have for today is Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV).  When we encounter other people, we encounter Jesus.  No other commentary is needed for this.

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Repent or perish!

Sounds pretty fire and brimstone doesn’t it?

You may be asking – Where’s the grace?

It’s there.  In a big way.

The best description I heard for repentance is this – radical re-orientation.  It means to turn or be turned back around so that you are facing one another.

Sin can be used as a verb and a noun.  To sin is to do an act that breaks a relationship.  Sin in the sense of a noun is the state of being.  For Lutherans, we believe that someone does an act of sin because they are a sinner.  They don’t become a sinner because they sin.  Do you catch the difference?  It’s slight, but important.

Without getting too deep theologically, we believe in original sin – that we are born in the state of sin.  This is a state of brokenness.  It is not because of anything we did.  And we can’t fix it either.  Only God can.  Which makes sense – how would you know what fixed looks like if you start off broken?  It’s similar to the idea of a color blind person describing what the color red really looks like when they have never seen red as it actually exists.  (And yes, I’m color blind.  Don’t ask me what I see, I have no idea what you see, so how can I accurately describe it to you?  I’ve never seen colors in a normal fashion.)

During Lent, we are called to repent – to turn or be turned back towards God.  To do some self-examination and see the extent of our brokenness and sin.  To see them for what they are.  Not because we are masochistic.  But because in seeing our brokenness and sin, we’ll more fully appreciate the forgiveness that God gives us.  We can more fully appreciate this incredible gift that God gives us – especially since we don’t deserve it.  And when that happens, we are changed.  Or probably more accurate – we are changed by God and this change allows us to appreciate what God has done for us.  God changes our lives.

Repent or perish can be preached as fire and brimstone.  But it doesn’t have to be.  There is plenty of good news to be had and heard.  Repent or perish!

More important than God?

What are the things that are more important than God?  The answer you tell a pastor is “no thing” is more important than God.  Right.  You get a gold star.

But what’s the real answer in your life?  What are the things, people, ideas, or beliefs that you place first above God?  What are those things that you will listen to without a second thought?

Is it your comfort?  Convenience?  Those may sound like easy to answer questions here.  “Of course not!” Really?  Did you stop to help the homeless person with a sign saying they needed some food?  Or was it too inconvenient?  Or did you have some other excuse for not stopping?  “Well, they aren’t really that bad off.”  “Well, they are just trying to get a free handout.”  “They may try to mug me!”  “I Don’t have time – besides, there are agencies that help people like that.  I’m not trained to do what they need.”  etc.

How about your stuff?  Is it more important than God?  Do you have a difficult time giving your stuff away?  Could you give away your favorite article of clothing, book, food?  How about your iPhone?  Could you give that away?

What about people in your life?  Any of them more important than God?  Your family?  Your spouse?  Your kids?  Parents?  Siblings?  Other loved ones?  Could you do what Abraham almost did to Isaac – offer him up as a sacrifice – if God called on you to do that?  Yikes!

How about your money?  “But pastor, I give my money at church and to charity.”  Great!  Could you follow Jesus’ command to sell all you have and give the money to the poor?  Literally give it all away?

How about being in control?  Or being right?  How important are these things to you?

I will tell you that I hope to God I am never tested on many of these things.  I don’t know how I would fair.  It’s tough to say in the moment what I would do.  I’d like to think I would follow God, but I’m sinful and broken.  I assume there would times I would fail this test – possibly on multiple occasions.

Throughout the Bible, we are told by God to let go of it all.  Over and over again, story after story – let it go, it’s all God’s anyway.  That’s true – every last word of it.  And at the same time, it’s not so easy.

I read these stories and am in awe of people like Abram – who God tells to just pack it all up and leave his home and start heading out.  God will let him know when he gets there.  I’ve had a taste of that, but I knew I where I was going to end up at the end of the trip.

Or the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Or the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  Or Daniel.  Or Esther.

I read the stories of Jesus calling people to follow him – dropping everything in the midst of whatever is going on.  Could I do that?  The story of Acts and the incredible things that happen.  Paul’s story alone is griping.  Could I ever do the same thing if I were in the same situation?

I have read the stories of martyrs and often wonder – would I have the same fortitude as they did knowing that it would cost my life?

There are many stories in the Gospels of Jesus encountering people and calling on them to follow him.  And in many of these situations, they reject Jesus and his offer.  I find those stories to be fascinating.  I sit and think – How could anyone reject Jesus?  And then I think of my own brokenness and when I have rejected Jesus.

But here’s the thing.  We aren’t called to be Abram, or Moses, or Ester, or anyone else from the Bible.  We are called to be us – who we are fully.  None of these people in the Bible were perfect. They struggled with faith.  They were broken also.  And God came to them in a way that could grasp hold of.  And they took a leap of faith in following God.  It’s scary.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s a bit insane.  But it is how God works.  Here’s what I know – when I have followed God, it’s always been for the better.  And so I hold on to that.  I remember that.  I treasure that in my heart – waiting for the next time I need to remember it – the next time God calls on me to do something.

Our True Religion?

What is our true religion?  What is our true faith?  What is the god that we worship?

I think the answer varies.  For some, the answer is pretty straight-forward: an established, traditional, religion or denomination.

In some cases, the answer is a bit more complex, subtle, and hidden.  Sometimes I think there is an overlap between the two where the true faith is hidden beneath what one can see on the surface.

And of course, there are more than just these two simple answers – it is a range of answers really.

For example, one could argue that one of America’s true religions isn’t Christianity, so much as it is Comfort.  Sometimes the religion of Comfort can take on the outward appearance of Christianity – having all the trappings of the faith.  A passing glance, and sometimes more, would easily confuse the two.  There are worship services, churches, pastors, organizational structure, etc.  Often, the religion of Comfort co-exists and uses the church institution for its form.  You can even hear the words of Christianity that make it hard to discern the difference.  The religion of Comfort has no need to create its own structure – it can just piggyback off an existing structure.  Creating it’s own structure would be too uncomfortable anyway.

But the religion of Comfort is different from Christianity.  The religion of Comfort proclaims a message of status quo – that salvation comes through the maintenance of the status quo.  It proclaims that a person’s life should not change.  The religion of Comfort is happy to talk about Jesus, but only certain aspects of Jesus – the nice Jesus, the friendly Jesus.  Not that Jesus who calls on followers to deny themselves daily, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus.  Not the Jesus who tells the rich to sell their possessions and give to the poor.  Not the Jesus who calls on us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned.  Those are not comfortable.

The religion of Comfort has boundaries for God.  Comfort believes that god can have limited access to a person, based on what the person wants and desires.  If the person wants to close god off from their finances, so be it.  Same for relationships, or health, or work, or anything else.  The main practice of the faith of Comfort is to avoid stirring the pot or upsetting the status quo.  Or anything that would require a change in one’s life.  That would be uncomfortable. (And yes, I am using lower-case “g” to refer to the god of Comfort.)

The public practice of the religion of Comfort ultimately looks more like a public duty, rather than a faith-filled life.  One does a duty because it is the “right” thing to do, but there isn’t much attachment to it beyond that for most people.  This is no different than how most people see jury duty or voting – we do it because it’s the right thing to do and you are supposed to do these things to be good citizens.  But in reality, most people don’t really enjoy these things.

The faith of the religion of Comfort rests on a belief that god is abstract, not personal.  The core of this faith is a belief that this abstract god tells its followers to be good people, whatever that means.  Even this idea remains abstract and gives plenty of wiggle room to excuse behaviors and rationalize away anything that needs to be explained away.  Remember, Comfort is the key.

An abstract god therefore, by definition, has no relationship with its followers and makes minimal requirements from them.  How could such a god have any relationships of value?  And because of this, the abstract god doesn’t mess with people’s lives.  The god of Comfort is distant and barely a real entity – more there in case of an emergency and if nothing else seems to work.  Otherwise, this abstract God is out of sight and out of mind, except for the times of public duty.

The abstract god is more of an acquaintance, rather than a personal God who calls followers to be disciples who are all in.  Such a god is more concerned with making members of a social club rather than making disciples who proclaim a life and world-changing message that they themselves have experienced.

Membership has its privileges.  Members are served and comforted.  The money that comes in to the church of Comfort, stays in the church of Comfort.  Disciples, on the other hand, have a responsibility and are taught how to go and serve – to follow the lead of the Master.  To go where it is messy and uncomfortable.  To go when it is inconvenient.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about this over 50 years ago.  His words were prophetic.  While he didn’t specifically name the religion of Comfort, he sure did describe it.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

(Source: Letter from a Birmingham Jail, MLK, Jr)

Facing Death

Last week there was yet another mass shooting – this time a mosque in New Zealand.  The last I saw 49 people died.

We have a routine down for these things – a shooting happens.  We act shocked.  We mourn and ask the deep question – why?  We try to make sense of it.  We try to offer an explanation that will make sense.  We try to find a scapegoat that we can pin it on – someone who we can put the guilt on, so that they can be driven out and with them the sin of a mass shooting.  And then after all of that…we distract ourselves so we can return to “normal,” – whatever that is.  This is our normal now.

I don’t know about you – but I’m sick of this normal.

I’m tired of the excuses.  I’m tired of the shock.  I’m tired of the trying to make sense of it.  I’m tired of trying to come up with a reasonable explanation.  I’m tired of identifying a scapegoat.  I’m tired of the distraction to go back to some fantasy “normal” that never really existed in the first place.

When a mass shoot happens there are no good explanations.  When people are killed while they worship, there are no good reasons.  It’s not just a mental illness of an individual we are dealing with.  It if was, we could easily fix this.

Instead we are dealing with much more difficult challenges.  We are dealing with evil hatred.  There is nothing else to call it when someone goes into a holy place and guns down people who greet you in peace – who are worshiping God peacefully.

Hatred is evil.  It is anti-Christlike.  Hatred drives men (the overwhelming number of the mass shooters are men) to do this.  Hatred is a sin.  It is brokenness.  The person consumed by hatred is broken beyond repair.  Their relationship with others is certainly broken.  Their relationship with themself is broken.  Their relationship with God is broken.

And they are taught to hate.  They are taught that violence is the solution to their problems – that it is a right that they have to carry out violent acts.  They are taught that peace will come when “others” are eliminated.  They are taught that “others” aren’t even people.  Hatred not only teaches the shooter these things, it changes them from being a human to something else – their very humanity is stripped of them. Violence stems from violence.  Murder stems from murder.  Inhumanity stems from inhumanity.

I think part of the reason we are in the new normal cycle – violence, shock, scapegoating, return to normal – is because we are afraid to face death.  We are afraid to look it in the eye and see it for what it is.  We are afraid.  And we don’t think we know what to do.  We are afraid that God is lying to us.  We are afraid that Jesus didn’t mean it when he promises resurrection.  We are afraid.  But of what?

I think we are afraid to truly live.  To be all in.  To be vulnerable.  To trust.  Look what it got the people in Christchurch – they died because they were all in worshiping God openly.  They died because they were vulnerable.  They died because they trusted.  So we are afraid.

Can we be honest about this?  I mean really honest about all of this?  Can you admit that you are afraid.  That you are afraid that God is full of it.  Are you afraid that God isn’t real?  Are you afraid that God is asleep?  Are you afraid that Jesus’ promise to be with us is false?

Do we trust our senses and see the reality of death versus what God promises.  What do you trust?

Self-preservation seems like the smart option, doesn’t it?  Except it’s not.  No one who has ever lived has ever been able to preserve themself from death.  No one.  Even Jesus died.  Running scared of death isn’t going to work.  We are all going to die at some point.  The real question is this – have you lived at all?  Or are you too afraid of dying?  While we are all going to die, do we really believe Jesus’ promise of resurrection?

Here’s a reality for you.  In order to experience resurrection, you have to experience death.  There is no way around it.  It’s no different from a baby has to go through birth in order to live in the world.  To stay in the womb would mean death.  Yet, the act of birth an act of death – it is the death of living in the womb.  So that new life can commence.

How do I explain mass shootings to someone?  I don’t.  There are no satisfactory explanations.  And there won’t be as long as we remain in fear.  As long as we are too afraid to actually act and do something to prevent the next shooting.  As long as we remain afraid of death.  Fear is really nothing more than handing power over you to something or someone else.  As long as we fear death, we will remain under its power.  We’ll make decisions and do things or not do things because of the fear of death.  We’ll even put God aside.

The biggest challenge the church faces isn’t a decline in membership or finances.  Those are just symptoms of deeper issues.  The biggest challenge the church faces is this – do we actually believe what we preach?  Are we all in on what we claim to believe?  Do we really believe in life, death, and resurrection?  Do we really believe it?  Do we believe that it applies to us – individually?  as a church?  And if it does, then how are facing death – looking it in the eye, knowing what it is, and yet going forward anyway knowing and embracing Jesus’ promise for our lives, for our churches, and for our world?

 

Why do we listen?

Why do we listen to false messages and narratives?

As I continue my way through various books of the Bible, I am struck by how many times different authors talk about the same thing – warning about false teachers.  Paul hits on this several times.  It shows up in the universal letters too.  The entire “book” of Jude is about false teachers.  (It’s only one chapter, but still – that’s the entire focus of the “book”.)

The Old Testament has warnings about false teachers – often referred to as false prophets.

Why are these false teachers and false prophets so prominent?  Why do so many people listen to them?  Why are so many drawn to their messages?

Is it as simple an idea as this – that a false teacher tells people a message that they want to hear?  Is it a message that requires nothing from the hearer?  Is it a message that demands no change or forces no change on the hearer?  Is it a message that is satisfactory to the human ears and mind and heart?  Is it a message that rationalizes behaviors that are destructive and lead to death?

Why do we listen to these messages?  Often, when we read the Bible, these false messages sound appealing (supposedly) on the surface and in the short-term.  But all one needs to do is think a little about the long-term consequence to realize the true emptiness of the message.

It’s not just theology either.  The same thing applies to politics and policy.  It applies to schools.  It applies to sports.  It applies to health, nutrition, rest, and more.  It applies to sex.  It applies to relationships.

Yet, these false narratives continue to be popular.  And people follow them.  And end up with the predictable consequence and wonder why.

I’m not innocent of this.  I have fallen for false messages before and most likely will again.  But the question remains – why?  Why do we do this?  Does it get us off the hook?  Does it provide an excuse?

But following these false messages makes about as much sense as Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden of Eden.  It makes as much sense as Jonah trying to run away from God.  It makes as much sense as Peter denying he knows Jesus.  You can’t hide from the truth.  You can’t hide from God.

And yet God is patient.  God waits.  God invites – over and over again.  And waits.  And rejoices when we let go of the false narratives and are turned back to God.